IFAQ: Yrlag and the Direshark Prince

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

Could you tell us an interesting detail about Yrlag in the Shadow Marches?

Yrlag is one of the largest cities in the Shadow Marches. It’s one of the few safe havens on Crescent Bay, and the most substantial port on the west coast of Khorvaire (which isn’t saying much, but still). Yrlag’s particular claim to fame is its proximity to the Demon Wastes. Due to the diligence of the Ghaash’kala, landing on the coast is far easier than crossing the Labyrinth. With this in mind, Yrlag is to the Demon Wastes as Stormreach is to Xen’drik—a jumping off point and safe haven for scholars, explorers, and opportunists keen to take their chances in the Wastes or to acquire goods recovered from it.

The city is located in a Lamannian manifest zone with The Land Provides property. The land is exceptionally fertile and the river well-stocked with fish—a notably change from Crescent Bay, which is home to many unnatural predators. This is one of the major reasons Yrlag has been able to thrive in such an isolated and inhospitable region. As such, Yrlag has a significant population of farmers, fisherfolk, and hunters who provide for the general needs of the city and travelers.

Yrlag is effectively run by House Tharashk; the Shadow Marches aren’t recognized as a Thronehold Nation, and no one in the region cares about the Korth Edicts. Ships run regularly between Yrlag and the outpost of Blood Crescent… but Blood Crescent is a small fortress that endures constant attacks, and most sages prefer the shelter of Yrlag when conducting long term research. As a result, Yrlag has an unusual number of scholars and luminaries, along with a bookstore and a shop specializing in supplies for calligraphers and cartographers. A number of the Dragonmarked Houses have outposts in Yrlag. There’s a Sivis speaking stone, a Jorasco healer, and even a Gold Dragon Inn. House Lyrandar helps maintain the harbor, but as of yet there’s no airship docking tower and no lightning rail into Yrlag.

There’s far more I could share, but the original question only asked for one detail, and I’ve already gone beyond that!

Doesn’t all travel into the Demon Wastes have to go through the Labyrinth?

The wording in Eberron: Rising From The Last War is unclear, but prior canon has established that it’s possible to travel to the Demon Wastes by sea. The original Eberron Campaign Setting says  “Built on the shores of Crescent Bay and regularly supplied by ships from Yrlag, a large town across the bay in the Shadow Marches, Blood Crescent serves as House Tharashk’s long dreamed-of foothold in the Demon Wastes”—it would be hard to regularly supply the outpost if every ship that arrived couldn’t leave. The general intent is that FIENDS can’t leave except through the Labyrinth; think of it like an invisible fiend fence with only one gap in it. With that said, it’s not supposed to be EASY to travel to the Wastes by sea; if it was, people would have done it long ago and we’ve have more and larger outposts. The coastline is extremely hostile, with a combination of foul weather, unnatural sealife, and a maze of demonglass spires that can tear a ship apart. Reaching Blood Crescent requires the vessel to follow a very specific path. Tharashk spent a great deal of resources to chart that path, and they are holding it as a secret of the house.

So it’s easy to reach the Demon Wastes by sea, but MOST of the time, those who try will end up shipwrecked… which is in fact what happened to the ancestors of the Carrion Tribes. Meanwhile, the Carrion Tribes themselves don’t have the sophistication or resources to build ships, which is why when they try to leave, they go through the Labyrinth.

In the Player’s Guide to Eberron we learned that Lhazaar Prince Kolberkon of the Direshark Principality is a changeling. Do you think Kolberkon’s changeling nature is known or something he keeps hidden behind personas?

In my campaign, Prince Kolberkin is a changeling foundling, as described in this article. He was raised by his mother and has a human persona that he considers to be his true face; he doesn’t identify as a changeling, have any familiarity with tribal changeling customs, or have any sympathy or affection for the changelings of the Gray Tide. He makes no effort to hide his ability to shapechange; he used it very effectively in his rise to power, and he uses it to keep his enemies and potential traitors on their toes, but he doesn’t feel any bond to other changelings or consider his changeling face to be his true identity.

