In the first days of the world, the children of Khyber rose from the darkness to reign over Eberron. The greatest among them were the overlords, who held dominion over a world of fear, war, and death until the children of Eberron and Siberys rose up against them. Armies of dragons fought against the fiends of Khyber. And though the overlords couldn’t be destroyed, the couatl sacrificed their lives to build a prison of celestial light: a silver flame that bound the overlords in Khyber once more. These bonds have held for countless generations, but the overlords still yearn to break free and reclaim the world above.Eberron: Rising From The Last War.
The overlords are one of the greatest threats in the Eberron campaign setting. They ruled the world in its first age, and they yearn to break their bonds and drag reality back to that age of demons. The Lords of Dust work to free the overlords, while the dragons of the Chamber oppose their efforts—and this long, cold war is one of the driving forces in the setting. I’ve written many articles about the overlords over the years, and this month I’ve received a host of questions concerning specific overlords from my Patreon supporters. I thought I’d revisit the topic and bring some of that scattered information together, as well as updating things to incorporate the ideas presented in Rising From The Last War and Exploring Eberron.
WHAT ARE THE OVERLORDS?
- The overlords are immortal fiends with immense power (equivalent to divine rank 7 in 3.5 terms). At full power, an unbound overlord exerts influence over a broad region, but this dominion is finite; it might cover a country, but not an entire continent. There were approximately thirty overlords, and between them they dominated the world. While they have the equivalent of Divine Rank and while I may refer to them as “gods” in this article, they aren’t deities. They cannot grant divine magic, though a devout follower might be able to draw power directly from Khyber as a result of their faith.
- The overlords cannot be permanently destroyed. The couatl sacrificed themselves and fused their celestial energy together to create the Silver Flame, a force capable of binding the overlords and most of their minions.
- While most of the fiendish forces were bound with their masters, some slipped through. These beings largely work to release their masters, and they are called The Lords of Dust. They are opposed by the dragons of The Chamber.
- Each overlord is bound in a physical vessel, but it is the power of the Silver Flame that keeps them bound. They can only be released if a particular piece of the Draconic Prophecy comes to pass. The Draconic Prophecy is constantly evolving, and so the Chamber and the Lords of Dust study it and seek to manipulate it to achieve their goals.
- Even while bound, the overlords still influence the regions around their prisons. Most Overlords are effectively asleep, and this influence is essentially an effect of their “dreams”. A few — such as Bel Shalor, the Shadow in the Flame — are more aware and actively scheming.
- “Demon” usually refers to a chaotic evil fiend, but it can also be used as a general term for any evil immortal, and this is its context of “The Age of Demons.”
The overlords are commonly referred to as the children of Khyber. The truth is slightly more complex; they are actually the architecture of Khyber. Beyond the physical tunnels and caverns that extend into the depths, Khyber is a matrix of demiplanes. These can be seen as the dreams of the progenitor, each reflecting a horrifying vision of a possible reality—realms defined by fear, bloodshed, and worse. While most are isolated, some—known as heart demiplanes—are able to leak out into the prime material plane, and this is where native fiends come from. The overlord is the defining spirit of the demiplane. When it is “released,” its power flows out into reality, slowly reshaping the world to mirror its heart plane. The entity that can be fought is an avatar of that force, but it’s just a projection; if that projection is destroyed, its power flows back into its heart plane, regenerates and returns. So physically defeating an overlord is only a temporary setback for it, and the physical form you encounter is merely a projection.
