IFAQ: Figurines of Wondrous Power

“What do we do, Lightbearer?”

“We’ve got to hold this position,” Drego said. “We can’t let the wolves through the pass. But the people at the Crossroads need to know what we’ve learned about the thrice-damned rats.” He unpinned the raven brooch from his cloak, and whispered to it. Silver flame licked around the edges, and the metal melted and expanded, reforming into a bird with glittering feathers. After a few more words, the bird took to the air and disappeared into the canopy of the Towering Wood, heading south.

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

How do you see Figurines of Wondrous Power fitting into the Eberron setting?

A figurine of wondrous power is a magic item that can become a living creature for a particular duration or until the animal is killed. These are the mechanics, but it’s up to us to provide the flavor and the context. How common are they? Who makes them, and who uses them?

Starting with the first question, suggested rarity is a good place to start. What we’ve said before is that uncommon items can be found as part of everyday life in the Five Nations. Rare items are in fact rare; they exist, certainly, but aren’t part of everyday life. So it’s reasonable to think that a soldier in a special forces unit might be given a silver raven to help with communication, and one of Tharashk’s top bounty hunters might have an onyx dog to help with her hunts. But that onyx dog would be a remarkable tool… and the very rare obsidian steed would be almost unheard of in the Five Nations. Given both the material and the nature of the creature involved, I’d be likely to make obsidian steeds tools created by the Lords of Dust—perhaps by the Scribe Hektula, given to favored warlocks of Sul Khatesh.

So once again, figurines are mechanics. But there’s a lot of different ways that you could interpret those mechanics, based on the story you want to tell. So how do figurines fit into Eberron? I could imagine a few very different ways I’d use them.

Sovereign and Flame

The first figurines used by the people of the Five Nations were divine in nature, not arcane. Balinor is the Sovereign of Hunt and Hound, teaching people to work with beasts both as allies and as prey. Vassal figurines are engraved with Balinor’s symbol and imbued with faith. They function just like normal figurines, but they can only be recharged by devotion; such a figurine won’t regain its charge unless it’s in the possession of a devoted Vassal.

As noted in the quote that opens this article, the Church of the Silver Flame has also created such figurines. The most common of these is the silver raven, often used as a messenger by templars in the field; some of these take the form of small winged serpents, though they have no special abilities beyond flight. Like the Vassal figurines, these divine items can only be recharged by the faith of a follower of the Flame. I could also imagine Seekers of the Divinity Within crafting bone figurines of wondrous power; while one might expect such creatures to be skeletal, I’d be more inclined to make them vivid crimson beasts formed from the essence of the Seeker’s own blood.

Cannith Figurines

Over the last century, House Cannith has been experimenting with figurines that replicate the basic principles of a creation forge. Cannith figurines can only be used by people who bear the Dragonmark of Making. They’re made of metal and wood, embedded with small siberys dragonshards. When activated, they grow bodies of root and steel, and have the Constructed Resilience trait of warforged. When the beast is killed or reverted, the materials that comprise it dissolve.

Sentira Figurines

Both the Inspired and the kalashtar of Adar use figurines of wondrous power carved from sentira, a substance made from solidified emotion. The emotion used in the figure is reflected in the creature summoned; an onyx hound made from hatred will be cruel and aggressive, while one made from love will be gentle but protective of its summoner. The beasts summoned by sentira figurines have the statistics of the living creatures they resemble, but they’re formed from ectoplasm and often have dreamlike aspects—unnatural coloration, fur rippling in nonexistent wind, and a strong aura of the emotion that forms them. Activating a sentira figurine requires the user to feel the associated emotion intently; to use a figurine formed of hatred, the bearer will have to think of a creature they hate.

Spectral Figurines

The elves of Aerenal—both Aereni and Tairnadalcreate figurines of wondrous power. Both operate in a similar manner. When the figurine is activated, the translucent form of the summoned animal takes shape around the item. The summoned creature is solid and can be touched or ridden, and is in all ways treated as a living creature, but it is clearly ghostly and dissolves when its service is done. Aereni figurines are made using the spirits of beloved animals, while Tairnadal figurines are icons representing beasts of legend that fought alongside the patron ancestors. Both types of figurines are prized relics that typically have great emotional value to their owners, and are rarely sold; given this, Aereni or Tairnadal may be curious or angry if they see such items in the hands of others. Spectral figurines are often tied to the Valenar beasts presented in Eberron: Rising From The Last War; the equivalent of an onyx dog might summon a Valenar hound.

Daelkyr Figurines

A number of the daelkyr have created Figurines of Wondrous Power. While functional, they’re not very pleasant…

  • Dyrrn’s figurines are small, beating hearts. When activated, a figurine extrudes fleshy tendrils and chitinous plates, weaving them together to create a body out of strands of muscle; it has the general shape of an elephant or a goat, but most people will be horrified by its appearance. When the creature is killed or reverted, the fleshy form falls away and slowly decays, leaving only the heart intact.
  • Kyrzin’s figurines are vials of fluid. To activate the figurine, you unstopper the bottle and pour out its contents; the liquid expands into a gelatinous shape, again reminiscent of the creature but very clearly unnatural. When slain or reverted, the gelatinous form melts away. Meanwhile, the vial slowly refills itself until it’s ready to be used again.
  • Orlask’s figurines are stone statues, much like standard figurines of wondrous power. However, Orlassk’s figurines are living creatures that have been trapped in this stone form; holding the figurine, you can feel the misery of the trapped creature. When they are used, the bound creature is released, though it is forced to obey the person who freed it. When slain or reverted, they are returned to their prison of stone.

These are just a few examples of possible figurines of wondrous power, and I’m sure you can come up with many more. As rare items most figurines would be, well, rare; I’d use the uncommon bag of tricks if I was creating a version of Pokemon in Eberron.

I won’t be answering questions on this IFAQ, but share your thoughts and ideas below. And if you’d like pose questions that could inspire future articles or participate in my online Eberron campaign, check out my Patreon!

IFAQ: Working Without Lore, Sovereign Images, Nagpa and Princess Marhya!

Every month I answer interesting questions posed by my Patreon supporters. Here’s a few more from April!

What details do you start with when trying use a Eberron location with no lore? Sometimes I get blank page paralysis.

First of all, what’s the nation? If it’s Aundair, is there something interesting going on with everyday magic or fey? If it’s Thrane, how does the faith in the Silver Flame manifest? If it’s Karrnath, is it more influenced by Seekers or by Karrnath’s martial traditions? Can you feel the weight of the Code of Kaius? If it’s Breland, is there crime? Do they support the monarchy or the Swords of Liberty? Outside the Five Nations, is there a manifest zone? Is it tied to a daelkyr or an overlord? Is there an interesting resource or an unusual creature?

Another thing to consider is the stories people tell. For example, in Frontiers of Eberron I dealt with Whitehorn Woods for the first time, which raised the question “Why do people call it Whitehorn Wood?” So, I decided that the people in the region tell stories of Whitehorn, a massive horned bear. Essentially, if a place has a name, there’s surely a reason for the name—what’s a logical explanation you can come up with?

Beyond that, I will often ask my players to help flesh these things out. If I was running a game tomorrow in the Whitehorn Woods, I’d start by telling people about the bear, and then I’d ask each player “Tell me something you’ve heard about the Whitehorn Woods.” I did this in Threshold just recently, when I asked players to tell me something they’d heard about the Byeshk Mine. I didn’t USE all those answers—not every story has to be true—but it was a useful source of inspiration.

How concrete are the appearances of the Sovereign Host — particularly at the local level. While canon has called out they have different appearances, is this a matter of everyone at one church holding a common image of Dol Arrah, or is it rather a more personal choice and imagining for each Vassal?

There’s two important things to consider here. The first is that the Sovereigns appear in many different cultures and with many different variations. Clearly Banor of the Bloody Spear, Bally-Nur, and the Pyrinean Balinor won’t all look the same; one’s a giant, one’s a halfling, one isn’t locked into any one species. Even within the Five Nations, you have many subsects within the broad Pyrinean tradition—the Church of the Wyrm Ascendant, the Restful Watch, Aureon’s Word, the Order of the Broken Blade, the Three Faces, and so on.

The second important point is that on some level, the exact appearance of the Sovereigns doesn’t matter, because the idea of the Sovereigns is that they aren’t going to appear and interact with you physically, but rather that they are with you at all times, offering guidance.

Is there art depicting the myths of the Sovereigns? Absolutely. But the key is that there’s no absolute agreement on what they look like, so instead what’s crucial is symbols. The first of these is called out in the original ECS: Dragons. Each of the Sovereigns is associated with a particular dragon; the blue dragon is a symbol of Aureon, while the silver dragon is used to represent Dol Dorn. Beyond this, each Sovereign has a particular iconic symbol, suggested in Faiths of Eberron; Aureon can be recognized by his book, while Arawai holds a sheaf of wheat. The ECS also assigns a favored weapon to each Sovereign, but I didn’t choose these and I strongly disagree with some of the choices. As Sovereign of the fields, it would make sense for Arawai to be associated with a farming implement, such as the flail or the scythe; instead, she’s canonically tied to the morningstar (which is sometimes depicted as a ball-and-chain, but definitely not a farming implement). Balinor is the Sovereign of the Hunt but is canonically tied to the battleaxe, hardly a traditional choice for a hunter. With that in mind, I’ll suggest kanonical alternatives befow.

With all this in mind, the point is that artwork depicting the Sovereigns focuses on SYMBOLS. There’s no one universally accepted depiction of Dol Dorn, but he’s always muscular and carries a longsword, often crossed over a shield. Dol Arrah holds her halberd with the sun rising behind her; if that doesn’t fit in the image, she’ll have a rising sun worked into her clothing. The humanoid models vary by sect and region, and often use historical or living figures considered to exemplify that Sovereign’s traits. For example, there may be a church in Sharn with a mural that depicts war heroes Khandan the Hammer as Dol Dorn (wielding a longsword instead of his famous hammer) and Meira the Huntress as Balinor. If you’re Brelish, you know Khandan as a warrior renowned for his strength and courage, and this combined with his pose, his obvious strength, and his sword and shield make it clear he’s representing Dol Dorn; if they really wanted to lay it on, they could add a silver dragon in a pennant or a brooch. Meanwhile, Meira the Huntress would be recognized as Balinor by her bow, by the antlers mounted on her helm, and by the fact that she’s clearly a huntress. It doesn’t matter that Balinor is considered to be male, because what this picture is truly depicting is Balinor acting through Meira—because THAT is how you’ll actually encounter the Sovereigns in the world. In using real people as models for the Sovereigns, these images remind us that the Sovereigns are with us all.

ArawaiBronzeFlailSheaf of Wheat
Dol ArrahRedHalberdRising Sun
Dol DornSilverLongswordShield
Kol KorranWhiteMaceGold Coin
OlladraBlackDaggerDomino or Dice
OnatarBrassWarhammerHammer and Tongs

Where would the Nagpa from Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foe fit into your Eberron?