This ties to the point that in Eberron, culture is often more significant than species. He’s a Lhazaar pirate who happens to be a changeling; but he doesn’t care about the Children, the Traveler, or any of that. As the Prince of the Diresharks, he takes pride in being a PREDATOR, and uses his shapeshifting as a tool to help him overcome his prey. He’s extremely skilled at shifting shape in combat in ways that may give him momentary advantage—not fooling an enemy in the long term, but throwing them off their guard.

With that said, while Kolberkon considers his first human face to be his core identity, he also will shift that to fit the situation; when negotiating with Lyrandar, for example, he may assume a half-elf version of his human form, sort of like dressing up for a meeting. So again, he doesn’t hide the fact he’s a shapechanger; he celebrates it. As such, he uses this gift in obvious ways. When he becomes a Khoravar to meet with Lyrandar, he’s not trying to FOOL them; it’s a Khoravar version of his normal appearance, just done as a “Hey, I recognize you’re Khoravar, and you know, I could be too.”

So in short, he often uses casual shapeshifting in ways that he thinks may give him a psychological advantage. It’s known that he CAN impersonate other people—potential traitors KNOW that any of their conspirators could be Kolberkin playing a game with them—but he more also uses it in obvious, social ways.

The most famous city in Khorvaire—Sharn—is built around a manifest zone. Are most cities built up around manifest zones, or is it the rarity?

Manifest zones are much like natural resources in our world. Most manifest zones provide an ongoing, reliable effect. Some are dangerous, and such regions tend to be shunned. Others are beneficial, and these areas often become hubs for civilization, just as rich deposits of natural resources often draw communities in our world. Yrlag is an example of this: if people in an inhospitable region find a manifest zone that enhances the quality of the land and of life, why wouldn’t they settle there and make use of it?

The short form is that communities that thrive usually do so for a reason. Rich natural resources. Strategic value. Fertile land. In Eberron, useful manifest zones are one more item on that checklist. Not every city is in a manifest zone; but every city will usually have SOME reason to be where it is, and in Eberron, manifest zones are an important part of that equation. Also keep in mind that manifest zones vary dramatically in size and power. The Lamannian zone that contains Yrlag is a wide zone that blankets the city, as does the Syranian manifest zone in Sharn. But you can also find manifest zones that cover the space of a single building, or even a single room. A town might spring up around a Jorasco healing house built in an Irian manifest zone… but the zone is small enough, that only those in the healing house benefit from its power.

So most major cities likely have a manifest zone SOMEWHERE in the city, though not all. In some cases this has been called out, as with Sharn or Atur. They aren’t alone, but I don’t currently have time to make a thorough list of zones that can be found in other major cities. If there’s interest on Patreon, this could be the subject of a future article.

Can Mabar consume fragments of Irian?

Mabar, also known as the Endless Night, consumes fragments of other planes. On the other end of the spectrum, Irian creates new seeds of light that fill the voids left behind by Mabar. As a general rule, Mabar doesn’t consume pieces of Irian itself. The two are two sides of a single coin, reflecting creation and destruction; they tell their story by interacting with other planes, and usually don’t target one another directly. With that said, it’s POSSIBLE that Mabar could consume a piece of Irian… and if it did, Irian would in turn regrow that missing piece.

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

IFAQ: Whaling in Eberron

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

Where and how do you see whaling playing a part in Eberron?

The immediate question is are there whales in Eberron, because there’s no particular reason to assume that any random thing that exists in our world does exist in Eberron. As it turns out, whales have been mentioned; Exploring Eberron has this to say.

When dealing with the Thunder Sea, remember that it’s just as civilized as the Five Nations. It does have wilderness regions with feral beasts roaming at will, and you might find wild plesiosaurs, a scheming sea hag, or a hungry scrag. But in the areas above and around sahuagin city-states, such beasts have been tamed or destroyed. All cultures of the Thunder Sea farm fish like the people of the land farm sheep or cattle; a pod of whales may be carefully managed and cultivated, and their farmers will be quite angry with dryskins who poach their ichthyic livestock. 

So first of all, I don’t see whaling as being a common practice in the Thunder Sea, because blundering out and killing a random whale is a great way to get your ship sunk by an angry Karakala stormcaller. We’ve called out that agreements between the Five Nations and the powers of the Thunder Sea do allow fishing in close coastal waters, so you have Brelish fishing villages on the southern coast, but I wouldn’t make them whalers.