One common question is what differentiates overlords from the Dark Six. There’s a few major differences. First and foremost, the overlords absolutely exist. You can find the resting place of an overlord or go to its heart demiplane. If they’ve loosened their bonds, an overlord can manifest an avatar and you can actually fight it. So while you’ll never shake hands with Aureon or dine with the Devourer, there may be a time when you can punch Rak Tulkhesh in the nose or have tal with Sul Khatesh. The downside of this is that as powerful as they are, overlords have a limited sphere of influence. While bound they can only influence the regions around their prison or where their heart demiplane touches the world. When released, their power has a finite radius. Bel Shalor threw Thrane into chaos, but his power wasn’t felt in Sharn or even in Korth. Other overlords have different limitations: the Daughter of Khyber can reach across the world, but she can only influence dragons. A final important difference is that the overlords aren’t some sort of logically arranged pantheon. Some of their ideas overlap; Bel Shalor and Eldrantulku are both corruptors, Sul Khatesh and Tul Oreshka hold secrets, Masvirik deals with reptiles while the Daughter of Khyber corrupts dragons. There’s an overlord of cold, but we’ve never mentioned one associated with fire. They aren’t gods, they’re monsters. Bel Shalor and Eldrantulku overlap in concept, but they influence entirely different regions within the world. Rak Tulkhesh is infamously an overlord of war, but there could be an entirely different overlord associated with bloodshed or war in Sarlona. Overlords are epically powerful, but they are also finite. They don’t explain the existence of evil, they embody specific aspects of it.
Every edition that Eberron has been part of has provided statistics for some of the overlords, and these vary wildly in power. Under the 3.5 rules, overlords rivaled lesser deities; they possessed the equivalent of 7 divine ranks and 30-50 character levels. The 3.5 version of Sul Khatesh could cast counterspell as a free action, had spontaneous access to all wizard and sorcerer spells, and could destroy antimagic fields; she had innate true seeing as well as the ability to cast legend lore on anything she could see. By contrast, Rising From The Last War presents Sul Khatesh as a CR 28 threat with a fairly limited set of spells. How do these two interpretations relate to one another? The answer is that the lesser deity equivalent statistics reflect the full power that an entirely unbound overlord could wield, while the CR 28 interpretations of Sul Khatesh and Rak Tulkhesh reflect a weaker avatar, most likely manifested by an overlord who’s still partially bound. At the end of the day, overlords are essentially plot devices. They are the most powerful entities that exist on Eberron, and at their full power were able to face armies of dragons. They aren’t supposed to be balanced; the idea that player characters can face them directly and potentially win the fight would reflect limits placed on the overlord (IE partial binding), the fact that the player characters are vessels of the Prophecy, the impact of special preparations (Tira Miron might have bathed Kloijner in the waters of Irian or the heartsblood of Durastoran the Wymbreaker). Overlords wield apocalyptic levels of power, and any stat block should be seen as an inspiration for what an overlord might be capable of, not an absolute limit.
How Are The Overlords Bound?
Overlords can’t be permanently destroyed. When an avatar is defeated its essence flows back into its heart plane and reforms. What the champions of the first age did was to bind that essence—preventing it from returning to its heart plane. Essentially, they severed the overlord’s brain from its heart; the heart demiplanes still exist, but the consciousness of the overlords are bound elsewhere and they can’t manifest their avatars or exert their full power. While the essence of each overlord is bound to a physical vessel, it is the power of the Silver Flame that actually keeps the overlord bound. A vessel can be damaged—Rak Tulkhesh is bound to a Khyber shard that’s been shattered—but this won’t release the overlord.
How Can They Be Released?
Releasing an overlord is no trivial matter. The prisons of the overlords are as indestructible as the fiends themselves. The only way for an overlord to be released is for a certain path of the Prophecy to come to pass. For this reason, the actions of the Lords of Dust are enigmatic. They cannot simply release their masters— they must bring history to a particular crossroads, a point at which the planes and moons are aligned and the darkness can rise again. It is up to you to decide just what is required for a particular overlord to be released. It could be something as grim as the downfall of a nation, or something as positive as the birth of a child.Eberron Campaign Guide
This article goes into much more depth about the nature of the binding and how it can be broken. There’s a few things to keep in mind. The first is that the Prophecy is almost always tied to the actions of specific mortals. Despite all their power, the dragons and the Lords of Dust can’t resolve a situation with brute force; they need to guide the actions of mortal pawns. The second is that the Prophecy is always evolving. There is always a path for the release of an overlord. As soon as the Chamber severs one branch, a new one begins to take shape. There will never be a time when humanity doesn’t have to worry about the overlords; foiling the plans of the Lords of Dust buys time, as a new branch may take centuries to be uncovered and cultivated—but there is always a path to release Sul Khatesh and there always will be. And while the Lords of Dust and the Chamber are always working to cultivate these branches or to trim them, there’s always the chance that the events required to release an overlord will play out entirely on their own. Not all overlords have agents within the Lords of Dust, and the Chamber isn’t omnisicent; it’s always possible that the necessary events will simply happen, even if there’s no cult or fiend driving them.
