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!

IFAQ: Dreamspace and Flumphs

Art by Julio Azevedo

Every month, I ask my Patreon supporters for interesting questions about Eberron. This is the first time I’ve been asked about flumphs! So let’s get to it!

What’s the role of Flumphs in Eberron, especially in Riedra or Adar?

As far as I know, flumphs have never been addressed in canon. I’ve personally never used a flumph in any campaign I’ve run, so I’m primarily familiar with them from their appearances in Order of the Stick. So, the following things are true about flumphs in 5E.

  • Flumphs are small aberrations.
  • Flumphs are telepathic. They feed on telepathic emanations and thus are thus found around other telepathic species. They can eavesdrop on telepathic communication in their vicinity and cannot be perceived by telepathy or divination.
  • Flumphs are wise and benevolent. They dislike holding on to evil thoughts, and thus when they overhear evil thoughts they will try and share them with good people—so they’re ideally suited to spilling the beans on illithid or aboleth schemes.
  • They’re traditionally found in the Underdark, and live in harmonious units known as cloisters.

So with all that in mind, here’s how I’ll use flumphs in Eberron…

Flumphs are natives of Xoriat, where they dwell in the Emocean—a tide of surging thoughts and emotions, deeper and more primal than Dal Quor’s Ocean of Dreams. Flumph cloisters drift along streams of consciousness, drawing sustenance from the pure psychic emanations surrounding them. This is a blissful experience, and most flumphs have no interest in traveling to the material plane. But occasionally manifest zones form maelstroms within the Emocean, especially when people within the manifest zone suffer intense emotions. Flumphs in the material plane are fish out of water, and need to quickly find a source of psychic emanations in order to survive. While flumphs can draw sustenance from any form of telepathic emanation, they are benevolent by nature. While they can survive on a diet of cruelty, it’s distressing and they will seek to expunge the evil thoughts in a psychic exchange with good creatures whenever possible.

Flumphs enter Eberron through manifest zones to Xoriat. Here’s a few places flumphs can be found in Eberron.

  • There are flumphs scattered across Sol Udar beneath the Mror Holds, pulled in by the fear and suffering of the dwarves battling Dyrrn the Corruptor. Most Mror flumphs are isolated and lost, struggling to survive. Sages of Clan Narathun have established a flumph sanctuary beneath Shadowspire and reunited a flumph cloister. A group of Narathun bards have been working with these flumphs to develop their thoughtsinging techniques, and flumphs are helping Narathun watch for Dyrrn’s forces.
  • Flumphs can be found in the swamps of the Shadow Marches. Some linger in the periphery of dangerous telepathic entities. Others have formed a symbiotic relationship with a sect known as the Uul’gaanu, the “Daughters of the Dream.” A benevolent variation of Kyrzin’s Whisperers, the Uul’gaanu build their communities around hidden flumphs. The flumphs help the Uul’gaanu develop basic telepathic abilities; an Uul’gaanu community has a very simple hive mind, with members of the community casually sharing emotions and thoughts. Community members gather together for psychic metaconcerts, generating shared emotions that feed their flumphs. Dealing with the Uul’gaanu can be unsettling for outsiders, as the Uul’gaanu respond to the thoughts and emotions of their companions without need for speech; while for their part, the peaceful Uul’gaanu are often distressed by the cruel or selfish thoughts of outsiders. As a result, the Uul’gaanu tend to remain isolated from other Marcher communities.
  • Flumphs have emerged in wild zones of Sarlona over the years. Because of their ability to eavesdrop on psychic communication, the Inspired consider them a security risk and exterminate them whenever they are found. However, a number of flumphs have found safe havens in the fortress monasteries of Adar. Adaran flumphs are valued members of their communities, engaging in thoughtsinging and presenting young Adarans with philosophical challenges. Some flumphs choose to work with Adaran security forces, watching for Inspired infiltrators and influences.

As denizens of Xoriat, flumphs perceive reality in very different ways from creatures of the material plane, and have different outlooks on the nature of time, space, matter, and individual identity. Those who can bend their brains to encompass these concepts can learn a great deal from flumphs, as shown by the nascent group mind of the Uul’gaanu and the thoughtsinging techniques of the Narathun. However, these concepts can be difficult to reconcile with everyday life in the material plane, and this can make conversations with flumphs confusing for people fully grounded in reality.

What is the Dreamspace, and how would you use it?

The Dreamspace is a concept introduced in Secrets of Sarlona, which has this to say:

Planar gateways that once linked Eberron and Dal Quor, the Region of Dreams, were sundered during the cataclysmic wars that destroyed Xen’drik and shattered the giant civilization. Since then, Dal Quor has been forever distant, and no stable manifest zones to Dal Quor exist anywhere on Eberron.

However, Dal Quor and Eberron remained inextricably linked by the state of dreaming—the process by which mortal minds travel to the Region of Dreams, and the subtle gateway through which the quori first began their conquest of Sarlona some fifteen centuries past. 

Discovered short years ago and still known only to a few, the dreamspace is an effect that appears related to this spiritual connection between planes, but one that as yet has no explanation. It appears as a kind of ripple of arcane and psionic energy—a border of sorts between the mortal world and the world of dreams… Regardless of its origin, different factions among both the kalashtar and Inspired distrust—some even say fear—the dreamspace. In particular, a good number of Inspired are said to be disturbed by the existence of a power connected to Dal Quor that they neither control nor understand.

Secrets of Sarlona, Page 18

Secrets of Sarlona includes a set of “Dreamtouched Feats” that allow people to attune themselves to the Dreamspace. Specific uses include the Dream of Contact, which allows long-distance telepathic communication (not unlike Sending) and Dream of Insight, which allows the dreamer to make a Intelligence-based skill check with a substantial bonus to the role—essentially, drawing knowledge from the collective unconscious. These techniques are crucial tools for the Unchained, a resistance movement within Riedra whose members engage un unsanctioned free dreaming.