I’ve never used the Nagpa. As I understand the story, the idea is that they’re mortal wizards who were cursed by the Raven Queen for meddling in a war between gods. Now they plot in the shadows, but presumably on a smaller scale than, for example, the Lords of Dust; they are still cursed mortals.

The first thing I’d do is to drop the Raven Queen and evaluate the core overall story. Mortals meddle, are cursed by a wrathful being of deific power. Playing to the idea that they “interfered in a war between gods” the most obvious answer to me is that they weren’t HUMAN wizards… they were DRAGONS. They interfered in the first war—the conflict between dragon and overlord—and were cursed by Ourelonastrix, forever bound to these pathetic, humanoid forms. Powerful as they are, they’re still feeble next to the glory of a greatwyrm, and you can see how their state would be a considerable humiliation. With this in mind, they can then have been present in EVERY disaster that’s come since. They could have played a key role in Aureon’s Folly; perhaps it was one of the Nagpa who urged the giants to use the Moonbreaker. Rival Nagpa could have helped different mazes in Ohr Kaluun, or Khunan. A key point would be that unlike the Chamber or the Lords of Dust, the Nagpa aren’t driven by the Prophecy and don’t know what the long-term impact of their actions—they just enjoy sowing chaos and causing trouble for all sides. If I didn’t want to do that, the next approach that comes to mind is to make them cursed acolytes of Sul Khatesh, twisted by their devotion to the Queen of Shadows—cursed with ugly immortality until they can unlock some particular arcane mystery. This could be tied to her release—making them allies of Hektula and an adjunct of the Lords of Dust—or they could just be an entirely separate faction which, again, has no knowledge of the Prophecy and are purely devoted to pursuing their own selfish problem. Another option would be to work with Thelanis, as the whole “cursed wizard” story sounds very Thelanian. But personally, I’d either go with cursed dragons or ancient Khorvairians.

You’ve mentioned Princess Marhya ir’Wynarn of Cyre a number of times, but if she’s in any canon sources, I cannot locate her. Is there anything more you can tell us about this youngest daughter (or possibly granddaughter, again referring back to the Oargev’s suitors article) of Queen Dannel? I’m not looking for anything mechanical here.

A few years back, my friend Dan Garrison—the co-designer of Phoenix: Dawn Command—ran an Eberron campaign called “The Fall of Cyre”. It began in Metrol on the eve of the Day of Mourning, at the celebration of Princess Marhya’s betrothal. That was the night we danced the Tago with knives! Marhya was the younger sister of Oargev, which in my current view would make her a granddaughter of Dannel. My character in that campaign was the warforged envoy Rose, who was built to serve as a companion to the Princess; Rose is depicted in Exploring Eberron and mentioned in the article on Oargev’s suitors.

In Dan’s campaign, Marhya was betrothed to Prince Jurian of Aundair… though of course, this isn’t canon. Marhya was competent, trained in statecraft and with the sword, determined to do what she could to ensure peace and safety for her people. In that campaign, Metrol was also sucked into Mabar, but more in the typical Hinterlands way—so apocalyptic chaos rather than the dystopia of Dread Metrol. Marhya was the natural leader who needed to unite the survivors and find a way out of the nightmare. Good times!

As with most IFAQs, I won’t be expanding further on these topics, but feel free to discuss them in the comments! If you have questions of you’re own, I’ll be posting a new call for questions for my Patreon supporters soon!

IFAQ: Medusa Fashions and the Population of Darguun!

Tashka of Threshold, by Julio Azevedo

As time allows, I like to answer interesting questions posed by my Patreon supporters. Here’s two from this month!

Now that Medusae have begun to leave Cazhaak Draal for various purposes, have eyeblinders become a commonplace part of their culture or are they only used in the east to make the squishier races feel at ease?

“You aren’t in your Five Nations any more,” Sheshka said. She had sheathed her sword, but her voice was deadly. “You have come to my home. Your soldier threatened me with a blindfold. A blindfold, on my soil. Would I come into your castle and strip away your sword, or demand that you wear chains?”

“We can’t kill with a glance,” Beren said.

“And that excuses your threat to pluck out my eyes? Should I cut off your hands so you cannot strangle me?” The medusa’s eyelids fluttered, but remained closed. “Hand, tooth, steel – we are all deadly.”

The Queen of Stone

Canonically, while in the cities of the Five Nations a medusa is expected to wear eyeblinders, described as a metal visor that straps around the forehead and chin and takes multiple rounds to remove; in especially high-security situations, the straps can be secured with a lock. Of course, this varies by location; in a small village in Karrnath the sheriff surely doesn’t have a set of eyeblinders lying around, and in Callestan in Sharn, who exactly is going to demand the medusa put on eyeblinders? In such situations, a medusa will often wear a veil or more comfortable blindfold, as Tashka is modeling in the image accompanying this article. Such a blindfold doesn’t offer as much security as a set of eyeblinders, since it could be removed in a single action, but it’s a compromise; you don’t have to worry unless I take it off.

With this in mind, have blindfolds become part of standard medusa fashion? Do medusas wear blindfolds in Graywall or the Great Crag, or even in Cazhaak Draal? Definitely not. Medusas are perfectly capable of controlling their deadly gaze. Let’s start with simple mechanics. Here’s the 5E interpretation of the ability in question.

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

I’ve bolded the key word there—they can force someone to make a saving throw, but they don’t have to. While some people may interpret this as meaning that the medusa can choose to look you straight in the eye and not petrify you, how I interpret it in my campaign is that the medusa can never turn off their power, but that they have to look you directly in the eye to make it work and they’re very good at avoiding such accidental eye contact… and if they really want to play it safe, they can just close their eyes. This is something discussed in a canonical Dragonshard article…

The gaze of a medusa can petrify even an ally, and as a result, a medusa does not meet the gaze of a person with whom it is conversing. Where she directs her eyes indicates her esteem for the person. She drops her eyes toward the ground to show respect, or looks up and over the person if she wishes to indicate disdain; when speaking to an equal, she glances to the left or right. If she wishes to show trust, she directs her gaze to the person, but closes her eyes.

While this may seem inconvenient to a human, it has little impact on a medusa. If a medusa concentrates, she can receive limited visual impressions from the serpents that make up her hair; as a result, though she seems to look elsewhere, she’s actually looking through the eyes of her serpents. She can even use her serpents to see when she is blindfolded or has her eyes closed. However, she can still “see” in only one direction in this way; her serpents may look all around her, but she can’t process the information from all of them at once.

While I like the idea of looking up or down to signal respect when dealing with an individual, things get a little trickier on a crowded city street where accidental eye contact could easily happen—but in such a situation, again, all the medusa has to do is to close their eyes. To me, this is the absolute reason a medusa can’t petrify you by accident, and why you only have to make that saving throw if they choose to force you to; if they don’t want to hurt you, they’ll close their eyes.

So, with this in mind, no, medusas don’t wearing eyeblinders when they’re at home. The power of the medusa is a gift of the Shadow and they are proud of this gift; it’s not their job to calm your fears. And as Sheshka points out, everyone is dangerous, especially in Droaam; no one expects gargoyles to file down their claws, or Xorchylic to bind his tentacles. Demanding that a medusa cover their eyes is demeaning and shows a lack of trust. They’ll put up with it when the local laws require it, though even then they may skirt it (as with Tashka wearing a blindfold instead of full eyeblinders). But they certainly aren’t going to wear a blindfold while at home just to make you more comfortable.

Can you explain the demographics of Darguun? According to the ECS, only 6% of the population is human. How did it go from being a human-dominant nation to just 6%?

First of all, we need to address the tribex in the room, and that is that population numbers in Eberron have never been realistic. In part this is because we’ve never entirely agreed on the scale of the map; there’s also the broader question of whether population numbers should reflect medieval traditions (as was typical for D&D at the time the ECS was released) or if, given that society’s advances are more like late 19th century Earth, the population should reflect that as well. Consider that in 1900, London was home to five million people… while in the 3.5 Eberron Campaign Setting, Breland only has a total population of 3.7 million.

For this reason, the 3.5 ECS is the only book that actually gives population numbers for the nations; neither the 4E ECG or 5E’s Rising From The Last War do. Because at the end of the day, the exact number usually isn’t important. What matters is that we know that Aundair has the lowest population of the Five Nations and that Breland has the highest. It’s good to know that Sharn is the largest city in the Five Nations, even if I’d personally magnify its listed population by a factor of five or more. So I DO use the numbers given in the Eberron Campaign Setting, but what I use are the demographics break-downs—for example, the idea that dwarves make up a significant portion of the population of Breland, but are relatively rare in Aundair—while I use the population numbers just as a way of comparing one nation to another, so I know the population of Breland is almost twice that of Aundair.

So: I use the stats of the ECS, but I use them for purposes of comparing one nation to another, not for purposes of setting an absolute number. With that in mind, let’s look back to the original question: Is it strange that humans only make up 6% of the population of Darguun? In my opinion, not at all. The key is to understand the difference between the Darguun uprising and the Last War as a whole. During the Last War, the Five Nations were fighting over who was the rightful heir to the throne of Galifar. As discussed in this article, the goal—at least at the start—was reunification, and the question was who would be in charge. It was never a total war; the Five Nations agreed on the rules of war and whenever possible, avoided targeting civilian populations or critical civic infrastructure.

None of this applied to the Darguun uprising. The ECS observes that “Over the course of the Last War, most of the towns, temples, and fortresses in the region were razed and abandoned.” Not conquered and occupied: razed and abandoned. The Darguuls didn’t have the numbers to rule as occupiers, so they DESTROYED what they couldn’t control, driving the people away or killing them. It was an intensely brutal, ugly conflict, driven both by history—in the eyes of the Darguuls, the people of Cyre were the chaat’oor who had stolen the land and brutalized their ancestors—and by the fact that it needed to be swift and brutal, to maximize the impact before the Cyrans could regroup. By the time central Cyre was truly aware of the situation in southern Cyre, there was nothing left to save.

So I think the the demographic percentages are reasonable; I think most of that human 6% have actually come to Darguun after the war to do business or as expatriates of other nations. This ties to the point that Darguun is a nation of ruins—again, as the ECS says, “most of the towns, temples, and fortresses were razed and abandoned.” In my Eberron, the population of Darguun is far lower today than it was before the uprising; again, part of the reason for the brutality was because they didn’t have the numbers to rule through occupation. Darguuls are slowly reclaiming ruined towns and cities, building their own towns on the foundations just as humanity built many of its greatest cities on Dhakaani foundations—but overall, much of Darguun is filled with abandoned ruins that have yet to be reclaimed.