So, where and how do I see whaling playing a part in Eberron? I see it as being focused on the Lhazaar Principalities, but the twist is that it’s not whaling. In our world, whales are the largest and most dramatic denizens of the sea, but this isn’t our world. In the Lhazaar Sea, the mighty creatures bold sailors hunt are dragon turtles. They aren’t the SAME dragon turtles described in the Monster Manual; they’re slightly smaller and weaker (commonly huge, though they can reach gargantuan size), they’re omnivorous, and they’re less intelligent, notably not speaking Draconic; we can call them drake turtles or softshell dragon turtles. But they are still built on the model of the dragon turtle. Building on this, I’d say that drake hunting is a major part of the Lhazaar economy. Drake (turtle) blood is a crucial component in industrial alchemy, part of what allows Jorasco and Cannith to produce mass quantities of healing and other potions. Drakebone could be used in everything from corsets to weaponry. In the Principalities, most medium armor makes use of drake turtle scales and heavy armor is typically made not from metal, but from drake turtle shells. Essentially, this not only creates an industry that parallels whaling, it also creates a unique flavor for Lhazaar fashion and tools and introduces the disturbing idea that many mass-produced potions use components drawn from a deeply questionable source. Because I’ve said that these are as intelligent as the standard dragon turtles of the Monster Manual… but less intelligent doesn’t mean they aren’t intelligent. They don’t perform magic. They don’t speak Common or Draconic. But they sing… and anyone who knows the language (which very few land-dwellers do) will realize that they are singing in Aquan.

Part of the point of Eberron is that stories don’t always end well and that good people can do bad things. A druid adventurer may realize a drake turtle is singing in Aquan. But even if the character speaks Aquan, the drake turtles may not think or communicate the same way humans do—even if it is clear to the ADVENTURER that the turtles are intelligent, it may not be a simple matter to prove it. And there could always be the chance that while the turtles appear to sing in Aquan, they aren’t actually intelligent by the typical measures. Even if adventurers can prove it, the response of the common Lhazaar sailor will be “Who cares if drake turtles sing in Aquan? They’re MONSTERS. I need to feed my family. The healing potions Jorasco will make using that drake’s blood will save countless HUMAN lives. I chose my family and my species over the well-being of alien sea monsters.” Personally, I like the idea of placing player characters at the very forefront of this issue—making it THEIR discovery, because it’s their story—but you could also say that it’s something that’s been known for decades and is being actively debated. Druid activists could be blocking drake hunting boats. Principalities could be split, with some princes forbidding drake hunting, while other principalities are deeply dependent on the drake-hunting economy. It could be that ending dragon-hunting would be a major blow to industrial alchemy, unless Cannith and Jorasco can be pushed to find new methods of production. Ultimately, it’s a more dramatic and bloodier version of the ethical questions of elemental binding… and it could be that fighting over this issue could force people to reevaluate Zil binding as well.

So, going back to the original question, I’d place whaling in the Lhazaar Principalities and I’d make it an industry that has great impact within the region but also to the greater economy of Khorvaire, but I’d also make the creatures hunted an variant form of dragon turtles as opposed to whales. Not with that said, there’s nothing wrong with saying that there’s also traditional whaling in the northern Lhazaar Principalities. But personally, I’m more interesting in adding something that’s unique to the world—and in doing so, being able to add a unique twist to the economic impact of that creature. But if you want a story focus on traditional whaling, tell that story!

Do drake turtles have blowholes?

No, they don’t. However, they do have steam breath—though it’s weaker than that of a dragon turtle and takes longer to recharge. They need to vent this occasionally, and common drake hunter practice is to wait for such an exhalation before attacking, to strike while the breath is discharged. So you can still have a “Thar she blows!” moment.

Does Riedra have any interest in drake turtles?

Certainly! I think that drake’s blood is a useful basic alchemical component and that the shell, scales, bones, and teeth all have their uses. I definitely think fishing rights in the Lhazaar Sea is an lingering point of tension; it’s even possible there’s been an open conflict—similar to the Cod Wars—between Rhiavaar and one of the Principalities at some point in the past.

If drake turtles sing in Aquan, how can there be any doubt they’re intelligent? Why don’t people just use the Tongues spell or similar magic to talk to them?

