The ship is a shadow in the night, its darkwood hull all but invisible against the water. It is the sail that draws the eye. The black silk is adorned with a hundred crimson sigils, each burning with pale light. The sea is calm, but a groaning wind fills the sails. If you make your living on the Lhazaar Sea, you know what that vessel is. If you’re lucky, it’s a merchant vessel carrying the strange spices and other goods of Farlnen. If not, you’d be wise to make your peace with the Sovereigns. The Bloodsails are known to take prisoners, but they rarely take them alive.Eye on Eberron: The Bloodsail Principality, Dragon 410
Thousands of years ago, the Undying Court and dragons of Argonnessen joined forces to eradicate the line of Vol. All elves who carried the blood of Vol were slain. But there were many elves who supported Vol despite having no blood ties to the line. The victors offered these defeated elves a choice: swear allegiance to the Undying Court or be exiled from Aerenal. A large force of these exiles traveled north and laid claim to the island of Farlnen, founding the Bloodsail Principality. A bleak and sunless land, Farlnen is charged with the energies of Mabar, allowing the people of this realm to perform remarkable feats of necromancy. Prince Shaen Tasil is the living ruler of Farlnen, but the greatest power on the island is the Grim, a council of mighty undead. Some of the Grim work for the benefit of the Principality, while others focus on their own esoteric interests and arcane research.
The members of the Grim are powerful undead. Canon lore includes one infamous member of the Grim: Lady Illmarrow, the self-proclaimed “Queen of the Dead.” Few members of the Grim leave Farlnen; most make extensive use of the power of Mabar, and rely on retinues of skeletal and spectral servants. More than this, Farlnen is a safe haven. There are many would-be heroes—the Aereni Deathguard, templars of the Silver Flame, Paladins of Dol Arrah—who would be thrilled to destroy a Grim Lord. While few possess the power to accomplish such a thing, most of the Grim prefer to remain in their estates, protected both by powerful wards and by their peers. As a result, only a few of the Grim are known beyond Farlnen—and even those are obscured by legends and rumors. Here are a few unusual members of the Grim, lords whose tales are known in Lhazaar.
Lord Varonaen, The Bloody Gardener
Before the elves came, Farlnen was just bare rock and sand. The sun doesn’t shine there, and no living thing could prosper in that cursed place. But a land with no sun sounds mighty nice if you’re a vampire, like Lord Varonaen! He steers the elves to Farlnen, and when he gets there he breaks his ship to splinters and he scatters the splinters across the stony ground. He kills his own sailors and waters the wood with their blood, and they sprout up as darkwood trees and bloodstained roses. All the night-gardens of Farlnen, it was Varonaen who planted the seeds. And if the Bloodsails kill you on the sea? They’ll keep your bones to work an oar, but they’ll won’t let your flesh go to waste; cargoes of carrion make their way to Farlnen to feed the bloody gardens.
Lord Sylian Varonaen is the oldest member of the Grim. The Varonaen were allies of Vol long before the Mark of Death appeared, and Sylian was one of the first vampires created on Aerenal. Where Vol studied ways to imbue humanoid creatures with the energies of Mabar, Sylian Varonaen explored its effects on plants. Varonaen was fascinated by those strains of flora that managed to adapt to Aerenal’s Mabaran zones, and improved upon these with his own hybrids; it was he who refined the strain of darkwood that Aerenal exports to this day. It was no accident that Varonaen and his exiles came to Farlnen. The elves knew they needed powerful a Mabaran zone to continue their research, and Varonaen came prepared. The story quoted above is apocryphal, but it holds seeds of truth. Varonaen brought his hybrids with him across the Lhazaar Sea and established the first night gardens. He planted darkwood groves, and in the centuries that followed he developed entirely new strains of vegetation that could thrive in the unique conditions of Farlnen. While the stories are exaggerated, there is some truth to them. Darkwood isn’t watered with blood… but some of Varonaen’s creations do thrive when fertilized with the flesh of the dead. Some of his experiments are just plants, but others can be treated as both plants and undead; Varonaen has created assassin vines that drain the lifeforce of creatures they constrict and a shrieker that howls with the cry of a banshee.
Lord Varonaen played a vital role in founding Farlnen. The people rely on his hybrid plants as a source of both food and lumber, and the exotic spices and wines produced from his creations are unique exports sold by Bloodsail merchants. Despite his part in ensuring the survival of his people, Varonaen has never asserted his power over his peers; his plants are his sole obsession, and he has spent the centuries working on his gardens. He has the manner of a mild, friendly scholar—but he feels no compunctions about creating plantlife that feeds on the living, or sacrificing strangers in this work.