That’s the extent of canon information. The Dreamspace was “discovered a few short years ago” and both the Inspired and kalashtar distrust it. So what IS it? A few possibilities that come to mind…

  • The Dreamspace is just part of the natural infrastructure of the planes. Think of it as the phone lines that connect mortal dreamers to Dal Quor. There’s nothing sinister about it; it’s just a (super)natural part of the world.
  • The Dreamspace is an artifact created by the quori of a previous age when they interacted with Eberron. Rather than tying this to the Giant-Quori conflict in Xen’drik, I’d tie this to an even older age of Dal Quor, potentially associated with long-forgotten civilizations in either Khorvaire or Sarlona… civilizations destroyed by the rising of the Daughter of Khyber or another Overlord. This allows for the discovery of ancient rituals or artifacts designed to manipulate the Dreamspace, and leaves the question open as to whether the quori of that past age were benevolent or if the Dreamspace itself was designed as some sort of weapon or tool of oppression.
  • People have only discovered the Dreamspace recently because it’s only recently come into existence. It’s the side effect of unforeseen damage the Inspired are inflicting on the psychosphere of Eberron through their use of the hanbalani monoliths. At the moment it’s a useful tool, but as the damage becomes more extensive it could connect unwilling minds, cause dreaming spirits to be lost in the Dreamspace instead of reaching Dal Quor, or far worse things.
  • The Dreamspace is a hoax. It’s a creation of the Dreaming Dark, a lure that’s being used to draw out rebels like the Unchained. Attuning the the Dreamspace and developing Dreamtouched techniques actually makes the user more vulnerable to quori possession.

These are all interesting possibilities. The point is that, like the Mourning, I wouldn’t WANT to present a single kanon or canon answer, because a central point of the Dreamspace is that the people using it don’t know what it is. It is a new tool that’s being latched onto by a desperate resistance—is it a blessing, or could it be a trap? Is it secretly a tool of the Dreaming Dark, or is it a the horrifying result of their messing with powers beyond even their control? Each of the four options above would form the foundation of very different stories. Using the first option, it could be a simple, reliable tool that has no other significant impact on the story. Using the second option could unveil a quori scheme from a previous age that dwarfs the ambitions of the Dreaming Dark—while the third option could end with the Dreaming Dark and the player characters working together to disassemble the hanbalani system before it tears reality apart.

So, the Dreamspace was always intended to be an idea that each DM could use in different ways; perhaps one of these ideas will inspire you!

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

IFAQ: Prince Oargev’s Suitors

As time permits, I like to answer interesting questions posed by my Patreon supporters. Here’s one that’s come up a few times over the last few months.

Who would you cast as suitors for Khorvaire’s most eligible bachelor, Prince Oargev ir’Wynarn?

Oargev ir’Wynarn is the last son of Cyre’s ruling family. He was serving as an ambassador to Breland when the mysterious disaster befell his nation and has since become the unofficial leader of the Cyran refugees scattered throughout the other domains. He hopes to one day gather all of Cyre’s homeless children to this refuge in Breland. His other desire revolves around discovering the truth behind the destruction of his kin and country, and exacting revenge on the guilty parties. Until then, he graciously accepts the hospitality of Breland (even if the Brelish have given him unwanted land in the middle of nowhere) and works to rebuild the confidence and honor of his subjects. He serves as mayor of New Cyre while also playing the role of a king in exile.

Eberron Campaign Setting

Though young, Oargev is already a widower. His wife was lost on the Day of Mourning while Oargev was abroad. Oargev must take a new wife if the Cyran branch of the line of Wynarn is to endure. The prince, now twenty-five years of age, is both charming and gallant, and the coming social season is sure to be lively as both the families of Cyre and the nobles of other nations try to woo this dynamic leader.

Five Nations

In talking about Prince Oargev, an important first step is to resolve contradictory canon. Canon sources disagree on everything from Oargev’s age to his alignment to his class (notably, presenting two different sets of statistics for Oargev in the same book, Five Nations). Personally, I prefer Five Nations‘ first choice—NG aristocrat 2/bard 2—reflecting an optimistic idealist with raw artistic and arcane talent, both things Cyrans admire. But the more significant contradiction is his age and parentage. Forge of War and the 4E ECG both describe Oargev as the son of Queen Dannel ir’Wynarn. But his original mention in the 3.5 ECS simply describes him as “the last son of Cyre’s ruling family”—and Five Nations calls out that he’s young, 25 years old as of 998 YK. By canon, Queen Dannel became Queen of Cyre in 943 YK… meaning that she had been RULING Cyre for thirty years when Oargev was born. If we consider parallels in our world and cast Queen Dannel as Queen Elizabeth II of England, I’d personally cast Oargev as a young Prince Harry, not Charles; he was one of Dannel’s grandchildren. He is the “last son of Cyre’s ruling family,” not the last son of Dannel herself.

So for purposes of this article, Oargev is young—25 as of 998 YK. He’s idealistic, “charming and gallant“; he “hesitates to betray” his allies, and believes he’s doing what’s best for the Cyran people. He’s charming and artistic, being appointed to serves as a wartime ambassador when he was only twenty years old. He’s a grandson of Queen Dannel. Who were his parents? Honestly, I don’t care. It could be fun to create a story about his parent’s tragic relationship and how that affected him growing up, or to suggest that Dannel herself was jealous of the popularity of one of Oargev’s parents, or something like that. But I don’t like getting too deep into the weeds unless I’m actually telling a story in which those facts MATTER. The most important details are that Dannel was Queen of Cyre on the Day of Mourning and that Oargev is the last scion of the royal family; if you feel a need to fill in additional details about the Cyran royals, go right ahead. Which brings us to the next important question…

WHY DOES THIS MATTER?

Why does anyone CARE who Oargev is dating? What possibly relevance could it have to an adventure you might run? It’s a valid question. As I mentioned with Oargev’s parents, I don’t like adding obscure details unless they’re going to actually matter in the story that I’m telling. So why could Oargev’s love life matter in your campaign? Here’s a few possibilities.