How Do They Pose A Threat?
As long as the overlords are bound by the Silver Flame, they can’t physically manifest in the world. But each overlord embodies a particular aspect of evil, which grows in strength as their servants scheme to release their ancient masters. The overlords gain strength when mortals embrace the dark paths laid down for them. And as they grow stronger, they gain more influence.Eberron: Rising From The Last War
If the bonds of an overlord can only be broken by a prophetic path, what does it mean for an overlord to “grow stronger?” Overlords threaten the world in two ways. If an overlord is released from its prison, it will transform a region of the world into a mirror of its heart demiplane. This may start slowly, but the end results can be dramatic. The Cold Sun will steal the light from the sky, while the Heart of Winter will blanket her domain in ice. Every overlord has a handful of fiends that walk the world… but if an overlord is unbound, greater forces will emerge from its demiplane. Beyond this, the overlord itself will be able to manifest a physical avatar, as shown in Rising From The Last War. An overlord is only able to affect the world directly if their bonds are broken. But even while bound, they still have the ability to influence mortals. Tiamat corrupts dragons, the Wild Heart corrupts nature, and Rak Tulkhesh drives people to spill blood. Essentially, bound overlords can still influence mortals—and the more mortals who succumb to their influence, the greater this power becomes. Sul Khatesh can’t walk the world and unleash and arcane armageddon, but she can still whisper secrets to warlocks and create cabals and cults, while Rak Tulkhesh can shatter peace and drive war. “Partial release” falls between these two. When partially released the Wild Heart was able to amplify the power of the curse of lycanthropy and assert control over all ‘thropes, and it may have been able to manifest an avatar in the heart of the forest; but we’ve never suggested that the Towering Woods themselves were physically transformed, or that the avatar of the Wild Heart was roaming freely and striking down its enemies. Ultimately, this is about the needs of the story. A bound overlord has a very limited ability to influence mortals. An unbound overlord can affect both mortals and the world itself, and can manifest an avatar wielding tremendous power. A partially released overlord falls somewhere in between, with whatever limitations you need to impose to make your story satisfying. The key point is that even when they aren’t trying to release their overlord, cults and fiends will often try to increase its influence—usually by playing out its core concept (war, undead, betrayal, sinister magic) in a region.
While bound, the overlords are effectively dreaming—or trancing, if you prefer, as they aren’t tied to Dal Quor and can’t be targeted by dream. The point is that they aren’t entirely conscious, nor are they fully comatose. Rak Tulkhesh revels in hatred and bloodshed, but it’s his speaker Mordakhesh who schemes across the centuries and who actively sows strife. Sul Khatesh does whisper to her warlocks and share dangerous secrets, but even this is essentially reflexive; it’s how her influence manifests, and not every warlock she deals with is part of a world-breaking scheme. The Lords of Dust understand the world and scheme to free their overlords; the overlords themselves are delighted when their influence grows, but are only partially aware of what is going on in the world. This is what makes their speakers—prakhutu—so important; Mordakhesh can commune with Rak Tulkhesh and divine what the Rage of War desires. (Hint: It’s war.)
WHO ARE THE OVERLORDS?
There is no complete list of overlords, and even their exact number is uncertainly; one canon source says “around thirty” while another says “a few dozen.” Likewise, even with the overlords that do exist, much is left vague. Does Sakinnirot have a prakhutu, and if so, do they consult with the Bleak Council of Ashtakala? Where is Tul Oreshka’s prison? Largely this is intentional, because the overlords are essentially plot devices. Does Sakinnirot have a prakhutu? Well, do you want it to? We know the location of Sul Khatesh’s prison, but Tul Oreshka’s is intentionally undefined so that it can be wherever you want it to be. Are their thirty overlords or thirty-six? The answer is how many do you need?