This brings up another important point. I agree with the demographic percentages of the ECS, but I think the listed population of Darguun is too high. Darguun is listed as having a population of 800,000. Again, I’m not concerned with that actual number—I’m concerned with how it compares to other nations. At 800,000, Darguun is the size of the Lhazaar Principalities, Zilargo, and Valenar combined. The whole idea of Darguun is that a relatively small force laid waste to the region because they lacked the numbers to conquer it. Now, in my Eberron the goblin population has swelled since the uprising. Haruuc’s people—the Ghaal’dar—were based in the Seawall Mountains and the lands around it. The dar were scattered and living in caverns, peaks, deep woods. As word spread of a goblin nation, tribes and clans came to Darguun from elsewhere in Khorvaire—from deeper in Zilargo, from Valenar, from central Cyre. This ties to the reasons Haruuc often has difficulty exercising control. The Ghaal’dar support him and they are the largest single block; but there are many subcultures that have their own traditions and aspirations. The Marguul are one example that’s been called out in canon, but there’s many more like this—dar immigrants who have come to the region with their own traditions. Notably, in Kanon I have a goblin culture from deep in the Khraal rain forest that is quite different from the Ghaal’dar, who came from the mountains and caverns. Nonetheless, this shouldn’t result in a nation with the highest population of any nation outside of the main five. By the standards of the ECS—so again, ONLY FOR THE PURPOSE OF COMPARING IT TO OTHER NATIONS—I’d set the population of Darguun at around 230,000. That’s significantly higher than Valenar and on par with Q’barra or Zilargo, but less than a tenth of one of the Five Nations, and low enough to reflect the idea that most of the cities in the region are still unclaimed ruins.

That’s all for now! Because this is an IFAQ, I will not be answering further questions on these topics, but feel free to discuss your thoughts and ideas in the comments. And if you want support the site and pose questions that might be answered in future articles, join my Patreon!

IFAQ: Awakened Animals and Eldeen Materials

Ja’taarka the Worg, by Julio Azevedo

Eberron: Rising From The Last War says that in the Eldeen Reaches, “communities include awakened animals and plants as members.” This raises a number of unanswered questions. Are these awakened beings considered to be citizens under the Code of Galifar? How common are awakened animals in the Reaches? Have they ever been hunted like normal animals? As always, keep in mind that what follows is what I do in my campaign based on my interpretation of the awaken spell—your mileage may vary.

The act of awakening an animal or plant isn’t about evolution. The caster doesn’t create a new species of sentient animal with a single spell. Instead, awaken shapes a sentience from the collective anima of the world and fuses that with the subject, creating a unique intelligent entity; it’s not unlike summon beast, but the spirit is infused into an existing body instead of having a conjured physical form. The awakened creature can access the memories of their life before awakening, but they are a new and unique entity. Critically, if a druid awakens two rabbits, their offspring aren’t sentient. So there aren’t vast lineages of awakened animals out in the world. Every awakened animal has a direct connection to a powerful spellcaster. Druids and bards who can cast awaken are rare, and the spell also has a significant casting cost; it’s not something that is ever done trivially.

So awakened animals and plants are found in Eldeen communities. But any time you encounter one, it’s worth asking who awakened this animal and why? Here’s a few answers.

  • Oalian’s Voice. The Wardens of the Wood maintain a network of awakened birds and other animals who act as scouts and messengers. Many of these creatures have been awakened by Oalian themself, and roost in the branches of the Great Druid when they return to Greenheart. Given how few Eldeen communities have Sivis message stations, these beasts play an important role in connecting communities. They’re far more than animal messengers; while they carry important messages between sect leaders, they also share stories and news with the general community, and many are celebrated entertainers. Beyond this, part of their work is to gather information; in may ways, the Voice is the Eldeen answer to the Korranberg Chronicle. So adventurers could very well find themselves being interviewed by a raven, who then spreads word of their deed across the Reaches!
  • Guiding Trees. Every Eldeen community has a druidic advisor. Many also have a guiding tree—a tree awakened by one of the leaders of the sect the community has aligned with. As traditionally awakened trees, these are generally young trees that are capable of movement and which walked to the community, but once in their new home they generally take root and prefer not to move without reason. These trees typically act as spiritual advisors; your town druid may be busy, but the guiding tree is always there when you need advice.
  • Bloodhounds. The Wardens of the Wood seek to maintain order across the Reaches, and this includes helping local councils investigate and deal with crime. The Wardens have long had a corps of awakened canines—mostly wolves in the Wood, but over the last forty years this have expanded to include other hounds. Bloodhounds (a term used regardless of breed) generally work with a humanoid Warden, whether traveling or residing in a community, but occasionally a Bloodhound—or even a team of Bloodhounds—can be found working independently.
  • The Faithful. Many powerful druids awaken a few animals to serve as companions and confidantes. Over time, these animals can become valued agents of the sect, being charged with important duties or acting as a representative of their companion druid. Should they outlive their companion, the faithful beasts typically continue to work with the sect. So you can find a Moonspeaker tribe where a great bear—once the companion of a legendary druid—is still respected as one of the elders of the tribe, or meet a wolf who’s come to Varna to speak on behalf of Faena Graymorn.
  • The Totem. Especially in the deep Wood, some communities identify with a particular beast or plant, and have an awakened creature of that type who serves as a combination of mascot and advisor. While some such creatures have nothing to offer but mundane wisdom and inspiration, some totems possess greater primal gifts and serve as oracles and spirit guides.
  • The Retired. It’s always possible to encounter an awakened creature that served in one of these roles until it chose to retire. This could be for any of the reasons a human chooses to retire. Perhaps they were injured. Perhaps they got too old for this %&$. Perhaps they just realized they wanted to do something else with their lives; awakened animals aren’t slaves, and while most are happy to work with their sects, it’s always a choice. So when you go to an Eldeen tavern, you might meet a crow who used to work for Oalian’s Voice, but who currently just does stand-up three nights a week and enjoys local gossip, or a former Bloodhound who lost her sense of smell and now works as a bouncer.
  • The Returned. While they aren’t technically awakened animals, some druids are able to transfer their spirits into an animal form after death… essentially, a variation of reincarnate that transfers the soul into a beast instead of a humanoid form. The Returned retain their memories and skills from humanoid life. Most only possess a fraction of their druidic abilities, if any—but a few have managed to regain their powers. Many Returned continue to serve their sects, but others prefer to spend their days in the wilds or to retire and pursue a hobby they never had time for in life.
  • The Fey. While most druids won’t create awakened animals without a reason, Greensingers are the sect most likely to awaken animals just to bring more magic into the world (although the 1,000 gp component cost keeps them from doing this TOO often). So while most Awakened creatures have a clear connection to a druid or a community, when you’re near the Twilight Demesne you may meet a talkative magpie or a shrub with a story to tell. While this uses the awaken spell, the subjects of this Greensinger technique are considered to be fey as well as beasts or plants.

Are awakened animals considered citizens under the Code of Galifar?

If they’re citizens of the Eldeen Reaches, definitely. In my campaign, becoming a citizen of the Reaches involves swearing an oath of allegiance to a druidic representative—I don’t have time to develop all of the details, but it’s largely saying that you swear to abide by the laws of your community and the Great Druid, and that you will protect the Reaches and its people in times of trouble. The key point here is that in the Reaches, awakened animals are treated like any other sentient creature. While they’re often found performing specific jobs, again, they aren’t slaves and they can quit any time they want. They’re fellow citizens of the Reaches, and if you commit a crime against one, it’s no different than committing a crime against any humanoid. If you kick a dog in a Reacher villager, he could go to the council and accuse you of assault, and if you shoot Bambi the awakened deer, it’s murder… though it’s worth asking why did someone awaken a deer? It definitely could happen in Greensinger territory, but an awakened deer would be very unusual elsewhere. Now, the trick is that while an awakened dog may be a citizen of the Reaches and thus entitled to the protection of the law in Sharn, you’ll have to convince the Sharn Watch of that, which may take some doing. On the other hand, there’s a giant owl on the Sharn Council, so who can say!

As a side note, while we often talk about Oalian as being an awakened tree, the rituals and power invested in the Eldeen Ada were more significant than the basic awaken spell. One aspect of this is that standard awakened plants can move around. In my campaign, Oalian is stationary and infused with primal power; they’re more than just a smart tree.

What sort of materials do the people of the Eldeen Reaches use for armor and weapons?

The people of the fields haven’t abandoned the use of metal. With the exception of some extremist Ashbound, there’s no inherent taboo against metalworking; metal comes from the soil, after all. The Wardens of the Wood seek balance between the wild and civilization, not to eradication industry entirely. The goal is to reduce the environmental impact of industry; scope may be reduced, and primal magic may be employed in place of destructive mundane techniques. Primal magic can help locate objects, shape or mold earth and stone, and when it comes to smithing, anyone who’s fought a druid knows that primal magic can be used to heat metal. The Reaches aren’t primitive; they are a primal civilization, and the key is to consider what tools primal magic can offer.

So the Eldeen Reaches are reshaping the industries of the east, but they haven’t abandoned them. The people of the fields still refine and work with metal, producing similar weapons and armor to those their Aundairian ancestors created. On the other hand, the people of the Wood have long had access to interesting materials aside from metal, and have primal techniques for shaping and strengthening wood, hide, stone, and bone to make it the equal of metal (if not superior to it, as with bronzewood and darkleaf presented in the ECS). So here’s a few options to consider…

  • Wood and leaves, potentially drawn from plants that don’t exist in our world or strengthened by manifest zones, primal techniques, or, well, Avassh.
  • Hide and leather, especially the hides of horrid animals (in the ECS, the horrid template increases a creature’s natural armor class by +5!)
  • Bones, claws, or teeth. These can be drawn from creatures that don’t exist in our world—such as horrid animals—and strengthened using forms of magic fang and similar rituals. While this may not always be the most efficient choice, in some cases it may be used because of totemic significance.
  • Stone, shaped and strengthened using primal techniques.

So an Ashbound champion might wear armor fashioned from the hide of a horrid bear and wield a two-handed macuahuitl embedded with its teeth… but due to the techniques of the Ashbound artisans, these things would be the equivalent of a breastplate and greatsword.

That’s all for now! Thanks again to my Patreon supporters for making these articles possible. I won’t be answering further questions on this topic, but please discuss your own ideas and how you’ve used awakened animals in your campaigns!

IFAQ: The Eldeen Reaches, Continued

Art by Rich Ellis and Grace Allison

There’s no shortage of questions concerning the Eldeen Reaches, and I decided to answer a few more.

Does the Eldeen Reaches have a government and ministers? Is anything like the Code of Galifar enforced? Do the shifters in the Deep Wood acknowledge this? What’s the relationship between the Eldeen Reaches and other nations?

For the past forty years, the Eldeen Reaches have officially been under the protection and guidance of Oalian, the Great Druid of the Wardens of the Wood. Long dominant in the forest, the Wardens have spread out into the plains to ensure order throughout the region. Each village has a druid counselor who provides magical assistance and spiritual guidance, and who advises the leaders of the community. Councils made up of representatives from each farming family govern each of the communities. Bands of Warden rangers patrol the forest, responding to threats as they arise.

The shifter tribes and druid sects have their own customs, but leaders are usually chosen based on age and spiritual wisdom. Concepts of law are guided by the ways of nature, and justice is usually swift and harsh.