There was a time when Lord Varonaen traveled in search of exotic blooms. It was on such a journey that he was destroyed by the Deathguard of Aerenal. While his vampire form was reduced to ashes, Varonaen had bound his spirit to his garden much as a lich has its phylactery. He was reborn in Farlnen as a wraith (albeit a unique wraith with spellcasting abilities). While he often remains in this incorporeal form while doing his work, he has crafted a body from darkwood and can animate this vessel when he wishes to interact with the physical world. He hasn’t left Farlnen since his death, and it may be that he can’t travel far from this soul garden. However, adventurers could encounter his creations either in Farlnen or beyond, or have need of an exotic elixir that can only be produced from his undead plants. He could even have an interest in consulting with an adventurer renowned as a master alchemist or unusual druid.
You think you’ve looked death in the eye? Wait until you’ve stared into the empty sockets in the skull of a dragon turtle, after it’s capsized your ship and it’s coming right for you. I’m telling you now, you get too close to the Sunless Isle and pirates are the least of your worries. I know you’ve heard these stories before, but have you ever wondered where the Bloodsails GOT these bones so they could animate ’em? I can tell you in two words: Haeldar Krakensbane. He was a legend in life, a dragonslayer who fought alongside the rebel elves just for a chance to fight dragons. He got himself exiled for his troubles, and sailed north with the rest of ’em. His ship runs afoul of a bloody great kraken, which demands tribute from the fleet. The elves, they’re rightly terrified, and they all agree to pay its price. But Haeldar, he’s not having it. It’s his ancestor, see? Never would bend to a beast. So he siezes control of his ship, and no surprise, kraken sinks it and kills everyone aboard—including Haeldar’s children! You’d think that would be the end of it, but weeks later, as them elves are camped out on the sunless shore, they see a monster on the horizon. It’s the kraken; after it swallowed Haeldar, he refused to die, dug his way up through its heart and out its eye. Now here he is, riding the damn dead thing home.
That beast still patrols the waters of Farlnen today. And Haeldar… he spends much of his time mourning his lost children, but when the mood is upon him, he goes back to sea. He won’t force his own on the hunt, not again. But he’ll board another vessel, take command of it, and take it on another monster hunt. If he comes to your ship, hope you’re one of the lucky ones, that he takes down his prey with your vessel still intact. Haeldar Krakensbane never misses his mark… but the ships he sails rarely make it home again.
In life, Haeldar Arrael was a Tairnadal of the Draleus Tairn. He fought alongside the line of Vol not because he believed in their cause, but because it gave him the opportunity to fight dragons. Over the course of the conflict, he fell in love with an elf of the Vyrael line, and following the defeat of the line of Vol he sailed north in the company of his wife and kin. As the story says, when a mighty leviathan threatened his ship, Haeldar put his dreams of glory ahead of the safety of his family. He lost everything, including his own life—but his hunger for victory was so great that he returned as a death knight in the very belly of the kraken, slaying his enemy and animating its corpse.
As described in the tale, Haeldar spends much of his days in mourning. But he is also the source of many of the great beasts bound in undeath as guardians of Farlnen. Haeldar slays these creatures—serpents, dragon turtles, his eponymous kraken—personally, and it is his unique gift that animates those he slays; however, he turns control of these sentinels over to living necromancers upon his return to the island. And as the tale says, when he is in the mood for a hunt, Haeldar will set out on board a Bloodsail vessel—but he will board and sieze control of some other ship, ensuring that he doesn’t place more elves at risk in his relentless pursuit of challenges at sea. Adventurers on the water could encounter a vessel that’s been seized by Haeldar and is in the midst of a hunt—or they could be aboard a vessel when Haeldar commandeers it, and have to decide whether to fight the death knight or to assist him and hope to survive his hunt.
The Ship of Eldaraen
When I was just a boy in the rigging, my captain spotted a ship dead in the water near Farlnen. Beautiful elven vessel it was, not a soul aboard. We board the vessel, no sign of the crew, but it’s well loaded with treasures. The sailors, they took what they could carry; me, I was just a boy, and I’d heard all too much about Farlnen to see such a thing as luck. After looting what he could, my captain scuttles the ship and we watch it sink as he sails away. But late that night, the lass in the ‘nest calls a ship on the horizon. It was that same vessel, good as new, following us. The captain, he panics, starts prepping Zil fire he’d been saving to burn the cursed ship down. He launched six cannisters, and the riggings of the elf ship were all aflame. But then, as sure as I see you now, I saw a shadow amid the barrels we had left… and that’s all I saw before the explosion. I’m the only one who survived, and whatever loot my captain claimed, it should be spread across the bottom of the ocean. But I tell you this, and I’m telling you true: I remember my captain holding that same golden skull you have in your hand now, and that ship behind us, it’s the same one we sank so long ago.