The Legacy of Cyre. One of the simplest, basic backstories for a group of Eberron adventures is former Cyrans. Whether you were soldiers who served together or patrons of the same lost tavern, shared Cyran background is an easy way to forge a bond between a group of characters and to justify a group of wandering adventurers; your homeland was destroyed, and all you have now is the bonds you build. This in turn brings us to New Cyre. If you have a group of Cyran adventurers—or even just one influential Cyran within your party of adventurers—then New Cyre matters. As a Cyran your nation has been destroyed and your people scattered to the winds. New Cyre is a nexus for Cyran refugees, a place where your people are struggling to maintain your culture and to rebuild your nation. In a party with one or more Cyran adventurers, one question I’d ask in session zero is what are your ties to New Cyre? It’s the largest assembly of Cyran refugees… does the character have any family or friends in New Cyre? Do they want to see their nation reborn or have they turned their back on it?

If the adventurers care about Cyre or New Cyre, one possibility is for Oargev to serve as their patron—as described in more detail in the Head of State group patron presented in Eberron: Rising From The Last War. Adventures can be driven by the ongoing interests of Cyre and by the investigation of the Mourning or the Mournland. New Cyre itself could serve as an adventuring hub. If you follow any of these ideas, than Oargev’s relationships matter. Oargev’s spouse will shape the direction of his life and ambitions, and these in turn will shape the future of New Cyre and the potential of Cyre reborn. Do you want to see Oargev with someone who will fuel aggressive ambitions to rebuild—or seize—a new Cyre? Or would you rather see him with someone more conciliatory, who will focus on the security and well-being of the refugees even if that means abandoning the idea of Cyre reborn? Are you worried about your prince becoming a tool or a puppet of malign forces? If so, you should care about his suitors.

A Horse in the Race. Even if the adventurers have no ties to Cyre, they could have a connection to one of the suitors. Are they working with the Citadel? Perhaps their contact asks them to look out for Heydith. Are they part of House Cannith? Maybe Idara is an old friend. If they’re warforged they could have ties to Rose, or be interested in their agenda. If you really want Oargev’s choice to matter, get one of the player characters in the race! This is especially appropriate for a player character with the noble background; are they personally interested in Oargev, or is there pressure from their family to pursue the match? This could easily combine with having Oargev as a patron, as the adventurer tries to win his heart while helping enact his agenda. This is a story for a particular type of player, but if you have a player who wants to pursue the prince, it could be fun!

The Draconic Prophecy. The Draconic Prophecy revolves around the interaction of prophetically significant people and events. It’s a simple matter to assert that Oargev—let’s call him the Last Prince—is a prophetically significant figure whose choice of spouse will have cascading consequences in the Prophecy. Depending on the importance of the outcome, you could have disguised rakshasas or dragons in play trying to influence events, or adventurers working for the Chamber could be told you make sure Oargev and Haydith fall in love! A key point is that if the Prophecy requires that Oargev and Haydith fall in love, the Lords of Dust can’t just brute force the answer (using dominate or replacing Haydith); if the Prophecy requires them to fall in love, they will have to legitimately fall in love for it to qualify.

The point here is that you could have a part of adventurers who has no interest in Cyre whatsoever but who are working with the Chamber (or the Lords of Dust) in pursuit of the Prophecy and who are directed to play Cyrano and to meddle in Oargev’s romantic affairs… or if they’re more interested in protecting New Cyre, they could run afoul of the disguise rakshasa pulling strings.

Phiarlan Presents: The Prince. If your adventurers have no interest in Oargev or Cyre, you could still throw in his romance as a source of comic relief. House Phiarlan is building up its crystal theaters—theaters that use scrying tools to tune into distant entertainment. Phiarlan is building up a repertoire of crystal programming, and they’ve settled on The Prince. They’ve helped assemble the team of potential matches for Oargev, and each week there’s a series of crystalized trials that help the Prince narrow down his choice. People are following the drama across Khorvaire, and each adventure NPCs could be discussing the latest twist or elimination. Meanwhile, in exchange for going along with this circus, Oargev is getting Phiarlan’s support for New Cyre… both financial support and access to their more secret services.

So there’s a number of ways to make Oargev matter. If the player characters are Cyran, Oargev’s choice could determine the future of their people. If the adventurers are dealing with the Prophecy, it could be a key point they have to push in a particular direction. And if they don’t care at all, it could still be a funny story unfolding in the background of the campaign! Which suitor will receive the Purple Rose of Cyre?

WHO ARE THE SUITORS?

As with so many things in Eberron, my immediate reaction is who do you want them to be? Because ultimately the question is always what’s going to make the best story. I don’t have time to come all canon sources for eligible young nobles, or to come up with a comprehensive list of the eligible heirs of every noble family of the Five Nations. So what I’m going to provide here isn’t in any way a comprehensive list. Instead, it’s a few examples of suitors, highlighting how that suitor could have an interesting impact on a story. As a DM, you should definitely expand this list to include your own favorite canon NPCs or new characters you create. There may be dozens of competitors on the field; I’m just calling out a few I’d use in MY campaign.

