IFAQ: Siege Staffs

Every month, I answer interesting questions posed by my Patreon supporters. Such as…

In Exploring Eberron you say that the sahuagin of the Thunder Sea equip dragon turtles with siege staffs. I thought siege staffs were a Cannith thing. How prevalent are they in other groups/areas?

While they’ve never been described in canon material, siege staffs have always been part of my vision of Eberron; they’re described in my first Eberron novel, City of Towers. The principle is simple: The people of Khorvaire create arcane solutions to problems we solve with technology. By the rules of D&D, wands, rods and staffs are effective tools for channeling offensive arcane magic. Therefore, just as a cannon is a really big gun, it made sense to me that Khorvaire’s answer to artillery would be a really big wand… a siege staff. Here’s what I presented in Exploring Eberron.

So the point is that siege staff (and yes, I say “staffs” instead of “staves”) is a generic term for “powerful arcane artillery”. Cannith makes them, but so does the Arcane Congress and so does the Eternal Dominion, and so did the giants of Xen’drik. A siege staff is a tool for concentrating arcane energy, and any civilization that understands the basic principles of arcane science could make a form of siege staff. They won’t all be the SAME, just as guns produced by different nations in our world are different. There will be cosmetic differences and there could be mechanical differences. But any advanced arcane civilization may employ a form of siege staff. Missing from this excerpt above is the detail that when a staff that has an effect that allows a saving throw is used at long range, targets have advantage on the saving throw. The ideas I discuss here also apply to long rods, another form of arcane artillery described in Exploring Eberron.

Could you elaborate on that? What would be some differences between siege staffs of the Thunder Sea, those used by Lhazaar pirates, and those made by House Cannith?

Sure. Once of the things that defines House Cannith is MASS PRODUCTION. As a rule, House Cannith is the industry standard, and its creations are reliable and predictable. As such, the default description in Exploring Eberron applies to Cannith siege staffs. When dealing which siege staffs from other cultures, there’s a few things to consider: Appearance, Function (Force, Blast, Focus), Damage Type, and Efficiency.

Generally, appearance is broadly consistent; a siege staff is a very long rod. This is based on the principle that the wand/rod/staff is an efficient tool for channeling arcane power. But other material used in the construction of the rod and other cosmetic details will vary from culture to culture. Function refers to the three basic functions I described in Exploring Eberron. A culture may not produce all three types of staffs (Blast, Force, and Focus) — or it may produce a superior form of one type and an inferior form of another. This is echoed by Damage Type. Force is the default, common form of energy employed by Cannith staffs. But different cultures may rely on other forms of energy. Efficiency I touched on above. Cannith is the industry standard; other cultures may vary from the norm, for better or for worse. It’s also the case that many cultures produce Focus staffs that can only be used with a specific school of magic or even a specific spell. With all that in mind, let’s theorize about siege staffs of other cultures.

HOUSE CANNITH. Cannith staffs are mass produced and have a very uniform appearance. They are typically made from densewood and have a steel core and steel bands engraved with draconic sigils (which are often used in the arcane science of the Five Nations). Cannith produces all three types of staff described above, performing as described above. Force is the most common damage type.

LHAZAAR PRINCIPALITIES. Lhazaar staffs are hand-carved and each one is unique in some way. Lhazaar artillerists combine different types of wood with metals that resonate properly with them. Some Lhazaar artillerists prefer having knots or whorls in the wood; others cut such imperfections out of a staff. Bands of metal are common, but some hammer nails of different metals into the length of the wood, or drape anchor chains over them. Focus staffs are fairly rare on Lhazaar ships. A few notable traditions: The Wind Whisperers produce blast staffs that deal thunder damage and force staffs that inflict lightning damage. The Bloodsails bind spirits to their staffs, firing bolts of howling spectral matter; their blast staffs inflict psychic damage, terrifying victims to death. This has the advantage of killing crew while leaving an enemy vessel untouched. Bloodsails also are known to use focus staffs that can project necromancy spells. Lorghalen ships generally fling Lorghalen cannonballs at the enemy instead of using siege staffs.

Efficiency varies from ship to ship, because Lhazaar staffs are all custom made. A particular vessel may be renowned for its exceptionally powerful force staffs, and rivals may be yearning to claim them. I’m posting a table of Siege Staff Quirks on my Patreon; these would be common for Lhazaar staffs.

ETERNAL DOMINION. The Sahuagin civilization of the Eternal Dominion is ancient and well ordered. It doesn’t use the same forms of mass production as House Cannith, but its weapons are fairly uniform in design and appearance. There are two basic designs used by the Dominion. Spikes are whorled shafts of coral or bone. While rare, kraken bone makes especially powerful staffs, dealing an extra d8 of damage and having a +10% bonus to range. Spikes deal Force damage. On the other hand, Dominion magebreeders also produce slugs—LIVING siege staffs. Blast slug staffs inflict poison damage, and are useful for clearing a crew without damaging a ship; they have a shorter range (200/1000 feet) but deal 3d8 poison damage in an 80 foot sphere. Force slug staffs inflict acid damage.

RIEDRA. Riedran ships typically use Sentira or crysteel weapons; these sometimes take the form of massive orbs rather than staffs. Blast weapons generally inflict psychic damage, while Force weapons are telekinetic in nature and inflict force damage.

AUNDAIR. Thanks to the Arcane Congress, Aundair has experimented with a wide range of designs. These are produced in small batches; as a result, there is more standardization of design than Lhazaar, but far more diversity than Cannith. Almost any damage type can be encountered on the battlefield, and focus staffs are flexible. Audairian staffs are more elegant than either Cannith or Karrnathi designs; beauty is an important factor. It’s also possible to encounter Aundairian staffs blessed by a particular archfey, though these are NOT mass produced. These can be more efficient than standard staffs, or you could roll on the Staff Quirks table I’m posting on my Patreon. Fey-touched weapon may have unique limitations—they can only be used by a particular bloodline, the artillerist must share a secret or tell a story to reload the weapon, etc. The greater the restriction, the more powerful the weapon will be.

KARRNATH. While Karrnath largely employs Cannith weapons, it also produces its once designs. General artillery uses darkwood with bands of spiked iron, and are wider and stubbier than Cannith designs. Karrnath has been known to field fire Blast staffs and Evocation focus staffs. Seeker units—such as the Order of the Emerald Claw—produce weapons similar to those of the Bloodsails; blast staffs often inflict psychic terror.

THRANE. Thrane employs standard Cannith staffs in battle. However, over the course of the war the theocracy began working with the Silver Pyromancers to create divine artillery. This is made of oak inlaid with silver and typically inflicts radiant damage. Thrane focus staffs can only be used by divine spellcasters. Reloading and firing Thrane weapons often requires singing hymns to the Flame.

BRELAND AND CYRE. Breland and Cyre largely relied on Cannith standard designs rather than producing their own. Both nations contained large Cannith production facilities, and Brelish foundries produced raw materials for Cannith. This is also reflected in the fact that Cannith produced unique weapons for these nations, such as the floating fortresses of Breland.

These are just a few possibilities! Hopefully this gives you some ideas for your campaigns. As I mentioned above, I’m sharing a table of possible staff quirks on my Patreon! Thanks as always to my patrons, whose support is what allows me to keep creating material for Eberron.