Many see the days before Galifar as the golden age of piracy. Riedran ships were on the water, but there was no united Galifar and the dragonmarked houses had only a sliver of the power they wield today. In those days Bloodsail captain Vyra Eldaraen was the terror of the northern seas. She plundered the oceans for two centuries before her luck finally ran out. With all the plunder she’d amassed, Eldaraen was restored as an oathbound, and she chose to be bound to her ship. Though other members of the Grim warned against it, she sought to continue her career—and soon enough, the Deathguard and a brave captain—Bright Lorrister, a distant ancestor of the modern Prince of the Heavenly Fleet—destroyed Eldaraen and sunk her ship. But a century later, records reported a clear sighting of Eldaraen’s vessel, as good as new. It seemed that somehow, Eldaraen had become something more than any mere oathbound; she had become truly bound to the ship itself, and just as a lich’s body reforms after it is destroyed, the ship of Eldaraen will always return… even if no original part of the ship remains.
Stories of the Ship of Eldaraen vary, and it seems that it goes through stages. In some stories, the ship is actively populated by a crew of wights and shadows, with Eldaraen herself manifesting as a wraith among them. In others, as in the tale shared above, the ship appears to be empty… though in some stories, Eldaraen manifests aboard it in a form similar to a demilich. A few facts are consistent…
- The Ship is immune to all forms of divination. Creatures can’t teleport into or out of the ship or use planar travel to enter or leave it, unless traveling to Mabar.
- The Ship seems to have become a mobile manifest zone tied to Mabar, which extends 500 feet from the ship. Within that area. The radius of all light sources is halved; saving throws against necromancy spells are made with disadvantage; and undead have advantage on saving throws to avoid being turned or frightened.
- The ship carries the plunder of centuries, but treasures taken from it often bring ill luck. Sometimes the items themselves are actively cursed. Other treasures cause the victim to be tracked by the Ship itself (as in the story above) or specters from its crew, or haunted by nightmares until the loot is flung back into the water. The details vary, but the treasures of Eldaraen always return to her eventually.
The Ship of Eldaraen is included in this article as it is a powerful undead entity tied to the Bloodsail Principality. However, Eldaraen is not believed to be an active member of the Grim; the ship follows its own path, and doesn’t appear to coordinate with the living. On the other hand, it’s possible that there is more to this than meets the eye. It could be that Eldaraen is in contact with other Lords of the Grim, communicating through sending or even interacting with them in the court of the Bone King of Mabar. Even if this is not the case, it’s possible that a living Bloodsail elf could track down the Ship and recruit Eldaraen to help her people should the Bloodsails have need of her.
The Vyrael Sisters
The Bloodsail Elves pursue undeath as a path to eternal life. Some are content to endure the red thirst of the vampire or undertake the vows of the oathbound. Others yearn for the power of the lich—but that power isn’t a gift that can be given. It can only be claimed by a being who possesses both tremendous will and arcane knowledge. Few individuals possesses these traits… but on Farlnen, there’s one example of a family claiming power no single member could achieve alone. The Vyrael were one of the largest and most powerful families among the exiled elves that set out for Farlnen. In the early days of the island, three sisters of the Vyrael line rose to prominence, working with Lord Varonaen to establish the night gardens and to lay the foundations of Farlnen. Centuries later, they knew their time was running out. Torae believed that she had mastered the ritual that granted lichdom, but she was certain her two sisters couldn’t survive the process… and she couldn’t bear to leave her siblings behind. Working together they became something entirely new—the first Skull Lord of Farlnen, three spirits bound together in a single form.
The Vyrael Sisters are one of the more active members of the Grim. Each sister has her own interests, and they take turns serving as the primary force of their shared body.
- Torae Vyrael is the most accomplished wizard of the sisters. While she is in control of the body the DM should feel free to change the standard spells of the Skull Lord, and she should also possess a single 8th level spell slot and expertise with Arcana. Torae loves to spend her days studying obscure lore or mentoring accomplished Bloodsail necromancers. If an elf player character has Vyrael blood (knowingly or not) and arcane talent, Torae could reach out to them through sending and dream and offer to serve as a mentor; she would make an excellent Undead patron for a warlock.
- Solae Vyrael is the most politically active of the sisters. While she is the dominant spirit, they have expertise with Insight and Persuasion. Solae advises Prince Shaen Tasil, and enjoys hosting salons and galas with Bloodsail captains and other interesting individuals. While foreigners are rarely welcome on Farlnen, exotic adventurers who visit the Sunless Isle might receive an invitation to such a salon. If so, they’d best prove entertaining; boring guests rarely survive the evening. Of course, spurning an invitation from Vyrael is even more dangerous than attending…
- Vyla Vyrael is a scholar and philosopher, with expertise in History and Religion; while she is in control of the body, they can switch up to five spells for spells from the Cleric spell list. While she studies religions, Vyla herself draws her divine power through Mabar, shaped by her will. Nonetheless, she is fascinated by the concept of religion, and hopes to some day concretely prove the existence of the Sovereigns—though she largely subscribes to the view that if the Sovereigns exist, they are cruel. Should a group of adventurers be seeking the mysteries of the divine, it’s possible Vyla may have answers they seek. She also collects divine artifacts, and adventurers could clash with agents she’s dispatched to recover a new relic for her collection.