This is a list of all of the Overlords who’ve been mentioned in canon or kanon. It includes details on where they’ve appeared, but again, many of them simply don’t have much information available; in many cases, the information provided here is more than actually exists in canon. Don’t let that hold you back; use this as inspiration and build upon it to meet the needs of your campaign.
ASHTAKALA, The Demon City. Located in the Demon Wastes, Ashtakala is described in many sources as the last citadel of the Lords of Dust and the meeting place of their Bleak Council. In this article I present the idea that Ashtakala is itself an overlord, the immortal embodiment of the citadel of evil.
ASHURAK, The Slow Death. While never named in canon, the Slow Death is the patron of the Plaguebearers, one of the Carrion Tribes of the Demon Wastes. Ashurak revels in the horror of disease. The plagues they spread are agonizing and disfiguring, but never kill quickly; lingering suffering is the hallmark of Ashurak. While their prison is in the Demon Wastes, their influence can be carried by the diseases they creates and Plaguebearers have occasionally started cults in the Five Nations. While it might seem that these cultists would find allies among the Children of Winter, the truth is quite the opposite; the maladies of Ashurak are deeply unnatural and the druids battle these cults whenever they find them. Ashurak isn’t one of the most powerful or infamous overlords, but they do have representatives among the Lords of Dust; their speaker is Shalashar, a native oinoloth. (ECS)
BEL SHALOR, The Shadow in the Flame. Bound in Flamekeep, Bel Shalor is the most infamous overlord in Khorvaire, largely due to his well-documented devastation of Thrane and subsequent defeat at the hands of Tira Miron. Bel Shalor embodies our fear of one another and the capacity for even the most virtuous person to do evil. He thrives on paranoia and smiles anytime a good person harms an innocent or ignores their conscience. Bel Shalor’s speaker is the ak’chazar rakshasa Durastoran the Wyrmbreaker, and his minions are a powerful force within the Lords of Dust. Where his influence was originally tied to Thrane, due to the conditions of his binding he can influence anyone who draws on the power of the Silver Flame; it’s entirely possible he wanted to be bound, that he always planned to become the Shadow in the Flame. (ECG, ExE)
THE DAUGHTER OF KHYBER, Tiamat. The Daughter of Khyber embodies the fear of dragons and the evil they can do—fears both of humanoids and of the dragons themselves. She is bound in the Pit of Five Sorrows in Argonnessen, but much like Bel Shalor and the followers of the Silver Flame, the Daughter of Khyber can touch the heart of any dragon wherever they may be. Her influence can be subtle, hidden within pride or even a desire to help lesser creatures—but once she sinks her hooks into a dragon’s soul, she can twist even noble desires toward evil ends. The Daughter of Khyber’s machinations have brought the world to the edge of disaster at least once since the Age of Demons, devastating ancient civilizations on Khorvaire that have now been forgotten; it is because of this that the dragons of Argonnessen place severe restrictions on how dragons exercise power in the wider world. Known to some as Tiamat, the Daughter of Khyber has no involvement with the Lords of Dust, and if she has a speaker their identity is unknown. (Dragons of Eberron, ECG, ExE)
DRAL KHATUUR, The Heart of Winter. Bound in the Frostfell, Dral Khatuur embodies of all of the terrors of winter—endless night, the killing frost, the ice-encrusted face of a frozen friend. Her minions are frozen corpses, fiends sculpted from ice, and the howling, hungry wind. She despises all other creatures, including the other overlords; she had no ties to the Lords of Dust and waits in the Frostfell for anyone foolish enough to venture into her domain.
ELDRANTULKU, The Oathbreaker. As described in Dragon 337, Eldrantulku is a spirit of discord who turns allies into enemies and lovers into mortal foes. A master deceiver, his title comes from his ability to convince others to break their oaths. He is not a force of war—he corrupts the innocent, using ambition, jealousy, and paranoia as his tools. He is active within the Lords of Dust. Notable minions include Thelestes, an exiled Mabaran succubus and deadly assassin; and the devious rakshasa Kashtarhak, his prakhutu. The location of Eldrantulku’s prison is unknown.