Politically, the folk of the Eldeen Reaches largely ignore the events of the east and are ignored in return. The Wardens of the Wood have made clear to Breland and Aundair that they will defend the nation against any military threat and have no interest in further discussions regarding borders, treaties, or resource rights.

Eberron Campaign Setting

These are the basic facts as laid out in the Eberron Campaign Setting. The Reacher communities are self-governing. Druidic advisors help guide the villages, and the Wardens of the Wood act as the connective tissue, “preserving order throughout the region”. Each community sets its own rules, inspired by the sect its aligned with. The Code of Galifar is a good general model; most things considered crimes in Sharn will probably be crimes in Varna. On the other hand, a village that’s embraced the teachings of the Children of Winter may have unusual ideas as to what constitutes a proper trial. The main point is that it’s very much what we’d consider frontier justice, with the Wardens acting as sheriffs and communities largely relying on the hue and cry–on people being ready to come together to help when a crime occurs. Meanwhile, the tribes of the Deep Wood generally respect Oalian and the Wardens, but only a few have chosen to become a full part of the Reacher experiment, and most still maintain the same traditions they’ve followed for centuries, ignoring the world beyond the Wood.

Politically “the folk of the Eldeen Reaches largely ignore the events of the east and are ignored in return.” Sharn: City of Towers specifically notes that the Eldeen Reaches don’t have any sort of consulate in Sharn and Five Nations says that they’ve rebuffed diplomatic contact with Aundair. But never forget that this is an experiment. The Treaty of Thronehold is only two years old; the Reaches are still figuring out what it means to be a nation, and how to play at politics. So at the moment, they don’t do much of it; they “largely ignore the events of the east” and “have no interest in further discussions.” But depending what happens in the days and years ahead the Reachers may realize that they have to forge stronger ties to other nations, and have to get better at the game of diplomacy. If adventurers have ties to the Reaches, they could be instrumental in helping to establish or protect the first Eldeen embassies.

What exactly IS the Towering Wood? What makes it different from any other forest?

The Towering Wood hasn’t been explored in depth in canon. Canon sources say that they are preternaturally fertile and that the forces of magic permeate the wood. We’ve mentioned greatpines and “awe-inspiring” bluewood trees. Reflecting my last post, the Eberron Campaign Setting has this to say…

The deep woods of the Eldeen Reaches remain mostly as uncultivated and pure as they were when the world was young. In the Age of Monsters, when the goblinoids forged an empire across Khorvaire, the Eldeen Reaches were the domain of orcs who sought to live in harmony with the wilderness. The orcs were devastated in the war against the daelkyr. As a result of this terrible conflict, the forest was seeded with aberrations and horrid creatures formed by the sinister shapers of flesh.

In my campaign the Towering Wood is surrounded by a buffer zone—a few miles of woodland where the trees are smaller, where there are certainly predators but where you aren’t as likely to piss off a dryad or encounter horrid wolves. The people of the fields have always hunted game and harvested lumber from this region, and it’s likely grown thinner over the history of Galifar. But the people have always known that there’s a line you don’t cross. Because when you reach the Wood itself… you feel that capital letter. You can feel its age and its power. And you if you blunder into it without knowing your way… Fey. Fiends. Aberrations. Plants twisted by Avassh. Undead. Horrid animals. Feral gnolls. Lycanthropes. Until a decade ago, Sora Maenya. If you just randomly chop down a tree, you might be cutting into Old Algatar, the great interconnected Eldeen Ada who will surely lay a terrible curse upon you or send a treant to crush you. And set aside all of these supernatural threats: if you just brought in a team to start cutting down bluewoods, you’d have to deal both with the Ashbound and the Wardens of the Wood; one of the prime directives of the Wardens is to protect the Wood from the outside world. It’s entirely possible Cannith has tried harvesting in the Towering Wood in the past; it’s just never ended well.

With that said, people live in the Towering Wood. The key is that you have to understand the threats, to be able to recognize warning signs, to know the locations of manifest zones and the safe paths maintained by the Wardens of the Wood. Looking to the present day, the Eldeen farmland communities work with their druidic advisors to harvest lumber from the edge of the Towering Wood, both ensuring that their actions are sustainable and that the lumberjacks don’t blunder into a dryad’s grove or one of Avassh’s bone orchards. Anyone can hunt and harvest from the Towering Wood… it just requires care and understanding.

But is the Wood actually like? For a start, it holds trees that don’t exist in our world. Greatpines are similar to the pine trees we know, but have thicker trunks and can reach heights of over 250 feet. The awe-inspiring bluewoods are more massive than our redwoods. But as you go deeper, you can encounter something different. This is a point where I break with canon—keeping the same general idea, but shifting it slightly. The ECS describes a specific region called The Guardian Trees, where the trees “dwarf the greatest redwoods”—but this is a very specific region that only spans about 30 miles. In my campaign, I take a different approach. First, I use the term guardian tree to refer to the Eldeen Ada. Second, in my Towering Woods those immense trees aren’t limited to a tiny region; they are spread across the forest. I call them titans—primordial trees that dwarf anything in our world, potentially thousands of feet in height. These titans are infused with primal energy—there’s the possibility they are literally the first trees, so they are sustained beyond what should be possible for any mundane fauna. The article I linked is tied to my Phoenix: Dawn Command setting, in which the titans have all fallen. In the Towering Wood I’d say most of the titans are still standing, but that there are a few that have fallen. This allows for the possibility of stumptowns (as pictured above, communities in the stumps of titans) or for communities or dungeons carved into the densewood trunks of fallen titans. Unlike the ECS, I spread these throughout the wood, but they are still rare; there’s a few dozen of them in total across the entire Wood. But each one is a truly remarkable landmark, and a wellspring of primal power. Traditional magic doesn’t work on a titan, so you can’t just animate one of them. Some people believe that the titans are awakened but are simply too vast to perceive humanoids; others believe that they hold the spirits of all the druids who’ve died in the region. Either could be true. To date Avassh hasn’t corrupted a living titan… but it could certainly have infested the trunk of a fallen one.

A final important point is that the map as it stands doesn’t show any rivers or bodies of water in the Towering Wood. This is solely because the maps have low resolution. Rivers and streams flow down from the mountains and through the wood, and there are pools tied to Lamannian and Thelanian manifest zones. There’s nothing on the scale of Lake Galifar or Silver Lake, but there are certainly immense ponds and streams that can prove challenging to cross.

What do the communities of the people in the Towering Wood look like?

The people of the woods hid from the eyes of Galifar, and most prefer the solitude of the Towering Wood to the bustle of the Five Nations. Shifters and centaurs sometimes live in their own isolated tribes, but the forest folk prefer to live in small mixed communities—human, elf, and shifter living side by side. They follow the faith of one of the druid sects, but only the most exceptional… join the patrols that guard woods and plains alike.

Player’s Guide to Eberron

There are many subcultures within the Towering Wood. Each of the druidic sects has its own tradition, and there are also sects that we haven’t discussed. The shifter Moonspeakers are a very significant faction that’s received little attention, primarily because they don’t interact much with the world beyond the Wood; there’s also a unique centaur tradition (though centaurs are also found among the Wardens, Greensingers, and other sects).

So first of all, you have the basic division of nomadic versus stationary communities. Within those categories, you see considerable variation reflecting the traditions of each sect and tribe. A detailed breakdown is beyond the scope of this article, but looking to the settled communities, some primarily create structures using tanned hides—essentially, tent cities, often extending up into the trees with hides stretched between strong boughs. Some build wooden platforms in the trees, while others—”root dwellers”—prefer sod walls and burrows going into the earth. In part, this depends on the weather and the nature of local threats, whether people need to take to the trees or if they feel secure on the ground. As noted below, people definitely take advantage of the resources the Wood presents; where you have a fallen titan (the tree, not the monster), people will build homes into the stump or the trunk. Beyond Greenheart, one of the largest communities in the Wood is just known as the Crossroads; this is a stumptown that lies along the migratory paths of a number of different nomadic tribes, which serves as central marketplace where people from different communities and sects exchange goods and services.

For the most part, however, the communities of the Wood are quite small. The Woodfolk don’t practice industrialized agriculture, so a community needs to be careful not to extend past the limits of local resources, and will split when it grows too far.

There’s a few things to keep in mind when dealing with the people of the Wood. Only the most gifted among them are full-fledged druids or rangers—just as few priests in the Five Nations are actual clerics, and few of the students in Arcanix are actually wizards. However, many possess some connection to primal power. This may be reflected by the abilities of a Gleaner, the primal equivalent to a magewright or adept. Gleaners can cast cantrips and perform spells as rituals, and as always their may have abilities beyond the standard spells; Deep Wood light-weavers create long-lasting light sources using a form of faerie fire. Gleaners also work with beasts in many ways, mirroring the ideas suggested for dinosaurs in this Talenta article; beasts serve as messengers, scouts, guards, beasts of burden, mounts, small-scale livestock, and more. Other Reachers master primal gifts that aren’t spells, and could possess gifts that mirror specific class abilities. Quite a few Deep Wood shifters master a limited form of wild shape allowing them to assume the form of a particular beast a few times a day (something that’s sure to send any follower of the Pure Flame crying “Werewolf!!!!”); even some non-shifters master this gift. A hunter might have a ranger’s Favored Foe feature, even if they don’t cast spells. Essentially, the full powers of a druid are remarkable—but primal magic and primal gifts are part of daily life in the Deep Woods. It’s also worth noting that on the whole, the people of the Deep Woods are highly competent, because they have to be. There’s a reason the Children of Winter lament how eastern civilization coddles the weak but have no such complaints about the people of the Wood, and a reason why the population of the Wood is far lower than that of the fields. The Towering Woods are dangerous. Survival is hard, and everyone is expected to contribute to their community. Ranger or not, every denizen of the Deep Wood has to be prepared to fight for survival. The tools may vary—some prefer a bow, some their own teeth, some a thorrn whip—but the Woodfolk are tough as ironwood, because they have to be.

Within a typical Woods community, everyone has tasks assigned to help the community, based on the skills they possess. The gleaners and actual druids of the community provide spiritual guidance, an expansion of the druidic advisors seen in the fields. Having said that, there ARE communities that are entirely comprised of initiates and hunters. Looking to the Wardens of the Wood, what you’ll see most are patrols, which function much like Valenar warbands: self-sufficient units capable of living off the land, which follow established paths between the major communities—helping travelers, containing new threats that have emerged, and maintaining ties between communities. You can also find circles, which function much like monasteries in the outside world; groups of gleaners and actual druids maintaining sacred sites and performing rituals, often for the benefit of nearby communities; for example, a circle may perform rituals which repel or calm horrid beasts in a wide area, or that hold back the influence of Avassh.

When creating a Deep Woods community, here’s a few things to consider.

  • What sect are they associated with? Who’s their spiritual leader?
  • What species are part of the community?
  • Why have they chosen this location? Is there a manifest zone here, or an especially useful resource? In either case, how have they harnessed this?
  • Do they work with a specific sort of beast?
  • What are the most significant local threats? Does the community have a particular way of dealing with them?