A parrot can recite a poem in English; does that mean it possesses human intelligence? The drake hunters argue the same thing of drake turtles; it’s exotic behavior, but that doesn’t mean they’re PEOPLE. Which comes to a key point in my description: Even if the character speaks Aquan, the drake turtles may not think or communicate the same way humans do. My point is that if you know Aquan, when you hear the drake’s song you’ll recognize it as, for example, “Bluuuue sorrow delving deeeeep.” But if you row up to the drake turtle and say “Hi! My name’s Keith! What’s yours?” in Aquan (or using tongues) it will ignore you. Perhaps it doesn’t recognize the tiny non-turtle as a creature. Perhaps it doesn’t respond to simply spoken words; you need to SING your statement at a particular pitch for the drake to recognize it as an attempt at communication. Or perhaps it’s a parrot—it produces words it’s picked up from passing elementals but it doesn’t actually understand their meaning.

D&D has a tendency to treat any creature with a language as communicating exactly as humans do. I like to explore the idea that alien creatures may communicate in very different ways, something I’ve discussed in articles relating to elementals and lizardfolk. The point is that your Aquan speaker/tongues caster can understand the words the drake turtle is singing; but that doesn’t mean that you understand the meaning or how to effectively communicate back. The point of all this is because I’m interested in exploring the question of drake turtle intelligence as a STORY. Consider the movie Arrival; it wouldn’t have been much fun if the protagonist just walked in, cast tongues, and it was all over. I like the idea that people KNOW the drake turtles sing in Aquan, but because no one’s ever managed to have an effective conversation with one, the hunters can dismiss them as parrots. If the player characters get involved, their challenge is to figure out how the turtles communicate, beyond simply the words that they’re using. In OUR world there’s considerable debate about cetacean intelligence; my point is that I want it to be a possible story that adventurers can be a part of, because player characters are remarkable. If drake turtles are fully sentient, I want your character to be the protagonist of Arrival or Spock mind-melding with a whale; I want YOU to be the one who solves a mystery others have abandoned or dismissed. But if that’s not a mystery you want to explore, you can definitely resolve it one way or the other using NPCs or have it have been clearly established in the past.

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

IFAQ: Lightning Round!

Every month I ask my Patreon supporters for short questions. Normally I’d spread these out over a lot of short articles, but September kept me busy and I didn’t have a chance. So, here’s an assortment of infrequently asked questions, dealing with dwarves, Dar, the Dark Six, numerology, electrum, and much too much more!

Are the Dark six truly evil? Or are they just misunderstood by the civilized people?

There’s no absolute answer, because the Sovereigns and Six can’t be judged independently of their followers. The Sovereigns and Six are IDEAS. To people who follow the Pyrinean Creed, the Dark Six are literally symbols of evil. The Devourer is the source of the destructive powers of nature. The Shadow creates monsters and lures people down dark paths. While to someone who follows the Cazhaak traditions, the Devourer tests us and weeds out the weak, and the Shadow helps us unlock our true potential. But the whole point of religion in Eberron is that there is no absolute proof that one of these beliefs is right and that the other is wrong. The question is which YOU believe to be true, and what you will do because of those beliefs. So, are the Dark Six truly evil? It depends who you ask. I’ve written a number of articles that talk about how different groups view the Dark Six; these include articles on the Shadow, the Keeper, the Fury, and the Traveler.

How well known is the commonality of the 13-1 in Eberron? Is it common numerology? Does it cause issues with there being 15 member of the Sovereign Host?

People within the setting are aware of the patterns that link certain phenomena. The ones most people know about are the moons, the planes, and the Dragonmarks. Most people believe that this is because there is a relationship between these things—that the moons are linked to the planes or to the dragonmarks in some meaningful way. Most people don’t believe that EVERYTHING is somehow tied to a baker’s dozen, so no one things it’s strange that there’s 15 deities in the Sovereign Host or that there’s only eight beasts in the Race of Eight Winds. And while most people do believe that the numerology of moons, marks, and planes is significant, MOST will say that some of the other baker’s dozens—the number of Mror Holds for example—are surely just a bizarre coincidence, though others will claim that it’s tied to the Prophecy. So people are AWARE of it, but they don’t believe that it does or should apply to every aspect of the world.