One of the Sisters always holds dominance over their shared body, and this is something that can be changed after a long rest. However, the other sisters are an active presence at all times. They can speak and offer opinions; but it is the active spirit that affects the capabilities of the body. The Sisters have a longstanding feud with Haeldar Krakensbane, whom they blame for the death of their aunt. While they have never engaged in any direct violence against Haeldar, it’s quite possible they’d provide surreptitious aid to adventurers clashing with the Krakensbane. The Sisters are essentially an unusual form of lich, and it’s quite possible that they have a phylactery and will return if they are destroyed; however, returning in this way would require the willpower of all three sisters, and if one sister lost her desire to cling to existence, they would all pass on.
The Grim Lords mentioned here are among the most unusual of their kind. Most members of the Grim are vampires, with oathbound (mummies) as the next most common form; there are only one or two liches aside from Illmarrow and the Lords Vyrael. These are all I have time to discuss now, but hopefully these give you some ideas to work with!
If Farlnen is such a powerful source of Mabaran undead and the Undying Court hates the practice of Mabaran necromancy, why hasn’t Aerenal done more to wipe out the Bloodsails?
Mabar consumes light and life. There are many who believe that anything that draws the energies of Mabar into Eberron is inherently destructive, and in particular that undead animated by the power of Mabar ambiently consume the lifeforce of Eberron itself. In many ways, this is analogous to the threat of global warming in our world. It’s a threat that is only expected to play out over a very long time with incremental impacts (such as grass withering around a garrison of skeletal warriors). Given this, there’s people who are concerned about it; people who are convinced it’s nonsense; and the vast majority of people who simply don’t care.
The Aereni care, and they’ve created the Deathguard as a force that eliminates undead and polices the practice of Mabaran necromancy. But Aerenal is an extremely insular nation that takes almost no action in the world beyond its borders. Most notably, the original description of the Deathguard in the 3.5 ECS states that the Deathguard was “Created to battle the corrupted spirits of the realm…” which is to say, they mainly operate in Aerenal itself. Essentially, if you compare Mabaran necromancy to global warming, Aerenal has enacted extremely strict regulations within Aerenal itself… but they aren’t sending soldiers to Detroit to blow up automobile factories, let along smashing individual gas-guzzling cars in New Jersey. The key point here is Karrnath. The skeletons in the armies of Karrnath likely outnumber the entire population of Farlnen. Yet over the course of a century, the Deathguard hasn’t somehow brought down Karrnath or destroyed Fort Bones. What they have done is send agents—notably, a highly influential agent with direct access to the king, who has convinced Kaius III to break ties with the Blood of Vol and to limit military necromancy. But that’s a more typical path for the Deathguard to pursue in the wider world than direct military action.
The second key point is that Farlnen is in a strong Mabaran manifest zone. Mabaran manifest zones are a part of the world and always have been, offset by the presence of Irian manifest zones. The short form is that Mabaran necromancy has less impact on the environment when it’s practiced in such a manifest zone because you’re already halfway in Mabar. So making skeletons on Farlnen adds less to your carbon footprint than making them in Sharn. This ties to the fact that many of the major centers for necromancy—such as Atur—are in Mabaran zones. The Aereni don’t like any use of Mabaran necomancy, but they’re not very concerned about Atur, Odakyr, or Farlnen; we’ve called out before that necromancers channeling the energies of such a zone may actually reduce its overall environmental impact.
So cutting to the chase: destroying individual undead is really pretty small potatoes for Aerenal; they aren’t trying to hunt down every individual vampire in the world any more than environmental activists in our world blow up individual gas-powered cars. Occasionally, they WILL target what they see as high value targets. They took down Lord Varonaen a few centuries ago, and they killed Eldaraen—though there, note that they worked with a local hero to pull it off. But overall, they don’t mind the Bloodsails existing as long as they are largely confined to Farlnen. They would be far more concerned if the Bloodsails spread the practice of Mabaran necromancy throughout the Principalities, and that’s one reason the Bloodsails haven’t done that, and why they haven’t spread their culture beyond the island… but even if that occurred, as seen in Karrnath, Aerenal would be more likely to send a diplomat than an assassin to deal with the problem.
The short form is that Deathguard strikes can happen, but it’s extremely rare for them to occur outside of Aerenal—and when they do, it’s very likely that the Deathguard will try to work with some sort of local heroes, like Bright Lorrister in Lhazaar. All of which is to say that rather than solving a problem for the PCs, the Deathguard are likely to try to work with capable adventurers and deal with the problem together.
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