If the Eldeen Reaches is so decentralized and lacks industry, how can it possibly challenge Aundair or any of the Five Nations?

There’s two key elements here. The first is the spirit and determination of the Reachers. It is unlikely that they could invade Aundair or Breland, but they have sworn to be independent and are willing to fight to the bitter end to maintain that independence. This ties to the point that the Wardens excel at small-unit guerilla tactics. Essentially, it’s a statement of you can try to invade us, but be warned that we will never surrender, that you will pay a price each and every day.

The second point is more enigmatic. While Thrane bends them a bit, in general the Five Nations play by the same set of rules. Go back a century and all their generals were trained at Rekkenmark. Their nations are grounded on arcane science and the services of the Dragonsmarked Houses. They know what to expect from one another. But the Eldeen Reaches don’t play by those rules. They’re a wide primal society, wielding a power that’s never been fully tested in this way. The Five Nations don’t know what the Reachers are capable of—and beyond that, the REACHERS don’t know what they’re capable of. The spells player characters wield provide us with a foundation, but Exploring Eberron already addresses arcane artillery and war rituals—the idea that the powers of a player character are oriented around swift squad combat. Given time, given tools, given a full circle of druids allied around the Great Druid themself—the Reachers wield the pure power of nature. They shattered the castles of tyrant lords with earthquakes and scattered armies with hurricanes. They terrified enemies with swarms of stinging insects and devastated them with plagues (“Those who survive will be stronger for it,” the Children of Winter say). The most infamous engagement was the battle for Varna, in which Lake Galifar itself rose up to fight for the Wardens. At least, that’s what the stories say. They’re surely exaggerated; but the point is that the druids were able to raise an elemental of unprecedented size and power that devastated Aundairian ships and sent their forces into disarray.

Even the Warden soldiers who were at the siege don’t know what was involved in raising Lake Galifar or if it could be done again. And that’s the point: the full capabilities of the Reaches are a mystery. Their army is a fraction of the size of any of the Five Nations. Their industrial capacity is far smaller. But no one—not even the Reachers themselves—knows what they are capable of. You can be sure that there’s teams in the Arcane Congress specifically devoted to analyzing and countering the primal capabilities of the Wardens. But for now, those mysterious powers are sufficient to give any nation pause.

Are there Treants in the Towering Wood?

Absolutely… both natural treants, fey treants, and the dreaded gaa’avash. In my campaign, the treants of the Towering Wood are the children of the Eldeen Ada. Each has its own distinct personality, but each treant is spiritually linked to one of the guardian trees and follows its direction. So Oalian doesn’t leave the Greenheart, but their child Gywahar was part of the Warden forces during the Secession and many of the enemy assumed the treant was Oalian themself. Meanwhile, fey treants are found in Thelanian manifest zones and essentially a variation of dryads—a different sort of tree story.

Avassh has great influence in the Towering Wood. Elsewhere there have been suggestions that the Barrens are barren because of some sort of massive defoliation effort enacted by the Dhakaani. Why wouldn’t the Towering Wood have suffered the same fate?

There’s no certain answer to this question in the present day; you’d need to consult ancient Dhakaani or the long-dead orcs of the Towering Wood. But there’s two obvious answers. The first is that Dhakaani lived in the region that’s now the Barrens, while they never lived in the Towering Wood. They had to do something because Avassh was destroying their people… while meanwhile, the orcs of the Towering Woods would never have supported such actions. Beyond this, I’d be inclined to say that whatever cataclysmic method they used likely wouldn’t have worked in the Towering Wood, which is “preternaturally fertile.” The primal power of the region made it a safer haven for Avassh, even if the titans themselves resisted her influence.

That’s all for now! As always, these answers are my opinions and may contradict canon sources. Thanks to my Patreon supporters for asking interesting questions and for making these articles possible; if you’d like to see more frequent articles or to be able to influence future topics, check it out!

IFAQ: Transgender Visibility in Eberron?

Threshold’s Chronicler, by Julio Azevedo

Every month I answer interesting questions posed by my Patreon supporters. Here’s one that came up this month…

In honor of the recent International Transgender Day of Visibility, are there any canonical NPCs you would consider being trans and/or nonbinary?

My immediate answer is every elf in Eberron, as called out in this article. Beyond that, however, this is a question where I’m far more interested in what other people have to say than in my own cisgendered opinion. Because the basic answer is that anyone could be. Exploring Eberron presents the idea that cosmetic transmutation is a safe and effective tool for transition. We’ve said that the people of Khorvaire are comfortable with gender fluidity and nonbinary identity—whether it’s the ongoing fluidity of a changeling or elf or a long-term decision. So the simple answer is that any canonical NPC COULD be transgender. But this in turn has a certain sense of “So what?” If Krozen transitioned when he was twenty but has identified as male for two decades, how exactly is it visible now? Should it even be called out now, given that Krozen is who they wish to be? I wonder if rather than “Which canonical NPCs transitioned in the past,” a more interesting question might be “Which canonical NPCs might transition in the future”—because to me, that’s what would make the story visible.

The short form is that I’m more interested in the answers of those who are living this experience than in my own ideas. Please share and discuss your thoughts—whether about canonical NPCs, transgender and nonbinary representation in Eberron in general, or experiences from your campaigns—in the comments. And while it’s not my work, I’d like to draw attention to Blessed of the Traveler, a DMs Guild book discussing this topic!

AN IMPORTANT UPDATE. I have never had to moderate comments on a post before, but I will be doing so on this post. I am asking for the input of people who are living this experience. Saying “I’m not trans and I don’t include any representation in my campaign” doesn’t add anything to this conversation, and instead further isolates people who are already isolated. This post isn’t going to force you to change how you DM. What it is—I hope—is for a chance for fellow gamers who normally feel unseen and unheard to share their experiences and to talk about how they would change the world. The question here is how do you include representation in your campaign; “I don’t” or “I won’t” aren’t useful contributions to this discussion and will be removed to keep things focused.

I have said before that in my campaign, “good” reflects empathy and compassion—our ability to understand the pain of others and the desire to avoid causing suffering. So please: be good. If the experiences of the people posting here are not your own, listen to them; this is not the time or the place to argue. Thank you all for your time, your energy, and your compassion.

IFAQ: Smalltown Karrnath, Ghallanda Scouts, and Speaking with the Dead!

As time permits, I like to answer interesting questions posed by my Patreon supporters. Here’s a few more from March!

Canonically, Karrnath has a significant halfling population. How does this affect its culture?

The cultures of the Five Nations are inherently cosmopolitan, woven from a tapestry of different species. Halflings make up a minimum of 4% of the population of all of the Five Nations, and have since the time of Galifar. So first and foremost, keep in mind that the culture of Karrnath as it is defined—a culture of martial discipline and warlords, the undercurrent of the Seekers—were all formed with halflings as part of that tapestry. There are halflings teaching at Rekkenmark and at the Atur Academy. The typical Karrnathi halfling is grim and stoic, and likely served in the military; a Thrane halfling is likely to be devoted to the Silver Flame; an Aundairian halfling may be a flamboyant wandslinger. They’re all halflings, but they’re also Karrns, Thranes, and Aundairians—and they are part of the gestalt that created those cultures to begin with.

With that said, Karrnath does indeed have a higher halfling percentage than most of the Five Nations—twice that of any other nation. So roughly half the halfling population of Karrnath reflects the typical widespread presence of haflings throughout Galifar, halflings who identify culturally as Karrns. But that leaves another 5% of the population. These halflings are concentrated in southeastern Karrnath, along the always loosely-defined border with the Talenta Plains. This region has a tumultous history. Before Galifar, there were times when Karrn warlords subjugated nomad tribes, and there were times when Talenta raiders struck deep into Karrnath. Galifar and modern Karrnath largely brought an end to both extremes, but also established this region as a buffer zone. Some nomad tribes chose to settle in the area, adopting agriculture and swearing fealty to warlords in exchange for protection and support. In the present day, these still exist. These small towns are communities that are almost entirely comprised of halflings, whose people think of themselves as Karrns but still retain some elements of the Talenta faith, speak both Common and Halfling in everyday life, and who may domesticate fastieth, glidewings, or hammertails.

In the wake of the Last War, this region has taken on new significance. The original Eberron Campaign Setting says “… to curb continued aggression from the Valenar elves, Karrnath has established a separate alliance with the halfling clans of the Talenta Plains. This alliance has allowed Karrnathi troops to set up forts in halfling territory for the mutual protection of both nations.” So the buffer zone of halfling communities has existed for centuries, but in the wake of the Last War and this alliance, you have new Talenta tribes choosing to settle in this buffer region and adopting this hybrid lifestyle, as well as nomadic tribes who have shifted their migratory routes to pass through southern Karrnath, taking advantage of the alliance. Essentially, the border between Karrnath and the Talenta Plains is a spectrum whose inhabitants blend the traditions of both cultures. You have halflings who consider themselves Karrns and who are legally Karrnathi citizens, but who still maintain a number of Talenta tradititions (as well as unique traditions that have evolved through the merging of the two cultures)—and you also have nomads who consider themselves Talenta and aren’t Karrnathi citizens, but who are allowed to dwell in southwestern Karrnath due to the current alliance.

So small towns are Karrnathi communities—some of which have been around for centuries—and Karrns of any species are welcome in them. However, the practical fact is that these are mostly small communities, figuratively and literally; they are built by small humanoids for small humanoids. Medium humanoids can usually find shelter in a barn or church, and some villages have a dwarf or human family who may allow medium travelers to stay with them; but overall, these communities are on a smaller scale than the human-built Karrn towns. While many are small in population as well as scale, there are a few small towns of significant size along the Vulyar-Irontown road. The most notable of these is Sorallandan, a town of over ten thousand that has significant outposts of both House Ghallanda and House Jorasco; Sorallandan is a Halfling word meaning “The Hope For Comfort At The End Of A Lengthy Journey.”

Are there halfling warlords in Karrnath, or are these small towns governed by warlords of other species?

It’s a mix. The small towns around Odakyr and Vulyar owe fealty to human warlords, who are content to let the villages follow their own traditions as long as they meet their commitments as vassals. However, there are two domains along the stretch of land between Vulyar and Irontown that are held by halfling warlords. One of these warlord families—the Toralamars—were raised from the small towns centuries ago; Sorallandan is the Toralamar seat, and the family is committed to maintaining the traditions of the towns and ongoing cultural exchange with the Plains. By contrast, the Warlord Asta Vanalan commanded Fort Deepdark during final decade of the Last War, and Kaius recognized her service by granting her dominion over the nearby lands previously ruled by the ir’Jennrei line; while this technically ennobles her, Vanalan rarely employs the ir’ honorific. The Vanalan family has deep roots in Rekkenmark, and Asta is working to impose more traditional Karrnathi culture on the small towns within her domain; this includes an effort to convince Karrns from the west to resettle in the region. As a warlord, Asta has passed the daily duties of command of Deepdark to Brandin ir’Dulinch, but Deepdark remains the seat of her power.