You once said “Antus ir’Soldorak recently began minting electrum coins called “Eyes” (due to the stylized eye on one face).” What are the public/private reasons for that eye and what has been the public reaction(s)?

So setting aside the IN-WORD explanation, there’s two explanations for why *I* made those decisions. Electrum pieces have been a weird outlier since AD&D; 4E dropped them completely. I wanted to give them an actual concrete role in the setting, along with a reason why they WEREN’T used in 4E — that they are actually new in the world. As for “Eye”, the MAIN reason for this is to fit the pattern of the coin name matching the letter of the metal: copper crowns, silver sovereigns, gold galifars, electrum eyes. Of course, I chose “Eyes” —rather than, say, “Elephants”—because I liked the idea that perhaps there IS a greater significance to it. The Player’s Guide to Eberron introduces an enchantment spell created by the Aurum that uses a platinum piece as a component; it seemed very in line with Soldorak’s ambitions to create a coin that could be used, perhaps, as a specialized scrying target… that in spreading this new currency across the Five Nations, he’s actually laying the groundwork for a vast spying network.

Is that true? That’s up to you to decide, based on the role of the Aurum in your campaign. Likewise on the reaction to the coins themselves. Personally, I think the reaction would vary from indifference to disdain—with some people seeing it as a publicity stunt and others seeing it as unnecessary. On the other hand, Soldorak could create a publicity campaign suggesting that his electrum coins are more reliable than others—especially if this was combine with a surge in counterfeiting of traditional currencies with base metals.

What’s Shaarat Kol and Kethelrax like? Do the kobolds and goblins have the same culture, or are kobolds as described in Volo’s?

In brief: This article discusses the most widespread kobold culture in Eberron. Droaam in particular has a number of micro-cultures created by the interactions between kobolds, goblins, and the other inhabitants of the regions, so there are isolated kobold clans and bands of goblins that have entirely unique traditions. However, most of the kobolds and goblins of the region have a shared history of being oppressed and dominated by other creatures, which has established a strong bond between the two species and a number of common traditions. This is the foundation of Shaarat Kol: it is a dominion formed from the ground up by kobolds and goblins freed from subjugation and working together to CREATE their own culture. It blends together a number of different micro-cultures, and it’s still finding its identity. Full details on Shaarat Kol and Kethelrax could be a topic for a future Dragonmark article.

Do magebred flowers and plants exist and what uses could they have?

Eberron possesses a host of flora not seen on our world. The most common source of such unusual plant-life is the influence of manifest zones. We’ve already talked about many such plants over time: livewood, Araam’s crown, dawn’s glory. The pommow plant of Riedra is specifically called out as being actively magebred—not merely “naturally” occurring in a manifest zone, but developed by the Inspired. A more detailed exploration of magebred and supernatural plants could be a subject for a future Dragonmark article.

What is the path to citizenship in the Five Nations?

Galifar is based on feudal principles, and most nations retain that basic foundation. To become a citizen of such a nation requires an audience with a local noble. The applicant swears fealty to the nation and its ruler, and also direct allegiance to that local noble; the noble in turn formally accepts them as a subject. This means that the noble is accepting responsibility for that individual, and the individual is promising to obey that noble, pay taxes, and answer any call for conscription, as well as to respect the laws of the land. The noble doesn’t HAVE to accept an offer of fealty, and most won’t unless the potential subject intends to reside within their domain. So it’s entirely valid for a Brelish noble to refuse to accept the fealty of an ogre from Droaam because either they don’t believe the ogre will uphold the laws or they don’t believe that the ogre intends to remain within their domain. Likewise, back before Droaam, the Barrens were considered to be part of Breland but the inhabitants of the region weren’t Brelish citizens, because they’d never sworn fealty to any Brelish lord; legally (from the perspective of Galifar) they were outlaws squatting in Brelish land.

In the modern age, much of this process is handled by bureaucracy, especially in the case of children of existing citizens. In some regions there are annual ceremonies where each child swears an oath to the local lord before being recognized as an adult. But in a populous region like Sharn, the parents will file paperwork when the child is born, and when the child becomes an adult they’ll file their own statement. But the underlying principle remains the same: someone needs to make a decision on behalf of the local lord as to whether to accept the offer of fealty, and this will be based on the applicant’s residence, reputation, family, and other factors.