KATASHKA, The Gatekeeper. Katashka thrives on mortal fears of death and the undead. He is thought to have brought the first undead into the world, and certainly created the first liches and dracoliches. Katashka’s servants are part of the Lords of Dust, and his prakhutu is the dracolich Mazyralyx, thought by some to be the origin of many myths of the Keeper. The location of Katashka’s prison is a mystery. The Lair of the Keeper in the Demon Wastes is a possibility, but it’s just as possible that this contains a connection to his heart demiplane. Katashka’s cults are more widespread than many other overlords, which suggests that his prison has been shattered and scattered like that of Rak Tulkhesh. As Katashka is known to create liches, one possibility is that pieces of his shattered prison are used as phylacteries by his lich champions, who spread his influence wherever they go. Katashka largely works with undead as opposed to fiends; his champions include the ancient wizard Kyuss and his spawn. (Dragon 337, ECG, ExE)
THE LURKER IN SHADOW. In the first age of the world, the Thunder Sea was the domain of a powerful overlord embodying the fear of the unknown and unknowable, of the unimaginable terrors lurking in the depths and in the darkness. Its true name is one more secret. Its servants call it Surash Ka, which is simply Abyssal for “The Deep Lord” or “The King Below;” the sahuagin and other denizens of the Thunder Sea avoid even that name, calling it the Lurker in Shadow or just the Lurker. It’s an exceptionally powerful overlord; when unbound, it dominated the Thunder Sea and even now its influence can be felt across the region. The Lurker in Shadow has no interaction with the Lords of Dust. Its servants include aboleths, shadow demons, and shark-aspected rakshasa, but stories say these are the least of the horrors it has spawned. While the Lurker has some overlap with Sul Khatesh and Tul Oreshka, Sul Khatesh is focused on arcane knowledge and personal secrets, while Tul Oreshka deals with secrets that can break people; the Lurker in Shadow deals with the things you can’t imagine, the forces that lie just beyond sight and that are waiting to pull you down. I’ll be providing more information about the Lurker in a follow up article.
MASVIRIK, The Cold Sun. Masvirik consumes the light, embodying our fears of all that slithers through the dark and cold. On the one hand, he embodies the warmblooded fears of reptiles and venomous vermin. On the other, he embodies reptilian fears of cold and death. His minions include corrupted lizardfolk, dragonborn, and kobolds, along with undead reptilian creatures and fiends who thrive on cold instead of heat. Masvirik is imprisoned beneath Haka’torvhak, and his influence is felt across Q’barra. His speaker, the dragon Rhashaak, is bound in Haka’torvhak; the reptilian rakshasa Asshalara represents Rhashaak on the Bleak Council of Ashtakala. (Dungeon 185)
RAK TULKHESH, The Rage of War. Rak Tulkhesh embodies the fear of war and bloodshed, whether as a victim of violence or losing oneself to bloodlust and rage. The cults of Rak Tulkhesh include brutal raiders who embrace lives of endless violence, but also those who spread hate and strife—anything that stirs up harsh conflict where there might otherwise be peace. The prison of Rak Tulkhesh has been shattered, and his influence is spread across Khorvaire; however, he has a strong presence in the Demon Wastes and his Carrion Tribes are always thirsty for bloodshed. His speaker, Mordakhesh the Shadowsword, is a respected member of the Lords of Dust and a brilliant military strategist. (Dragon 337, Dragon 416, ECG, ExE, Rising)
RAN IISHIV, The Unmaker. Bound beneath Adar, Ran Iishiv is a force of chaos and destruction. Some believe that Ran Iishiv reflects Khyber’s primal hatred of creation itself, the burning desire to tear down the material plane and start anew. Whatever the truth, Ran Iishiv was expecteptionally powerful and feared even by other overlords; it’s believe that the wild zones to Kythri in Adar reflect Ran Iishiv literally tearing through reality. Even while bound, the Unmaker’s fury is a powerful force. Ran Iishiv may be the source of the storms that batter Adar, and some accounts claim its rage created the volcano of Korrandor. Ran Iishiv has no allies among the Lords of Dust, and it’s even possible fiends tied to other overlords would help prevent the Unmaker’s release. Ran’s primary servants are the Endseekers, cultists who have heard the Unmaker’s dreaming whispers and seek to return reality to primordial chaos. (Secrets of Sarlona)