  • Haydith ir’Wynarn, Princess of Karrnath. Following the Treaty of Thronehold, King Kaius III and King Boranel agreed to an exchange of hostages—each sending members of their family to live in the foreign court. Haydith is Kaius’s younger sister, and she’s said to have become quite popular at court. Nonetheless, she’s far from her home and friends, a stranger trying to make her place in Breland just as Oargev is. I could see Haydith having true feelings for Oargev, sympathizing with his immense loss (“Most of my friends are dead too. Or undead.”). In my campaign, Haydith is about 20 years old (a shift from canon) and is a brilliant, sharp-witted gothic princess—a blend of April Ludgate and Wednesday Addams. She’s currently a pawn in Boranel and Kaius’s game of Conqueror, and she wants to change the game; if she ended up with Oargev, she’d push for him to do something truly unexpected.
  • Rose. A unique warforged envoy, Rose given to the Cyran royals as a gift from House Cannith, and served as a companion to Oargev’s sister Marhya. The Princess died in the Mourning, but Rose survived years in the Mournland and rallied a community of warforged survivors who still dwell in the Mournland. In presenting themself as a suitor, Rose notes that both they and Oargev are leaders of a people with no recognized homeland; Cyre has been lost and the warforged have never had a true home. Rose has a vision of warforged and refugees working together to rebuild a new Cyre where both are full and equal partners. Whether this means undoing the effects of the Mournland or simply reclaiming it as is, Rose is passionate about creating a new future for both their people. Needless to say, the marriage of a noble and a warforged is unprecedented, and there’s the obvious question of an heir; but Rose dismisses such concerns, believing that if they can find a way to create a new Cyre, they can find a way to create a family. Where the Lord of Blades advocates separatist aggression—the warforged building their identity apart from humanity—Rose seeks to bring two lost peoples together, peacefully building something stronger than either would be alone. If player characters are either Cyrans, warforged, or both, they may have an interest in Rose’s agenda.
  • Lady Talalara is an Inspired ambassador from Riedra, recently appointed to Oargev’s makeshift court in New Cyre. Riedra is offering economic assistance, but Talalara is offering something more—promising to train a new generation of Cyran psychics, helping Oargev’s people unlock power they could potentially use to reclaim Valenar or Darguun or to create a new nation for his people. And if this proliferation of young psychics also served as an excellent cover for having more quori hosts on Khorvaire, so much the better.
  • Vestige is a changeling with a gift for adopting the forms and personalities of people who’ve died. With Oargev, he often adopts the form of the Prince’s late wife, allowing Oargev to spend more time with his first love; he also adopts the personas of others lost in the Mourning, allowing Oargev to consult with his father or speak with his sister. Vestige serves as a medium, believing he brings peace to both the living and the dead by giving people additional time. However, he also maintains his own identity; as consort he would expect to be identified as Vestige, and to forge a new Cyre that is especially hospitable to changelings, both settled changelings and the Children of Jes. (Note that Vestige’s gift is a form of divine ritual—sort of like Speak With Dead, but instead of having a piece of the body he has to go through a short seance-like ritual with someone who remembers the person who’s persona he will assume. Vestige can then assume the deceased person’s form and is guided by their memories. A skeptic could assert that Vestige is actually just telepathically drawing on the living person’s memories of the deceased; the DM will have to decide whether Vestige can access memories of the dead they never shared with the living anchor.)
  • Ilina Corla d’Cannith. Scion of a powerful family, Ilina dreamed of being matriarch of House Cannith. But the Corla line were entirely based in Eston and Making, and the Mourning wiped Ilina’s lineage from the face of Khorvaire. She has refused to align herself with any of the three Cannith factions that have formed since the war; instead, she has remained with Cyran refugees, and has played a vital role in building and maintaining the infrastructure of New Cyre. There’s quite a few ways Ilina could go, depending on the shape of the story. She could only be interested in helping the refugees. She could be seeking influence that would make her a valuable asset to whichever of the three Cannith factions she ultimately allies with. Or she could be taking a more dramatic third option—suggesting that she could rally excoriates and foundlings and reclaim Cannith facilities in the Mournland, building a new Cyre that directly wields dragonmarked power beyond any of the houses. Depending on which path you follow, she might be happy to renounce her family name, or she could be determined to test the limits of the Korth Edicts—after all, since Oargev holds no lands at present and she is acting independently of the house, is it really defying the Edicts?
  • Siiana of the Kapaa Dor. Siaana is a champion of the Kapaa Dor clan of the Ghaal’dar hobgoblins. She recognizes that Darguun began with an act of betrayal (albeit reclaiming land taken from her people long ago) and hopes that her union with Oargev would be the bridge to reforging Cyre and Darguun into an entirely new nation where human and goblin could move forward together in peace. With that said, the Kapaa Dor are old rivals of Lhesh Haruuc and his Rhukaan Taash, and Siiana certainly recognizes that forging her new nation would involve breaking his.

These six examples are all quite exotic. As Five Nations calls out, Oargev is also surrounded by the scions of the surviving families of Cyre, along with other nobles of the Five Nations. Shaela ir’Ryc, Jalene ir’Tala, Donal ir’Kulan, Isti ir’Dalas, and Habra ir’Soras are five such heirs. One of them’s a mind seed of the Dreaming Dark, one’s part of a cult of the Dragon Below, one’s a warlock bound to an archfey, one’s fiercely devoted to the Silver Flame, and one’s tied to the Three Faces of Love; it’s up to you to decide which is which. Some say that Oargev maintains a correspondence with Queen Diani of Thrane, another monarch whose domain isn’t all that she wishes it was. But again, all of these examples are just a place to start; the important thing is to think about the story you want to tell and the role the suitor has to play in it. Should they find bliss with Oargev, how will it affect the possible future of New Cyre and its people?

Because of everything going on in my life at the moment, I will not be answering questions on this topic. However, if you’ve used Prince Oargev in your campaign, who have YOU used as his suitors? I’d love to hear your ideas and stories in the comments!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

IFAQ: What are Doppelgangers?

Doppelgangers have been part of Dungeons & Dragons since its earliest days. The original Eberron Campaign Setting introduced changelings as a playable species that shared some of the features of doppelgangers, but not all; in third and fifth editions, doppelgangers possess a powerful unarmed attack and the ability to detect thoughts at will. But what exactly is the relationship between the two? Over three editions, we’ve had three different answers in canon material.

  • The third edition Eberron Campaign Setting says that changelings “evolved through the union of doppelgangers and humans, eventually becoming a separate race distinct from either ancestral tree.”
  • Fourth edition books use “changeling” and “doppelganger” interchangibly. The doppelganger in the 4E Monster Manual has the white hair of a changeling and doesn’t possess an unarmed strike or the innate ability to detect thoughts.
  • Fifth Edition D&D returned the doppelganger as a unique creature with an unarmed attack and detect thoughts. Rising From The Last War says that the daelkyr created doppelgangers by warping changeling stock, essentially reversing the third edition story; doppelgangers are altered changelings rather than changelings being watered-down doppelgangers.

So, we have three different options presented in canon. So which do I use?