How do governance and taxation work in the biggest principalities in Lhazaar? Are there any established checks on the princes’ powers, or are they all like little autocracies?

Every principality is unique, and the laws of a principality can dramatically change from prince to prince. As shown by the recent article on Lorghalen, the culture and traditions of the gnome islanders have nothing in common with the Bloodsails. The idea of the Principalities as a truly formalized alliance with a single leader and a more unified set of laws is a very new concept; Ryger ir’Wynarn is striving to bring the Principalities together, but that’s very much a work in progress.

What makes the dwarves of the Realm Below concretely different from the dar of Dhakaan? They’re both subterranean empires. If I want to have adventurers have to deal with daelkyr forces massing in a subterranean ruin, why would I use one instead of the other?

One reason to use one culture instead of the other is the location of the story. Sol Udar occupies a small region, primarily just the land under the Ironroot Mountains. Under most of Khorvaire, the Dhakaani were the only advanced subterranean nation. In Xen’drik you don’t have Dhakaani or Udar; instead you might find the Umbragen drow or Giant ruins. As for cosmetic differences, the appearance of the Realm Below is discussed on page 119 of Exploring Eberron. The civilization of Sol Udar was a highly magical civilization that incorporated cantrip effects into daily life. An Udar ruin will have magical lighting, illustrate music, climate control. The Dhakaani are primarily a martial society: their forge adepts created magical weapons, but they didn’t have arcane air conditioners or magical jukeboxes. Dhakaani structures are stark and brutalist in design, though extremely durable; from the ground up, they were designed for WAR. The Udar weren’t so warlike, and their homes have a lot more cosmetic comforts. The second aspect is the degree to which the Udar specialized in working with demiplanes—meaning that for any Udar ruin you want to establish what demiplane it’s attached to and how those effects manifest in the ruin.

In Exploring Eberron, Jhazaal Dhakaan is said to have created the Ghaal’duur horn, but she’s also described as a bard. How does this fit with the fact that the Dhakaani have a strong tradition of artificers?

It’s not just Exploring Eberron; the Ghaal’duur is first mentioned as a creation of Jhazaal in the 3.5 Eberron Campaign Setting. It’s always been assumed that the duur’klala create magic items, but they create magic items associated with bardic magic. Duur’kala create items associated with enchantment, inspiration, and healing, while the daashor generally create armor and weapons of war. Now, the daashor CAN create any sort of item. Jhazaal created the First Crown, which is an artifact tied to inspiration; but it was a daashor who created the Rod of Kings. Still, the general principle is that the forge adepts create the tools of war, while the dirge singers create items associated with peace.

Do the Dragonmark houses view The Twelve as an authority or an advisory body?

The Twelve is technically a RESOURCE. It’s an arcane institute devoted to developing tools and techniques that benefit all of the dragonmarked houses. Dragonmarked heirs learn the arcane arts from the Twelve, and many important tools—such as the Kundarak vault network and most dragonmark focus items—were developed by the Twelve. The Council of the Twelve discusses issues of interest to all houses and helps to mediate disputes, but it has no AUTHORITY… though because its work is of great value to all of the houses, no house would want to take actions that would cause it to be cut off from the institute.

What stands out about Eberron’s transitive planes? Or are they just part of the backbone of Eberron’s reality, and a shortcut to the other planes in the Deep Ethereal and the Astral?

They’re primarily a part of the backbone of Eberron’s reality. In the 3.5 ECS the transitive planes were called out as functioning normally, and we’ve never suggested that they were created by the progenitors; instead, they are part of the basic metaphysical framework that the progenitors built upon. So they are largely supposed to fill the same function as they do in other settings.

What was the family of Mordain Fleshweaver inside House Phiarlan?