SAKINNIROT, The Scar That Abides. Those loyal to Sakinnirot say it was the first child of the Dragon Below but the last to be born. In many ways it embodies pure hatred—not the savage bloodlust of Rak Tulkhesh, but hatred that smolders and burns. Sakinnirot thrives on bloody feuds that only serve to deeping the need for revenge, on physical and spiritual wounds left to fester. It’s possible that Sakinnirot is nothing less that the patient fury of Khyber itself, the determination for vengeance upon the world that holds it prisoner. Whatever the truth, Sakinnirot is one of the most powerful overlords; during the Age of Demons, the Scar laid claim to all of Xen’drik and reveled in battling other overlords. It was bound even more tightly that most overlords, and few of its fiendish servants escaped into the world; both because of this and its feuds with other overlords, the Scar That Abides isn’t represented within the Lords of Dust. However, the rakshasa Lorishto—an Ak’chazar of Eldrantulku—has been seeking to weaken the binding of Sakinnirot, hoping to become the prakhutu of the Scar That Abides. (City of Stormreach)
THE SPINNER OF SHADOWS. Presented in D&D Online, the Spinner of Shadows is commonly associated with spiders; however, this reflects her wider role as an overlord of hidden schemes, of the careful vendetta and the joy of toying with a powerless foe. While she has significant overlap with Sakinnirot, the Spinner is less driven by burning hatred and more by hungry ambition—the schemer willing to climb a web formed of innocent corpses to achieve their desires. While not one of the most powerful overlords, one of her strengths is her talent for remaining hidden—reflected by the fact that she had her domain in Xen’drik despite Sakinnirot’s claim on the continent. because of this obsession with secrecy, it’s unlikely that the Spinner is involved with the Lords of Dust; her agents scheme along, hiding even from their fiendish cousins. (D&D Online—technically neither canon nor canon, but I’m including her on the list)
SUL KHATESH, The Keeper of Secrets. Per Rising From The Last War, “Sul Khatesh is known as the Keeper of Secrets and the Queen of Shadows. She embodies the fears and superstitions surrounding magic, from malevolent warlocks to mad wizards, from deadly curses to magical power that draws those who wield it deeper into darkness.” She may be bound beneath Arcanix, but she has found ways to spread her influence further. Her prakhutu—the First Scribe, Hektula—has written books of magic that can grant tremendous power but that also serve as a focus for her influence; these could mirror the effects of the Book of Vile Darkness or the Demonomicon. Likewise, Sul Khatesh spreads cabals and covens, and where her cultists come together to perform malefic rituals, Sul Khatesh can touch the world. While she often whispers to her warlocks and to other susceptible minds, Sul Khatesh is essentially dreaming; while her whispers rarely work out well for those who listen to them, they aren’t all tied toward one grand plan. The agents of Sul Khatesh are a strong force in the Lords of Dust. Hektula maintains the library of Ashtakala and often mediates disputes between the other speakers. (Dragon 337, City of Stormreach, ECG, ExE, Rising)
TOL KHARASH, The Horned King. There is a dark power bound beneath the fortress known as Turakbar’s Fist, and it has long spread its influence across the barren region now known as Droaam. Znir hwyri hunt those who fall too far down its path, while the minotaur clans see this power as their patron. Tol Kharash can easily be mistaken for Rak Tulkhesh, as both delight in bloodshed and war. However, Tol Kharash is a force of tyranny rather than rage. It drives the strong to oppress the weak… and the crueller they are, the better. The Horned King is the common name of the overlord and the aspect worshipped by Rhesh Turakbar and his clan, the Blood Horns; they raid and pillage in his name. However, each of the major minotaur clans has their own unique interpretation of the