I loved doppelgangers long before I made Eberron. I was disappointed that we never saw any sort of doppelganger society, because I thought it was fascinating to consider the impact both of shapeshifting and innate telepathy in terms of how a culture would approach privacy, community, and identity. In The Complete Guide to Doppelgangers I presented a very inhuman approach to doppelgangers, suggesting that mimics and doppelgangers were different stages in the lifecycle of the same creature, and that the final stage of this cycle is the doppelstadt—gestalt mimics that can replicate entire buildings. It’s not just that some of the people in your neighborhood are doppelgangers; it’s possible the neighborhood itself is a doppelganger. in proposing Eberron, I wanted doppelgangers to have a place in the world; the 10-page proposal includes a mention of the conflict between the Boromar Clan, the Tyrants of Sharn, and Daask, suggesting that these things typically considered monsters were part of everyday life in Eberron. The problem was that the standard doppelganger was too powerful to work as a basic option for player characters. I liked the idea of having a weaker baseline doppelganger and introducing a “monster class”—as seen in the sourcebook Savage Species—that would let the player acquire the full powers of the standard doppelganger. In the end, we did half of that approach: we created the changelings as that weaker baseline that was suitable for player characters, but made the standard doppelganger a separate species. The problem with this is that it both left the doppelgangers themselves without any real story—per the ECS, all we really had was “True doppelgangers are considerably more rare and mysterious than their changeling descendants… They sell their services as spies, thieves, and assassins, but their true motivations usually lie beyond mere gold.” The second frustrating element is that we often had changelings and doppelgangers working side by side, and that arrangement ends up highlighting the fact that changelings are fundamentally weaker doppelgangers. I never really liked that as a story. So while I loved that changelings gave us the opportunity to explore shapeshifting cultures and societies and to have them in everyday life, I was never happy with where it left doppelgangers.

Fast-forward to the present. Fourth edition and fifth edition present two different options. Which do I use? Both. Because those two options tell very different stories. Let’s look at each of them.

The Gifts of the Traveler

I like to blend the Fourth Edition approach with my original idea—the concept that the abilities of the doppelganger are something that any changeling can develop if they put their mind to it. The defining gifts of the doppelganger are telepathy and an unarmed attack, something a psion or monk can match. I called this out in an Eberron article in Dragon 193, suggesting that “intense training, the traditions of Ohr Kaluun, and their devotion to the Traveler” allowed the changelings of Lost to develop enhanced telepathic and shapeshifting abilities. From a practical standpoint, this is a possible explanation for the class abilities of a changeling character. A changeling monk can describe their enhanced unarmed attacks and armor class as being tied to their shapeshifting, something further developed with the Way of the Living Weapon in Exploring Eberron. But there’s no need to limit such gifts to the powers of the old-school doppelganger. The Lost article notes that the hidden village has a core of mental adepts whose abilities rival those of kalashtar adepts, allowing them to communicate with sending and monitor the region with clairvoyance. It calls out that some changelings can shapeshift into animal forms, mirroring the abilities of druids—something I’ve called out elsewhere as the Changeling Menagerie.

So overall, I like the idea that changelings are the shapeshifting species that are part of everyday life in Eberron, and that “doppelganger” is actually a skill set a changeling can master… and the “doppelganger” in the 5E Monster Manual is a changeling with a particular set of skills. The one problem with that is that while a player character changeling can improve their unarmed attack by taking a level in monk, there’s no easy way for them to replicate the ability to detect thoughts at will. However, the uncommon helm of telepathy lets a character do just that, and more. In my campaign, I’d allow a changeling player who trains to become a “doppelganger” to acquire a supernatural gift, something like this…

Doppelganger’s Vision (Requires attunement, can only be attuned by a changeling)

This supernatural gift reflects your training in the telepathic techniques of the doppelganger. To use this gift, you must devote an attunement slot to it, just as if you were attuning to a magic item. While you are attuned to this gift, you can use an action to cast the detect thoughts spell; Charisma is your spellcasting ability for this. Once acquired, this gift is a part of you, but you can only use it while you are actively attuned to it.

This is similar to the blessing of wound closure, a supernatural gift in the DMG that provides the benefits of an uncommon magic item; however, it is weaker than a helm of telepathy (only providing one of the helm’s three benefits) and I’m saying that it requires an attunement slot to use to balance the fact that I’d be willing to grant it at a lower level than I’d allow most blessings. But like any supernatural, it’s not just something you can buy. To gain this gift, the player character would need find a mentor—a skilled doppelganger willing to teach them this technique. Developing the gift would take time and the mentor would set tasks the would-be doppelganger would need to carry out during their other adventures; at a narratively suitable time, I’d grant them the gift. If you don’t like supernatural gifts, the Telepathic feat from Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything is an alternative, although it doesn’t provide the full at-will use of detect thoughts.

So this is my primary approach to doppelgangers in my campaign: a doppelganger is a changeling who has developed the abilities we associate with the doppelganger monster. Having said that, there’s also room in the world for a very different sort of doppelganger….

Doppelgangers of the Daelkyr

Eberron has always challenged the idea of “what makes a monster,” and this was part of the point of the changeling—to take a creature that was generally featured only as an antagonist and to add depth to it. At the same time, in some stories you want a monster. There’s horror in the moment when you see your reflection and it smirks at you and draws a knife, or in the fear that one of your friends isn’t actually your friend. Compare Mystique from the X-Men to the alien in the movie The Thing. In this analogy, Mystique is a changeling. Sometimes she’s a hero and sometimes she’s a villain, but in either story we understand her motives and can sympathize with her. The Thing is incomprehensible. It may be driven by a desire to survive. It could be an anthropologist that researches alien worlds by assimilating their species. It could just be hungry. We don’t know.

This is the purpose of the Daelkyr doppelganger: to be a source of horror, a shapechanging enemy whose motives are unknowable and, at the end of the day, potentially irrelevant; in The Thing, what matters most is survival. In a story in which a changeling impersonates a duke, their motives matter; they might be trying to seize power or they might be trying to free oppressed peasants from the Duke’s tyrannical rule. By the end of the story, the players will understand why the changeling has taken these actions—and in the latter example, they may have a difficult decision to make as to whether they bring down the imposter or allow them to remain as a more benevolent Duke. By contrast, you may never know the motives of the Daelkyr doppelganger. Perhaps it’s helping a cult of the Dragon Below. It could be that the doppelganger has a non-linear experience of time and is consuming creatures in reverse, unwinding its way through its own timeline until it reaches the moment of its death when it is finally itself alone. It could be that it feeds on specific memories and needs to digest the memories of the duke before it moves on.