This is the sort of question I prefer not to answer. The answer has no significance for me. I could make a D6 table of named Phiarlan families and randomly say “Shol”, because hey, that’s a Phiarlan family. But that doesn’t make anyone’s story BETTER. The question is what do you WANT his family to be? If one of your player characters is a Thuranni, you might say that Mordain is also Thuranni, and might take an interest in the character because of that. Or you could say he was Paelion and will have a vendetta against the PC for that reason. But perhaps you’ve got a character who’s a Shol from Phiarlan… well, maybe Mordain is a Shol! Essentially, Mordain’s specific lineage isn’t an important part of his story, so I don’t want to make a choice that has no meaning for me but might get in the way of YOUR story. Since you’re asking the question, you presumably have a situation where it’s going to matter; so what do you WANT the answer to be? What will be the most interesting answer for your campaign?

That’s all for now! I’ll be asking my Patreon supporters for October questions soon, and I have a new Patreon experiment I’ll discuss next week!

IFAQ: Lhazaar Princes

While we’re all trapped in our bunkers, I’ve asked my Patreon supporters to present some interesting short questions on topics that are infrequently raised. Today’s question comes from Joseph.

When did Ryger become High Prince of the Lhazaar Principalities? The ECS says he represented the Lhazaar Principalities as High Prince at Thronehold, and that this was necessary for the Principalities to be recognized as a nation. Rising says he awarded himself the title AFTER Thronehold. While other sources—this Dragonshard and ECS in talking about Thuranni—suggest that there’s always been a high prince. What’s the story?

Needless to say, I can only give my opinion. But given that I wrote all of the Lhazaar material referenced above, that should count for something.

In this case, the most accurate source is the Dragonshard. The Rising section was simplified for the sake of brevity; the goal of Rising was to focus on the present rather than delving too deeply into how we got there. With this in mind, the crucial first step is to understand what it means to BE “High Prince.” In most of the principalities, the title of prince isn’t hereditary. You have to EARN it; you become a prince by being a leader the people of your principality will follow, whether you achieve it through charisma or wealth. With that in mind, the question posed here says that “there’s always been a high prince”… which is inaccurate on one crucial detail. Consider this quote from the Dragonshard…

The Lhazaar princes have always been willful and independent, and the history of the region is filled with feuds between princes. Powerful alliances have risen and fallen, but the islands have never been fully united under one prince. There has always been at least one lord who has claimed the title of high prince. This claim usually reflects the power of the lord’s fleet, and as a result the high prince usually has the respect of the other princes — but this doesn’t make their word law. They can make requests of the other princes, but unless they intend to use force, they cannot make demands.

So: Lhazaar herself was the first high prince, the first captain whose influence stretched across the entire region. Since then, there’s always been at least one lord who’s claimed the title. The key points here are that there’s been times when there’s been two or even three people who have CLAIMED to be the high prince; and that giving yourself the title doesn’t mean anything on its own. You don’t wield power because you’re the high prince; you can call yourself the high prince BECAUSE you wield enough power to back it up it.

What does this mean for Ryger? Let’s turn back to the ECS.

The largest fleet currently operating in the Principalities is the Seadragons, led by High Prince Ryger ir’Wynarn… The prince has ruled the Seadragon Principality for fifteen years, and throughout that time he has claimed to have the blood of the Galifar kings running through his veins. Whether this claim is true or not, Ryger has demonstrated remarkable charisma, a gift for leadership, and a head for strategy that makes him one of the deadliest captains plying the waters off the eastern shores… Pirate, privateer, merchant—Ryger has worn all of these hats and more since wresting the prince’s crown from the head of Horget Black, the previous high prince of the Lhazaar Sea.

As high prince, Ryger is seen as a leader among equals, and most of the sea barons and pirate lords bow to his wisdom and counsel (though not yet to his rule). Those who refuse to pay heed to Ryger do so quietly, so as not to attract the attention of his warships and loyal warriors. It was Ryger who gathered a council of captains and went to Thronehold to represent the Principalities in the talks that ended the war. Now, working mainly as a merchant fleet for House Orien, the Seadragons hope to gain an even greater advantage in peace than in war. High Prince Ryger wants to unite the Principalities under one banner… the banner of Prince Ryger ir’Wynarn.

Let’s break this down.