Is there a group of kids in Khorvaire who wear sashes and sell cookies?

The first one that comes to mind are the Ghallanda Scouts. This organization is run by the Hosteler’s Guild of House Ghallanda. The mission of the Ghallanda Scouts is to build confidence and character. The primary focus is on wilderness skills—sharing the Talentan heritage of the house with all who wish to learn. However, it’s also well known for selling cookies, which both helps to raise funds and to hone business skills. Ghallanda Scout programs can be found anywhere where the house has a presence, and all children are welcome to participate; it’s not limited to halflings or Ghallanda heirs. If a character has the Outlander backgrounds, they could have been raised in the wild… or they could be a Sharn native who loved their time in the Ghallanda Scouts; just swap “A trophy from an animal you killed” for “A collection of merit badges.”

How common is the practice of Speak With Dead in the Five Nations?

There’s a few different aspects to this. Speak with dead is a service that exists in Khorvaire; the list of magewrights on page 318 of Rising From The Last War includes a medium who can perform Speak With Dead as a ritual, and elsewhere we mention a member of the Blackened Book—the mystical division of the Sharn Watch—using it as part of an investigation. So it’s a tool that is used in law enforcement, and I’ve previously mentioned it as a tool that would be used in archaeology. With that said, it’s not commonplace in the Five Nations, for a few key reasons.

  • It’s difficult and expensive. Third level spells are at the top tied of what’s commonly encountered as “everyday magic” and according to Rising, you’d have to pay a medium 100 gp to perform the ritual.
  • It doesn’t actually contact the spirit of the victim. You are drawing on trace memories attached to the corpse; you aren’t drawing their spirit back from Dolurrh. So it’s an effective way to gather information, but it’s not like you can have a normal conversation with your dead grandpa because you miss him.
  • It has to be cast on a corpse. Followers of the Silver Flame typically cremate their dead. Vassals bury them and generally don’t look kindly on people digging their relatives up. It’s typically used by investigators before corpses are buried; at the very least, you’re going to have to file some paperwork to get dispensation to dig up a corpse for questioning. Which ties to the fact that…
  • The people of the Five Nations don’t like necromancy. It’s not outlawed—and again, speak with dead is definitely used by investigators and archaeologists—but in the Five Nations, people think talking to skulls is CREEPY, and digging up the dead is worse.

So speak with dead exists and is used in the Five Nation, but it’s primarily used as an investigative tool prior to burial or as a scholarly tool on remains that have been recovered. Having said that, let’s talk about the exceptions.

Medium is listed as a magewright specialty. Magewrights have limited spell selection and can only cast spells as rituals, but they can also produce effects that are more dramatic than the standard spells. A magewright medium can certainly perform the standard speak with dead ritual—but a skilled medium can do more than that. In my campaign, a skilled medium can cast speak with dead without access to the corpse, provided they have access to strong emotional anchors—objects that were important to the deceased, and most of all, a living person with a connection to them. This is like a classic seance; it is a slow, lengthy process and the people who are close to the deceased have to actively participate in it.

If the deceased person hasn’t been dead for long, such a ritual may actually be able to reach their spirit in Dolurrh; but remember that spirits in Dolurrh are afflicted with ennui and are constantly losing their memories, so the longer they’ve been dead, the less of them will be left. The spell description notes that “Answers are usually brief, cryptic, or repetitive, and the corpse is under no compulsion to offer a truthful answer.” In the case of reaching a spirit still in Dolurrh I’d require a skill check on the part of the medium (Arcana or Religion) and a Charisma check on the part of the petitioner—with advantage or disadvantage based on their relationship to the deceased and how long they’ve been dead; a good result on both checks might be able to give a semblance of actually having a conversation with the deceased. Of course, the other side of this is that there are some mediums who are simply charlatans—who use detect thoughts to determine what the petitioner wants to hear, and illusion magic to put on a spookshow.

The Seekers of the Divinity WithinAKA the Blood of Vol—have skilled necromancers and no sentimental attachment to corpses. In some Seeker communities, the skulls of people seen as particularly wise or who possess valuable information will be preserved in a sort of library ossuary, allowing a necromancer to consult them with questions. However, this is just standard speak with dead, not something more dramatic like the spirit idols of Aerenal. Mediums can draw on the trace memories that remain in the skulls, but they aren’t actually speaking to the spirits of the deceased.

Meanwhile, when you go to Aerenal speak with dead is a very common tool—but in Aerenal, spirits of the dead are often preserved in spirit idols that prevent them from the dissolution of Dolurrh. When interacting with a spirit idol, speak with dead allows the caster to have an actual conversation with the deceased spirit; it’s not limited to five questions, and provided the spirit likes the questioner, answers don’t need to be cryptic or short.

That’s all for now! If you’d like to present questions for future articles, join my Patreon—thanks to my patrons for their questions and support! I won’t be answering further questions on this topic, but feel free to discuss these ideas and what you’ve done in your campaign in the comments!

IFAQ: Nationalism, Ancient Sailors, Merfolk and Masked Fey

Every month, I answer interesting questions posed by my Patreon supporters. Here’s a few that came up this month!

What is the basis of nationalism in Khorvaire? Everyone speaks Common. Ethnicity doesn’t seem to be a factor, considering that you can be Brelish while being a dwarf or elf, let alone human. If it’s about shared history and traditions, can an Aundairian adopt Brelish ways and become a Brelishman? If an overwrought Sword of Liberty is setting out on a terror campaign against foreigners, what is he looking for to determine who is and isn’t a “foreigner”?

First, let’s talk about language—something I did in this article. One of the basic points is that the Common tongue is an artificial construct we use because it makes stories easier; it’s not especially FUN to have the story come grinding to a halt because no one speaks Karrnathi. So, everyone in the Five Nations speaks Common. But as I note in that article…

I prefer to limit the number of languages I use, but also to play up the idea of regional dialects and slang. Common draws on all of the old languages of pre-Riedran Sarlona, so you can definitely get variation from place to place. When the paladin from Thrane is in a small Karrnathi village, he might have to make an Intelligence check to perfectly understand the conversation of the locals or a Charisma check to communicate clearly… unless, of course, he has a local guide to help out. It allows for the challenge and potential humor of limited communication while still allowing for the possibility of communication with no help. If a character has the Linguist feat or is from the region, I’d allow them to act as that local guide — so we’ve got a little fun flavor because the Karrn PC can joke with the locals at the expense of the Thrane.

Then there’s this article on “The People of the Five Nations.” A key note: “Rather than being judged by the color of your skin, you’ll be evaluated by your ACCENT, ATTITUDE and FASHION.” (highlights added). So again, everyone may be speaking Common, but in my campaign, unless someone is actively trying to disguise it it’s obvious from their accent where they’re from (unless part of their story is “I went to Arcanix and worked hard to ditch my small-town Brelish accent.”)

To look to a real world example, consider the US Civil War. Consider how people in a small town in Mississippi would feel about someone from New York City moving into town four years after the war. He might look just like most of the townsfolk; he might even have a great-grandfather from the town. But he doesn’t dress like them, he doesn’t sound like them, he doesn’t share their customs, and the people in the town lost a lot of good boys in the war. Even if that outsider does his best to lose his accent and to adopt local customs…. do you think the locals will say “Oh, that’s OK then?” Or might some of them even be angrier, thinking he’s mocking them?

So: it’s NOT about blood. You can be a Brelish dwarf or a Brelish elf. It’s about customs. It’s about the way you speak and the sound of your name. It’s about your values and your traditions. Can you quote Beggar Dane? Are you willing to help a friend pull one over on the tax collectors? If you ditch everything about you that defines you as Cyran, then congratulations, they might even let you join the Swords of Liberty. But that’s not something most Cyrans WANT to do; the people of High Walls and New Cyre believe that they WILL regain their nation, and they are proudly holding on to their accents and their customs. And that draws the ire of the Swords of Liberty.

Why are merfolk native to Lamannia? In my musings about them, they seem to be (in our real-life mythology) more akin to dryads and other fey spirits.

In OUR world, merfolk are mythological. In Eberron—or in Fifth Edition in general—they’re not. A dryad isn’t a natural creature; it’s fey, and part of what that means its that it’s not bound by the limits of nature. Many fey are essentially immortal. They don’t reproduce in the way humanoids do, and for the most part, they don’t evolve. There’s no nation of dryads in Eberron; where they are found, they are tied to their stories, and time essentially passes through them.

None of this is true of the merfolk of Eberron or Lamannia. They’re not fey; they’re humanoids. They live, they raise families, they die. Those that live in Lamannia are influenced by the primal nature of the plane. According to Exploring Eberron,There are merfolk in Eberron—such as the Kalamer of the Thunder Sea—but their people began in the Endless Ocean of Lamannia, and are still found there. These primordial merfolk remain close to their elemental roots and instincts. They wield druidic magic, but don’t craft tools or structures. Other humanoid natives of Lamannia are much the same; any race with a strong primal connection could be tied to Lamannia, but they’re driven by instinct and avoid the trappings of civilization.” But once they arrived in Eberron, they evolved and they changed. The Kalamer of Eberron have many distinct cultures, and Karakala engages in diplomacy and trade with the other nations of the Thunder Sea. If you have an immortal siren who has nothing better to do than sit on a rock and lure sailors to their doom, that could be a Thelanian fey who happens to have the general appearance of a merfolk. But that’s the point—it would be fey, content to play out this somewhat pointless role for centuries. So you could definitely have fey that LOOK like merfolk—but that’s not what the Kalamer are.

Regarding Fey—many of the Archfey lords, especially in your novels, have masks hiding their faces but the enchanted disguises still move with emotions. Was there anything in particular that inspired this custom for Eberron fey of importance?

It largely ties to the idea that the Archfey are STORIES rather than PEOPLE. The stories inspired by the Lady in Shadow can be found among the dar, the dwarves, and humanity; the Lady herself isn’t human, dwarf, or dar. With some Archfey I’ve suggested that people see them in different ways, interpreting them in a familiar form; others appear masked, leaving what lies beneath to the viewer’s imagination. At the same time, the masks generally animate because the point of the mask isn’t to conceal emotion; it’s to leave room for the viewer to add details.

With some groups like elves and gnomes sailing the seas at the same time as Rhiavaar slaver ships, it would be interesting to know what impact or presence western Sarlona had on eastern Khorvaire. Would the Zil merchants have been surprised by human ships coming west?

So first of all, it’s important to keep in mind that we’re discussing events that occurred thousands of years ago, are almost entirely undocumented, and that have a minimal impact on any modern nation. So the discussion is extremely hypothetical. Having said that that, let’s talk about what ways going on in the Lhazaar Sea when Lhazaar showed up. First of all: Lhazaar wasn’t the first Sarlonan human to land in the region that now bears her name. She was the first to lead a serious, large-scale force there… but the reason they were willing to take that risk was because they knew of the land from other Rhiavhaarans who’d made the crossing and even established outposts on some of the islands. Essentially, Lhazaar was coming because it was clear there was profit to be made. Keep in mind that at this time, Rhiavhaar wasn’t some sort of disciplined empire. Rhiavhaarans were known as coastal reavers and pirates, and when asking “what ships did they attack with their piracy” — in part they clashed with vessels from the Syrkarn nations, but they also clashed with OTHER RHIAVHAARANS; the Provinces of Riedra article notes that during the Sundering, the Dreaming Dark brought down Rhiavhaar by exacerbating existing clan feuds. Part of what was remarkable about Lhazaar’s expedition was the number of people she convinced to work together.