One of the reasons I like this approach is to expand the roster of creatures you can expect to deal with when clashing with daelkyr and Cults of the Dragon Below. It doesn’t have to be all dolgrims and mind flayers. Doppelgangers, werewolves, gargoyles—there are many monsters that can work as daelkyr creations; they should just feel different from their mundane counterparts. Rising From The Last War suggests that daelkyr doppelgangers are creations of Dyrrn the Corruptor, but I think that’s an unnecessary limitation; with few tweaks you can create unique versions of the doppelganger tied to different daelkyr.

  • Dyrrn is known for creating the mind flayers and the dolgaunts. Telepathy and tentacles are one of Dyrrn’s signatures. A standard doppelganger has a slam attack that deals 1d6 bludgeoning damage. For a Dyrrn doppelganger, I’d change this natural attack to deal piercing damage and describe it as the doppelganger’s fingers becoming burrowing tentacles or it attacking you with its barbed, prehensile tongue—that when it drops its disguise, it’s dramatic. I’d also highlight its telepathic nature, giving Dyrrn doppelgangers Telepathy with a range of 120 ft as a language. Dyrrn doppelgangers would only speak when interacting with other humanoids; among themselves they would always be eerily silent. A more dramatic change would be to give them blindsight based on the idea that they actually see using detect thoughts rather than standard vision, and that their eyes are just cosmetic (and likely absent in its natural form); like a dolgaunt, they would be blind beyond the radius of their blindsight.
  • Kyrzin loves oozes. I’d see a Kyrzin doppelganger as being an ooze that has the ability to assume humanoid forms. While it would generally use the doppelganger stat block, its slam attack would reflect it transforming its fist into a heavy pseudopod. I’d give the Kyrzin doppelganger a form of the Amorphous trait possessed by many oozes; it has to squeeze, but when it squeezes it can flow through any opening up to one inch wide. This ability wouldn’t extend to equipment, but I’d be willing to let a Kyrzin doppelganger to mimic basic clothing with its shapeshifting.
  • Belashyrra’s doppelgangers could function the same as standard doppelgangers, but with the idea that they don’t physically change shape but rather psychically change the way you perceive them. Given the power of the daelkyr, I’d be willing to just make this a flat effect and not something that requires a saving throw to succeed, and to say that the effect extends to senses other than sight—but I’d probably add that it doesn’t undead or constructs, or possibly creatures immune to being charmed. I could also imagine a version of They Live, where an adventurer can acquire a set of goggles or a salve that allows them to see through the disguise of Belashyrra’s doppelgangers.
  • Valaara could create a form of doppelganger that can’t change shape instantly, but instead kills a creature and then enters a chrysalis state to assume its form; so more limited than a normal doppelganger, but still able to replace people in an extended story. Its unarmed attack would be a concealed stinger that would deal piercing damage; if I wanted to make it more dangerous, I might add poison. I could see Avassh growing duplicates of people; these doppelgangers wouldn’t be able to change shape and I’d make them plants instead of humanoids, but it would still allow its cult to infiltrate a region. For either of these I’d likely give the doppelgangers a form of Telepathy that they can only use to communicate with others tied to their kind or allied cultists, playing to the idea that they’re part of a communal mind.

With all four of these, the key point is that they’re VERY DIFFERENT FROM CHANGELINGS. Dyrrn might have created his doppelgangers from changelings long ago, but the other three described here have nothing to do with changelings. They might all use the doppelganger stat block, but they’re different both from changelings and from one another.

Fey Changelings and Other Variations

While I haven’t personally seen the text, the word on the street is that Monsters of the Multiverse makes a number of changes to changelings—notably making them Fey instead of Humanoids. On the surface, this seems logical enough; they’re called changelings, and a mischievous shapeshifter sounds fey enough. However, it’s not a change I’ll use for the main changeling population in my Eberron campaign. We’ve never presented the common changeling as having ties close ties to Thelanis, and we’ve even said the name “changeling” comes from a minsunderstanding—people assuming a fey connection even though none exists. That 4E article calls out the changelings of Lost mastering techniques of Ohr Kaluun, not Thelanian magic. Beyond this, once changelings are fey, it becomes very easy to spot a disguised changeling by casting detect evil and good, which pinpoints the location of any fey within 30 feet—undermining some of the more interesting methods we’ve discussed for dealing with changelings. So in MY campaign, the main population of changelings will remain humanoids.

However, just because they aren’t mainstream doesn’t prevent there from being fey changelings in the world, and I’d certainly allow a player to play such a changeling. The obvious path for such a character would be to literally be a changeling—a humanoid carried off to Thelanis as a child and raised there, and transformed over time into a fey creature themselves. There’s a changeling Greensinger in the Threshold campaign I’m running on Patreon, and I might give them the Fey subtype, because it fits their story.

But there’s another point to this. Just as I’ve presented five different ideas for creatures that use the doppelganger stat block, there can easily be different types of creatures that use changeling traits. The Children of Jes and their descendants are the most common form of changeling. But I’d allow someone to use changeling traits to represent a shapeshifting assassin magebred by House Vadalis, someone with an unusual aberrant dragonmark (I could imagine a Wild Magic changeling sorcerer whose form changes uncontrollably when they have a Wild Magic Surge), or a Cyran changeling necromancer who can only assume the forms of people who died in the Mourning. So I’m happy for there to be fey changelings alongside the changelings of Sharn and Droaam—and potentially other exotic changelings as well.

That’s all for now, and perhaps more than anyone wanted to know! Thanks as always to my Patreon supporters for making these articles possible.

IFAQ: Fizban’s Treasury and Eberron

As time permits, I like to answer interesting questions posed by my Patreon supporters. This month there’s been a number of questions related to Fizban’s Treasury of Dragons. As always, my answers here reflect what I would do in my personal campaign and may contradict canon material! Also, check out this later article on how I’d use Gem Dragons and Gem Dragonborn.

How would you incorporate either the draconic echoes or the Elegy of the First World into Eberron?