  • “High prince” is a title that implies that the bearer is the most powerful captain in the Principalities and wields influence throughout the region.
  • Ryger has been a prince for 15 years, but he didn’t start as high prince.
  • Horget Black was the previous high prince. He was in power at least 25 years ago, when he welcomed Thuranni to the region. At some undefined point in the last 15 years, he was defeated by Ryger, who “wrested the prince’s crown from his head.” While this could be a literal crown, the main point is that Black was acknowledged as the most powerful and influential captain in the Principalities and Ryger defeated him, thus implying that HE was now the most powerful captain.
  • Ryger gathered the delegation of princes that represented the region at Thronehold, and used the title of High Prince while there. No one else in the region challenged this, and this means that the other NATIONS assume that Ryger is the recognized leader of the Principalities.
  • … Which he kind of is, because no one else has challenged him and he has the strongest fleet. However, he WANTS the Principalities to join together as a true unified nation with a clear hierarchy, and that has NOT happened. He’s the high princes, and other princes will RESPECT that, but he can’t actually COMMAND any of them–he can only make requests and threats.

Rising meanwhile condenses this all down into a very simple form: Ryger has the best fleet, he represented the nation at Thronehold, he’s declared himself high prince, but he’s been unable to unite everyone. The timeline’s a little fuzzy, but the main point is that he called himself high prince before, but by using the title at Thronehold he gained international recognition as high prince and that really sealed the deal.

An important point here is that the Principalities are not a unified culture. The gnomes of Lorghalen, the Bloodsail elves of Farlnen, Mika’s Cloudreavers, the changelings of the Gray Tide—these are all proudly independent and unique. They have joined together against common enemies, and they have common traditions that unite them against the rest of the world, including the traditions of prince and high prince. But high prince isn’t a title that’s granted, it’s a title that’s claimed by someone who has the power to back it up. Ryger is high prince because he says he is and because no one’s challenged his claim. But he HASN’T managed to get Lorghalen and Farlnen and the Gray Tide to all come together and agree on a more concrete system of governance or greater union.

So: What happened to Horget Black?

Little has been said about Horget Black. Most crucially, it’s never said WHAT Principality he ruled. The ECS states that he gave Thuranni the right to set up shop in REGALPORT. There’s two ways to look at this.

The first is that Horget was himself Prince of the Seadragons. In this case, Ryger was a brilliant and capable Seadragon captain who served Captain Black for a period of time before seizing both his principality and the title of high prince. This isn’t in any way unprecedented; again, in most principalities, prince isn’t a hereditary title. The question is how it ties into the statement that Ryger has been Prince of the Seadragons for 15 years; whether that was also when he defeated Horget, or if it’s referencing that he was one of the most respected captains during that time—people were already calling him a prince even though he served Horget. It’s possible that as he called himself High Prince, Horget let his best captains be called princes.

The second option is that Horget was asserting his authority as high prince by inviting Thuranni to go settle on SOMEONE ELSE’S ISLAND. That’s the kind of thing you could get away with if you’re truly the high prince, and it would be a clear reason for Ryger to hold a grudge.

Where’s Horget now? It’s really up to you. We know he’s not a power player in the Principalities today. However, we also know that you are only prince as long as you can hold power; if he was legitimately broken—by an injury, by a crippling loss of reputation, or by age—it’s not unreasonable that he would accept his defeat and remain in a lesser standing. PERSONALLY, I’d do one of two things: I’d either have him sailing a ghost ship and occasionally popping up to take vengeance on Seadragon vessels… OR I’d have him as an old man missing a limb, serving Ryger in Regalport as a trusted advisor.

Have you put some thought towards how people travel between principalities? Given what you’ve said above, is it plausible to assume Rygar might enforce a set of rules around people who’ve fairly paid to travel between princes, or is it more like a mutual agreement that princes don’t sabotage each other’s ships when they’re carrying civilians/foreigners or trade goods?

Most ships in the region fly two flags: the flag of the ship itself (IE Breland, Aerenal, Lyrandar) and a secondary flag indicating the Principality with which they are doing business. So an Aereni ship carrying lumber to Regalport will fly a secondary Seadragon flag.

So: it’s more like a mutual agreement. If you plunder a ship bearing a Seadragon flag, you are striking at Ryger, and he may demand reparation or take retaliatory action. Conversely, if a merchant ship flies a Seadragon flag WITHOUT having legitimate business with Ryger, he may take offense at THAT.

I’ll answer more infrequently asked questions in the days ahead, and be posting a poll to Patreon to determine the subject of the next major article! Smooth sailing to you all!