The original question asks if Zil merchants were surprised by humans arriving, because they were trading with the Mror. But the Zil WEREN’T trading with the Mror before Lhazaar, because Zilargo didn’t exist then. Per this canon article, Zilargo specifically formed in response to Malleon’s reaving along the southern coast. Exploring Eberron notes that humanity largely ignored the Mror until Galifar, while “Zil explorers” came to Mror in the time known as Dul Krok—the time in which humanity was spreading across Khorvaire. There may have been a few ships from Trolanport exploring the east coast when Lhazaar arrived, but Zilargo as we know it didn’t even exist and didn’t yet have established trade with the Mror. Likewise, the Aereni have always been insular. I expect the Aereni traded with Khunan and Sunyagir, so their ships would have clashed with Rhiavhaaran pirates in the south, but I doubt they would have been frequently encountered in the current region of the Lhazaar Principalities. So around the time Lhazaar landed, most likely the majority of the sea traffic in the region would have been other Rhiavhaarans, either opportunist raiders or smaller-scale settlers.

What kinds of alcohol / drinks are popular in Adar?

Alcohol exists in Adar, but it isn’t especially remarkable or beloved. The more distinctive regional beverage is varit, pure water infused with a liquid form of sentira that conveys a pure emotion. Why get drunk when you can simply drink joy? Pure varit is quite intense, so it’s usually watered down; a few drops in tal to start the day off with a positive feeling. For the most part, Adaran varit is distilled from positive feelings, but there’s a distillery in Raan that specializes in sorrow, for those who wish to wallow in grief. As it hasn’t been mentioned canonically, I don’t think it’s currently well known in Khorvaire. I’d think imported varit would be a rare and exotic beverage—the sort of thing Aurum concordians would brag about drinking—but that there could be varit distilleries starting up in Overlook or other Adaran communities.

That’s all for now! Feel free to discuss these ideas or to share what you’ve done with any of these things in the comments, but as this is an IFAQ, I won’t be answering further questions on these topics. Thanks to my Patreon supporters for asking interesting questions!

IFAQ: Cartomancy in Khorvaire

This is Caron Ellis’s work from Illimat, but it would certainly fit in an Aundairian oracle deck.

When time permits, I like to answer interesting questions posed by my Patreon supporters. This one has come up a few times…

Are there any cultures within Khorvaire that particularly utilize the Tarokka style deck? Is this associated with a dragonmarked house, magewrights, or something else?

Eberron: Rising From The Last War includes “oracle” as one of the possible specialties for magewrights; as presented, they can cast augury and divination as rituals. I expand on this in Exploring Eberron:

At DM discretion, a magewright’s spells may have expanded—or limited—effects. Consider what it takes to make a spell a viable commercial service. For example, augury only allows the caster to predict events 30 minutes in the future—useful for adventurers in the midst of a dungeon, but not for the farmer wanting an opinion on planting crops. A professional oracle might be able to predict woe or weal anywhere from a day to a week in advance—but such an oracle could have very specific limitations, such as only being able to make predictions related to to weather or agriculture. As a DM, use the existing spells as a model, but adjust them as necessary to create a viable business.

This is one place where I’d draw a sharper line than usual between magewrights (who employ arcane science) and adepts (who perform divine rituals). As a 2nd level spell, augury is in the range of everyday magic; as a 4th level spell divination is a little beyond it. With this in mind, I’d be inclined to either say that only the most exceptional magewright oracles can perform divination, or that they can only perform a narrow version of it, as described above. While for adepts I’d be inclined to say that they can cast augury at will but that divination is less predictable; they can pray on a thing, but sometimes answers come and sometimes they don’t… and sometimes, an adept oracle receives answers to questions without even asking them. It’s faith, not science.

So: Oracles can be found across Khorvaire, and they can cast augury and divination. But what does this LOOK like? The rules gives us the mechanics of spells, but flavor is something we have to add. Take fireball. Typically we think of a wizard raising a hand and calling out a word of power to produce a blast of fire from thin air. On the other hand, an artificer who employs alchemist’s supplies as their spellcasting focus could describe casting a fireball as hastily assembling a magical Molotov cocktail. It’s the same spell, but the flavor is completely different. The same definitely holds true here. An adept oracle might light incense and pray throughout their ritual time, seeking the answer within. A magewright oracle could employ bones, tea leaves, or unquestionably, cards—and I think there are oracular traditions that use all of those tools on Khorvaire.

We’ve never discussed cartomancy in any canon source that I’m aware of, but I’ve always assumed that it exists. A key question is how do people think the cards work? What power is guiding the cards? Let’s look at a few possibilities and where they’d fit.

The Draconic Prophecy. Eberron HAS the idea of a vast power that can be used to shape or predict the future, and it’s easy to imagine a deck of cards that’s seen as a lens for drawing guidance from the Draconic Prophecy. Personally I’d say that this is a very limited lens—peeking at the Prophecy through a hole in a piece of cardboard, no match for the vast observatories and tools employed by the Lords of Dust and the Chamber—but still useful as a tool for everyday life and a reliable way of casting divination. Personally, I would imagine this using a blend of the Sovereigns, Progenitors, and Planes as the arcana. To me, this would be the Rider-Waite of the Five Nations—a standard deck employed across the nations. Let’s call it the Golden Deck or the Dragon Deck (when it depicts the Sovereigns as dragons).

Sul Khatesh. The Keeper of Secrets loves esoteric rituals and people seeking forbidden knowledge. The Deck of Shadows is said to have been created by Hektula, and it uses overlords and archfiends as its arcana. It has a sinister reputation and is said to reveal painful secrets and things people don’t want known—all catering to Sul Khatesh’s love of people fearing magic. So this is found across Khorvaire, but it’s not a deck people will use in nice neighborhoods.

Thelanis. The spirits speak through the cards, and in this case the spirits are the archfey of Thelanis. The Deck of Stories is most commonly used in Aundair—where there’s long-standing traditions of dealing with the fey—but it can be found across the Five Nations.

Xoriat. It’s said the artist who drew the first tohiish dooval deck gouged out his eyes before sketching the cards. The images on the cards are unnerving, abstract designs; it’s not unlike a deck of Rorshach images, with different people seeing very different things as they stare at the cards. The tohiish dooval—”dangerous truth“—first appeared in the Shadow Marches and is rarely seen in the Five Nations, but there are rumors that Narathun oracles have started using a similar deck found in the Realm Below.

The Divinity Within. It’s not about the cards—it’s about the person reading them. Adept oracles of the Blood of Vol use cartomancy more than those of any other faith, but there’s no standardized deck associated with the faith. You could use Tarokka, Harrow, or any other deck. What’s important is what the reader sees in the cards, because the cards are the tool they use to reach their own Divinity Within.

These are just a few possible decks and traditions; an Aereni oracle might use a unique deck with cards representing their own personal ancestors. Aside from its use as a divinatory tool, I’d definitely allow a warlock to use a cartomancy deck as an arcane focus (and as their Book of Shadows, if they have Pact of the Tome); they could use the cards as a means to communicate with their patron, and could describe producing their spell effects by dramatically displaying and invoking specific cards.

I’ve got a Duergar Spirit Bard who uses a Harrow deck he found while in a labor camp in Ohr Kaluun; given that the whole vibe for Ohr Kaluun is “dark magic”, cartomancy felt like a natural fit.

This seems entirely reasonable, and such a tradition could have been carried over into the Venomous Demesne. But with that said, the question that immediately comes to my mind is what makes it “Dark Magic”? Is it a method of communicating with fiends? Are the cards printed using the blood of an innocent, and it’s their tormented spirit that speaks through the cards? Is the deck itself a bound imp? For those who aren’t familiar with it, Ohr Kaluun is a region in Sarlona which was in the past known for dangerous and sinister magical practices, including consorting with malevolent powers. When creating magic items from Ohr Kaluun, I love to try to hit this—to ask why would people be afraid of this place? I want players to say “I want to keep this item because it’s useful, but also, ewwww.”

That’s all for now! Feel free to discuss these ideas or to share what you’ve done with cartomancy in the comments, but as this is an IFAQ, I won’t be answering questions on the topic. Thanks to my Patreon supporters for asking interesting questions!

IFAQ: The Lycanthropic Purge Campaign

When time permits, I like to answer interesting questions posed by my Patreon supporters. Here’s one that came up this month. As always, my answers are based on what I do in my personal campaign and may contradict canon sources: notably, this article is based on the premise that the Wild Heart was the cause of the Lycanthropic Purge, which is just one of the options presented in canon.

I’d like to run a campaign set during the Lycanthropic Purge. On the Manifest Zone podcast you mentioned running a one-shot with a mixed party during this time, and I was wondering if you have any suggestions. Should I have my players make characters on both sides and alternate between them, or would that be too confusing?

In my Eberron, the Purge began when the archfiend known as the Wild Heart awoke in the Towering Wood and spread its power across the region. Countless innocents died, but none suffered so much as the shifters of the Towering Wood. Entire villages were brutally slaughtered, while elsewhere hunters tortured innocents as they sought to root out hidden wererats.

… And then the templars arrived.

When people think of the Lycanthropic Purge, they often think of the final stage—the slow decades in which the zealots of the Pure Flame sought to eliminate every last lycanthrope, heedless of how many innocents they harmed in the process. Everyone knows that shifters died in the conflict and that it created a deep rift between the shifters of the west and the Church of the Silver Flame. What is often overlooked is that countless innocent shifters died before the templars ever came to the Towering Wood. The Silver Crusade wasn’t a struggle between templars and shifters. It was a war between the servants of the Wild Heart and everyone else; shifters just suffered the worst of it.

First, let’s establish some basic facts. This Dragonmark article provides basic information about the Silver Crusade, now often known as the Lycanthropic Purge. This IFAQ article discusses different strains of lycanthropy—in particular, the Curse of the Wild Heart, the primary strain involved in the Silver Crusade. This is important because the lycanthropes being fought weren’t blessed by Olarune or champions of the natural world; they were cursed by an overlord and essentially demonically possessed.