To answer this question, you first need to answer another: Do you want your Eberron to be part of the greater Multiverse? Eberron has its own cosmology and a very different approach to deities than many of the other core D&D settings. One option—as we suggest in Rising From The Last War is the idea that Eberron is part of the multiverse, but that it was sealed off; that traffic to other settings is possible, but very difficult. On the other hand, if you don’t WANT to use elements of other settings in your Eberron campaign, it’s easy to just ignore the Multiverse and focus on Eberron as an entirely independent setting.

By canon, Eberron has its own creation myth that explains the origins of dragons. The funny thing is that it’s not entirely incompatible with the Elegy of the First World. The Elegy asserts that three dragons created reality and dragonkind (if you count Sardior). The Progenitor myth asserts that three dragons created reality and dragonkind. The Progenitor myth asserts that the first dragons were born from the drops of blood that fell on Eberron; nonetheless, this still matches the basic concept of the Elegy, in that the dragons were the first children of the Progenitors, but “were supplanted by the teeming peoples” that came after them.

Personally, I LIKE the story of dragons being formed from the blood of Siberys—the idea that they alone believe that they have a direct connection to both Siberys and Eberron, an idea that explains their innate arcane power. In MY Eberron campaign, I’m not likely to abandon this concept in favor of Eberron’s dragons being linked to other dragons across infinite settings.

If you want to add the First World to Eberron WITHOUT adding the Multiverse, a simple option is to just put it AFTER THE PROGENITORS. The Progenitors create reality. Bahamut (a native celestial who favors a draconic form) and Tiamat (the Daughter of Khyber) unite the dragons and create the First World on Eberron—an idyllic civilization that predates the Age of Demons, which was ultimately shattered BY the Age of Demons, presumably set in motion by the Daughter of Khyber. This aligns with Thir, saying that the “Dragon Gods” existed before the Age of Demons but left reality when the First World was broken; this ties to the idea I’ve suggested elsewhere that Eberron’s version of Bahamut would have sacrificed themselves in the Age of Demons and could be the core of the Silver Flame.

If you want to incorporate the Multiverse into your Eberron campaign, then you can just use the First World exactly as it stands in Fizban’s. In this case, the Progenitor myth is presumably FALSE, since it has a very specific story for the origin of dragons; but there’s absolutely nothing wrong with saying that the Progenitor Myth IS ONLY A MYTH… or even that the Progenitor Myth is just a garbled version of the Elegy.

As for draconic echoes, the idea that each dragon is mirrored across realities: If I wanted to use this, what I’d do is to assert that every reality has a Draconic Prophecy, and Eberron is simply the only one where people have recognized this. Draconic Echoes reflect the fact that the dragons are prophetically significant. But if I was going to do that, I’d personally want to add OTHER echoes across settings; even if they don’t manifest dragonmarks, you might have echoes of dragonmarked heirs in other worlds, and you’d definitely have echoes of especially Prophetically significant characters—IE player characters. But I personally prefer NOT to mix peanut butter with my chocolate. I’m happy to explore alternate incarnations of Eberron, as with the Gith, but I’ve never brought the rest of the multiverse into any of my personal campaigns (though I HAVE played a “far traveler” character from Eberron—a warforged cleric searching for pieces of the Becoming God—in someone else’s non-Eberron campaign).

How would you incorporate the alternative half-dragon origins from Chapter Three of Fizban’s? Would that change how you present Dragonborn?

Keep in mind that all things that use the stat blocks and basic shapes of dragons and dragonborn don’t have to share the same origin. For the primary dragons of Argonnessen, I LIKE the fact that while they are imbued with arcane power—children of Eberron and Siberys—they are still ultimately MORTAL. They are an ancient and advanced species, but they aren’t multiversal echoes and they’re more grounded than the immortals. They live, learn, have jobs, pursue research. So for the dragons of Argonnessen, I wouldn’t say that they reproduce by divine origin or parthenogenesis or when someone steals their hoard… because they are are ancient, long-lived, and imbued with arcane power, but they are STILL MORTAL CREATURES OF EBERRON. This principle likewise applies to dragonborn who trace their roots to Argonnessen. It seems likely that the original dragonborn were magebred by the dragons from some sort of humanoid stock. But I don’t think those original dragonborn were formed from greed or true love. WITH THAT SAID…

As I said, NOT ALL DRAGONS AND DRAGONBORN HAVE TO HAVE THE SAME ORIGIN. Many of the options described in Fizban’s—from someone becoming a half-dragon after stealing from a dragon’s hoard, to eating forbidden fruit, to a tree on which dragon eggs grow like fruit—don’t sound like Argonnessen to me; they sound like THELANIS. First of all, you could have any number of dragons who appear as “supporting cast”—they would have the stats of dragons (though I’d likely make them fey as well as dragons) but the point is that they aren’t entirely REAL. They don’t have goals or desires beyond serving their role in the story. The dragon in a cave guarding a sword in a stone truly has nothing better to do. Beyond this, I could also imagine a dragon as one of the archfey of Thelanis. I can see two paths here. My personal impulse would be to have a single archfey dragon who encompasses all the legends of dragonkind—the greedy hoarder, the destroyer of cities. But I could also imagine there being two archfey dragons—the Bright Dragon and the Night Dragon, essentially filling the STORY role of Bahamut and Tiamat, even though they wouldn’t take direct action on Eberron. Still, it would be one of these entities who could potentially bestow Cradle Favor or have a tree that grows dragon eggs (because as archfey they wouldn’t reproduce like mortal dragons do). With that in mind, I feel it’s either in Thelanis or in a Thelanian manifest zone that you’ll have someone becoming a dragon or half-dragon due to greed or by bathing in dragon’s blood. And you could thus have dragonborn who have such origins—or heck, who spring up because you sow a field with dragon’s teeth. But they aren’t the most common forms.

Regardless of how I present dragonBORN, we had half-dragons in 3.5 Eberron. The most infamous of these is Erandis Vol. Her creation is described this as involving a program of magebreeding, so I think it’s a form of True Love’s Gift, but I don’t think it’s quite as simple as “I love you, you get to be part-dragon” (UNLESS you’re in Thelanis!); I think you’ve got to work actual magic into the picture. In the case of Vol, I think the Emerald Claw and his kind were trying to create sustainable, “true” half-dragons; I could easily see some rogue dragon using less reliable techniques to create sterile half-dragon mules.