The Templars of the Silver Flame came in response to lycanthropes raiding western Aundair. After securing the region they realized the threat was based deep in the Towering Wood—and that they would have to push into the woods to fight it. But who were those lycanthropes who triggered the crusade? Where did the forces that raided Aundair come from? The curse began in the Towering Wood, and it was the people of the Towering Wood who were the first victims of the Wild Heart—and the majority of them were shifters. Why did the templars fear shifters? Why was it so easy for them to believe shifters could be lycanthropes? Because the majority of the lycanthropes they fought were cursed shifters, taken by the Wild Heart before the templars came into the region. And templars didn’t jump to this conclusion alone; wererats hidden among shifters and templar forces delighted in sowing chaos and turning people who should be allies into enemies. Wererats worked to convince templars that innocent shifters were scheming lycanthropes, and to convince shifters that the templars were butchers and that their only chance for survival was to strike first. So there were all too many incidents where innocents died. But the templars never believed that all shifters were lycanthropes or that all shifters were the enemy. Shifters were the civilians of the Towering Wood. But shifters also formed the bulk of the forces of the Wild Heart, and lycanthropes were hidden in almost every shifter village.

So in looking at the actual battles of the Purge, there were essentially two movies playing out at the same time. In the open forest you had a movie that was a blend of Aliens and Predator. Werewolves, wereboars, and other lycanthropes were feral and bloodthirsty. Some—especially wereboars—would rely on brute force, charging directly into enemy forces. Weretigers and similar types preferred to toy with templars, stalking them, laying traps and ambushes. Werewolves could go either way, sometimes overrunning their enemies and other times hounding them, striking swiftly and then disappearing. One to one, only the greatest templar champions were a match for an individual lycanthrope. This was complicated by the fact that the templars couldn’t afford to silver every weapon. Specialists had silvered halberds, greatswords, and arrows; but most templars had to rely on silvered daggers to bring down their foes. This was a horror movie. The templars relied on superior numbers to overcome the enemy, but one to one they were grievously outmatched. The lycanthropes were at home in the woods, while the templars were from the villages of Thrane. Then you had the inhabitants of the wood—primarily shifters, but also the followers of the druidic traditions we know think of as the Eldeen sects. Shifters, humans, elves, and others, these people knew the woods and knew the enemy far better than the templars, but they had been savaged by the Wild Heart before the templars ever arrived, and had always been isolated from the outside world.

This brings us to the second story playing out in the Towering Wood… a blend of The Thing and the game Are You A Werewolf? Wereboars relied on brute force, but wererats specialized in psychological warfare. Wererats infiltrated every village and outpost they could find, working to worm their way into templar forces as well as the communities of the Towering Wood. And keep in mind that the templars relied on those villages as bases of operations and sources of supplies in the vast untamed woods; they needed the help of shifter villagers. The wererats used these positions to gather intelligence on their enemies, but also to amplify paranoia and to turn innocents against one another. Set aside templars and shifters—when two squads of templars meet in the wood, can they trust one another? What about when a squad of templars finds a single templar, the lone survivor of a squad butchered in a werewolf attack. She swears she was never bitten, that she’s still human… but can they trust her, or will their fear overwhelm them? One might say lycanthropes are immune to non-silvered weapons… couldn’t they just prick her finger with an iron blade? Good question, but in my campaign it’s not quite so simple. This article discusses the topic in more length, but the short form is that werewolves bleed when you stab them with iron knives, they just won’t DIE; so to make a conclusive determination by wounding them with a weapon, you’d have to inflict enough damage that they might actually die if they’re innocent, which is how many innocents ended up dying in the later years of the Purge.

So this war was both physical and psychological, and whichever front you were fighting on, it was a horror story. The enemy could be anywhere, and all it would take was a single untreated bite to turn you into a monster who would turn on your friends. The adventure I described on Manifest Zone involved the remnants of a templar patrol needing to join forces with a shifter Moonspeaker druid and her warden, who were tracking a champion of the Wild Heart. The shifters knew more about this threat than the templars, but they couldn’t defeat the enemy on their own. And yet, could either group trust that the other? Could they get past the innocent blood that had been spilt and work together?

Creating A Party

So: in running a campaign set in during the “Surge” era, it’s not about shifters versus templars. It’s about shifters, templars, Greensingers, Wardens of the Wood, Ashbound and more—all of the inhabitants of the Towering Wood and the army that came from beyond it—against the deadly power of the Wild Heart. I wouldn’t have players create characters on both sides of this conflict, because the servants of the Wild Heart weren’t acting with free will; this comes to the point that player characters that become evil lycanthropes are often placed under DM control. The forces of the Wild Heart weren’t choosing to fight; they were extensions of an overlord. What I’d do is to have players create two character concepts at the beginning of the campaign: a templar character and a native of the Towering Wood, who could be a shifter or a member of one of the druidic sects. The players would begin as a squad of templars assigned to a deep forward patrol, seeking the source of the Wild Heart’s power. Whenever a player character dies, the group would have the opportunity to acquire a local ally—that player’s backup character. Because again, part of the point is that this is a horror movie in which the templars were largely outmatched, so unlike many campaigns I’d want to be clear from the onset that player characters can die. We’d be prepared for that and players would know that death wouldn’t be the end of the story—but they’d know that it’s a very real threat, and they’d have a backup character prepared. And with this in mind, if a player loses their initial character and assumes the role of their secondary, I’d have them make a new secondary—who could be a native or could be a templar, the last survivor of another patrol thrilled to find friends. And I’d at least throw out that possibility you never know, one of the secondary characters you acquire could be a wererat… Even if this never happened, part of the point would be to establish how powerful this fear could be.

Wait, The Eldeen Druids Were Involved?

We’ve never mentioned the role of the Wardens of the Wood or the Ashbound in the Lycanthropic Purge, but of course they were involved. The Towering Wood was the front line of the war, and the Towering Wood is the home of the Eldeen sects. Cut Oalian and count the rings; he’s been around for far longer than two centuries. The point is that the bulk of the population of the Towering Wood—the majority of its villages and communities—were shifters, so they received most of the attention… and meanwhile, the templar forces far outnumbered the Wardens of the Wood. But yes, the Eldeen Sects were absolutely involved in the conflict, fighting both to survive and to protect other innocents where they could. They suffered tremendous losses during the conflict—some at the hands of templars convinced they were lycanthropes—but the Wardens in particular did manage to protect many innocents. We’ve mentioned before that the Pure Flame emerged from the Lycanthropic Purge as the Aundairians who’d suffered through the Purge embraced the Silver Flame. But just as the Flame received a surge of new followers in the aftermath of the conflict, so did the Wardens of the Wood! Especially in the region around Niern—the closest to the Greenheart—many people owed their survival to the efforts of the Wardens and either immigrated into the woods in the aftermath of the Purge or simply maintained contact with their Warden allies. This was one more factor in the willingness of the people of western Aundair to embrace the Wardens and form the Eldeen Reaches during the Last War; because the region already had history with the Wardens, still told the stories of Warden rangers bravely fighting wereboars. But again, the key point is that the Wardens didn’t have the numbers or the military discipline of the templars. They played a key role in a few specific areas, and they certainly were involved in the final push that broke the power of the Wild Heart, along with templars and Moonspeakers—but to the world at large, this was the templars’ story.

How Did Any Shifters Survive?

The templars didn’t learn of the threat until the lycanthropes spread beyond the Towering Wood and into Aundair. We’ve said that shifter villages were important staging areas for templar forces during the conflict, and that there were villages with just a handful of wererats hidden among an otherwise innocent population. But how is it that there were any shifter villages by the time the templars arrived? How is it that they weren’t completely overwhelmed before the forces of the Wild Heart began invading Aundair?

The key to this is that we’ve never discussed what the Wild Heart actually wanted to accomplish or how it was finally defeated. We know that the Wild Heart had broken most of its bonds, that it was able to exert its influence over a vast region, and that at some point it was likely able to manifest a physical avatar at the seat of its power (a manifestation similar in power to the overlords presented in Rising From The Last War). We know that in general it drew strength from the spread of lycanthropy, and that eliminating lycanthropes weakened it. But as discussed in this article, the bonds of the overlords are enigmatic and tied to the Prophecy. It is entirely possible that the Wild Heart needed the templars to break free from its prison. I’ll take it a step further and say that it may well have needed templars to kill innocent shifters—that part of why cunning wererats were engineering paranoia and driving massacres is because this was a crucial component of the lock on the Wild Heart’s prison. One could say if that’s the case and someone figured it out, couldn’t they just leave? and sure, if someone figured it out, they could—but that wouldn’t undo the damage already done. Even if it wasn’t fully free, the Wild Heart would still command an army of lycanthropes and could still destroy Aundair; things had gone way too far for ignoring it to be an answer. The templars may have been a key element in releasing the Wild Heart—but they also had a vital role to play in fully rebinding it, which is what eventually occurred.

The upshot of all of this is to remember that the true goals of the Wild Heart were more subtle than simply kill and expand… and that the ultimate defeat of the Wild Heart required more than just physical force. It’s up to the DM to decide exactly what these two options—release and rebind—involved.

In Conclusion…

In telling a story or creating a campaign around the Silver Crusade, I’d keep the following points in mind…

  • Shifters of the Towering Wood were the primary inhabitants of the Wood before the Crusade. Most villages in the wood were shifter communities.
  • These shifters suffered grievous losses and were fighting for their survival before the templars even arrived. Shifter villages that hadn’t been openly attacked were often infiltrated by wererats.
  • Templars weren’t the enemy of the shifters, and they did work together in villages. But the Wild Heart forever worked to make them enemies and to trick them into bloodshed.
  • The known druid sects—Wardens of the Wood, Ashbound, Greensingers, Children of Winter—were all involved in the conflict, but because of their small numbers were typically confined to specific regions. They were fighting for their survival. Prior to the Aundairian attacks, non-shifter lycanthropes in the Towering Wood would be drawn from the druid sects.
  • The goal of the Wild Heart was to shatter the final bonds imprisoning it. While bloodshed and the spread of lycanthropy helped this, its true goals were more complex; this is why the conflict lasted as long as it did and why it didn’t raze every village.
  • In my campaign, good people slaughtering innocents would be a critical element of the Wild Heart’s goals. So there were two clear front lines—physical conflict with powerful lycanthropes and psychological conflict with wererats seeking to compel innocents to kill one another.

All of this deals with the first phase of the Purge. Once the power of the Wild Heart was broken, afflicted lycanthropes could no longer infect others and champions of Olarune and other good lycanthropes were freed from its control. But the conflict wasn’t over, and there were decades of strife and pain as the Pure Flame continued its efforts to root out every last lycanthrope. As a story, this would be more like The Crucible, and it’s not a campaign I’d particularly like to run.

Even if you never run a campaign set in this period, it can still play a role in the story of many player characters in the modern day. If you’re from the region—whether human or shifter—what happened to your family during the Purge? Were your ancestors slaughtered by lycanthropes, templars, or both? Did they adopt the faith of the Flame or join one of the druid sects because of their actions in the Silver Crusade… or have they never forgiven one of those groups for the actions it took during the Purge? If you’re playing an elf or a similarly long-lived character, did you actually experience part of the Purge yourself, and if so, what role did you play?

That’s all for now! My time is very limited right now, so I may not be able to answer questions on this topic. Thanks to my Patreon supporters for asking interesting questions and for making these articles possible; follow the link if you’d like to help support the site and determine the topics of future articles!