I am fine with the idea that infusions of dragon’s blood could have a dramatic effect on other creatures, and could be a basis for sorcery; again, dragons have an innate force of arcane magic. But I am more inclined to make that essentially scientific in nature. If there’s a place where just living there causes you to become a half-dragon, I’d make that a Thelanian manifest zone, not just something that happens to anyone who hangs out in a mansion in Argonnessen.

The main thing is that many of the Fizban options present dragons as fundamentally mythic beings. The dragons of Argonnessen are legendary, but they are also VERY REAL. They have a civilization, families, politics, and so on. With all that said, the final option I’d consider if I wanted to use multiversal echoes and the like would be to have a number of dragons who are literally physical embodiments of the Draconic Prophecy. These could be essentially immortals, aware of their nature and their purpose; or they could be scattered among the mortal dragons, essentially an immortal seed reincarnated many times, and that has echoes across the multiverse.

Have there been any notable half-dragons in Khorvaire’s history that weren’t Kill On Sight? Anyone that famously claimed draconic heritage or might similar to Hassalac Chaar?

There’s a few factors here. Personally, I don’t think half-dragons ARE kill on sight. In my opinion, the issue with the line of Vol wasn’t solely half-dragons; it was the attempt to create and control apex dragonmarks through the medium of half-dragons. I also think Argonnessen disapproves of the idea of dragons trying to create any entirely new true-breeding species without approval. However, if we assume that most dragons are sterile or otherwise can’t pass on their traits, I don’t think Argonnesen will care about them, and I can personally imagine individual dragons creating half-dragons for specific purposes. Beyond this, I don’t think it’s going to be easy to identify a half-dragon AS a half-dragon. I think half-dragons with different origins could have very different physical traits. Does your sorcerer who claims dragon’s blood actually have scales and claws, or is it purely an explanation for their power in spite of their mechanically using a different ancestry? Regardless, in a world with dragonborn, blackscale lizardfolk, yuan-ti, and magebreeding in general, I think a lot of times rare oddities will just be seen as curiosities.

This ties to the point that when I say that someone becoming a dragonborn or half-dragon by bathing in dragon’s blood would be tied to Thelanis, it’s because of the idea that there are stories about it happening. So yes, I am certain that there ARE an assortment of legendary heroes and villains across all of the cultures of Eberron—the fallen kingdoms of old Sarlona, Xen’drik, even Dhakaan—of rare half-dragons, whose powers were a blessing or a curse. We have one concrete example in canon, and that’s the Draleus Tairn, the dragonslayer elves; Dragons of Eberron notes “Rumors exist that the Draleus dragon slayers can take the powers of their victims; that their blood burns like dragonfire; that they can spit lightning or breathe acid; and that their blood rituals increase their life span and even imbue them with the strength of the dragon. Perhaps these stories are mere myths. The tales could also reflect the presence of half-dragons or dragon shamans among the Draleus Tairn, with these powers derived from spilled blood instead of shared blood.” At the moment I don’t have time to make up examples of such heroes or villains, but I expect there’s a few examples in almost every culture. Following the Thelanian example ofthe half-dragon created through greed, I love the idea of a half-dragon giant lingering in a vault in a Thelanian manifest zone in Xen’drik.

How do Moonstone Dragons, which as presented in Fizban’s are tied to both the fey and to dreams, fit into your Eberron?

Personally, I see no reason to tie Moonstone dragons directly to Dal Quor. Fizban says “Moonstone dragons can project themselves into the realm of dreams to communicate with the creatures that sleep near their lairs.” Thus, they are related to dreams in the same way as a night hag or any mortal wizard who can cast Dream: they are skilled at USING and manipulating dreams, but that doesn’t mean they are natives of Dal Quor. Likewise, I personally wouldn’t make them dragons of Thelanis. In my earlier suggestions regarding Thelanian dragons, the main idea that Thelanian dragons would fill iconic draconic story archetypes which don’t really make sense for mortal dragons of Eberron—IE, when you find a dragon guarding a hoard in a cave in the woods, with no logical reason to be there other than to guard that hoard, THAT might be a Thelanian dragon and the cave may be in a manifest zone, because most Argonnessen dragons have SOMETHING BETTER TO DO than to hang out in a cave in the woods. The Moonstone dragon doesn’t fit that role either; it’s more exotic and unusual than iconic.

So WITH THAT IN MIND… The dragons of Argonnessen are the most ancient civilization on Eberron (and have seen cultures rise and fall). They have forgotten arcane secrets other species have yet to learn. In the process of their history they have surely studied the planes, manifest zones, and wild zones. I would say that Moonstone dragons trace their roots back to a flight of dragons devoted to the study of the planes and to Thelanis and Dal Quor in particular, who were changed through their long interaction with those planes—either intentionally (magebreeding themselves to strengthen their ability to operate in those planes) or by the “background radiation.” I would say that they serve as Argonnessen’s ambassadors to Thelanis and as mediators to Fey in general; Argonnessen has manifest zones tied to Thelanis just like everywhere else, and where some cultures have fey pact warlocks, Argonnessen has Moonstone dragons. The dream aspect I’d tend to use just as described—a tool they use to communicate and inspire mortals, but not reflecting a deeper connection to Dal Quor.

I think the idea that they love creativity and like to inspire mortals is fine, and I can see this bringing a lot of Moonstone dragons to the Chamber—that they actually LIKE working with the “lesser species” and giving them inspiration in ways that don’t hurt the Prophecy or carry the risk of Aureon’s Folly. But personally, I’d largely keep them on the material plane. If there are Moonstone dragons in Thelanis, I’d make them envoys or immigrants rather than natives.

That’s all for now! Thanks to my Patreon supporters for asking interesting questions and making these articles possible. And just to be clear: I’m happy to clarify my answers to the above questions, but I do not have time to answer addtional new questions about other aspects of Fizban’s Treasury of Dragons; it’s a big book and covering it in its entirety would require a longer article.