Horned King. The Red Hooves are devoted to He Who Walks Behind, and prefer sly ambushes to the howling assaults of the Blood Horns. The Blade Breaker clan worships One Horn, who rewards displays strength and courage. While the Blade Breakers are just as aggressive as the Blood Horns, they are less brutal; it’s just possible that while THEY think One Horn is an aspect of the Horned King, they are in truth drawing on a different power entirely—perhaps, the essence of Dol Dorn. Tol Kharash has relatively few fiendish minions. His greatest servants are possessed mortals as opposed to manifested fiends; he has no representatives in Ashtakala and doesn’t work with the Lords of Dust. (Tol Kharash appears in the upcoming Frontiers of Eberron: Threshold)
TUL ORESHKA, The Truth In The Darkness. Tul Oreshka embodies our fear of secrets and the things we don’t know, of unbearable truths and feelings we’d kill to keep secret. These may be deeply personal—your mother wishes you’d died instead of your brother—or shocking cosmic revelations. She’s far more primal than Sul Khatesh; the words she deals with may not conjure fire or fiends, but they still have the power to shatter lives. People who pass by her prison may learn terrible things through ghostly whispers or vivid nightmares. Her cults take many forms, and are almost always driven by a compelling, infectious idea. While she doesn’t deal in traditional mystical knowledge as Sul Khatesh does, Tul Oreshka can reveal secrets that defy our previous understanding of magic or that alter the way we see reality; for example, a cult of Tul Oreshka might reveal that humans are all fiends, that humanity itself is collectively an overlord. While her agents are unpredictable, Tul Oreshka does participate in the Bleak Council of the Lords of Dust; her current speaker is a pit fiend named Korliac of the Gray Flame, though Tul Oreshka’s speakers rarely hold the position for long. The location of Tul Oreshka’s prison has never been established. (Dragon 337)
VAL GULTESH, The Shaper of Nightmares. Many overlords embody something that is feared; Val Gultesh feeds on fear itself. They thrive on paranoia and on lives torn apart by unfounded fears, and crafts nightmares that help spread terrifying and disruptive ideas. While they can shape nightmares, they do so from Eberron—effectively, using a powerful form of the dream spell that can potentially affect hundreds of people at once—as opposed to entering Dal Quor. The quori of the present age haven’t encountered an unbound Val Gultesh; it’s quite possible the overlord would pose a threat to them, especially to quori manifesting in Eberron as Inspired or Kalashtar. Val Gultesh is imprisoned somewhere in Zilargo, and it’s possible that should their power grow that they could corrupt the Trust to serve their purposes; however, the Trust could be aware of this threat, and may have ruthlessly eliminated cults of Val Gultesh in the past. The Shaper of Nightmares works with the Lords of Dust, but the nature of their speaker and the power of their faction have yet to be established. (Mentioned in the adventures “Curtain Call” and “Fear Reveals Truth”)
THE WILD HEART. The Wild Heart embodies mortal fears of the natural world. To some degree this embodies the sheer unknown that the wild represents, but it especially draws on the fear of predators—the unknown dangers lurking in the depths of the darkest wood. The Wild Heart is known both for their connection to gnolls and as one of the primary sources of lycanthropy; in Kanon, they were the cause of the Lycanthropic Purge. As a force that is fundamentally opposed to civilization, the Wild Heart uses no name and takes no part in the schemes of the Lords of Dust. Their speaker is a shapeshifting fiend known as Drukalatar Atesh, but its fiendish minions are more likely to possess or be fused with beasts than to act in fiendish form. (Novel: The Queen of Stone)
YAD-RAGHESH, The Fallen Rajah. The fiend known as Yad-Raghesh is a mystery; some loredrake scholars question whether they were actually an overlord, or whether they were an exceptionally powerful champion of Sakinnirot or Ran Iishiv. What is known is that during the wars of the Age of Demons, Yad-Raghesh fought in the form of a colossal two-headed rakshasa; that they were defeated with surprising ease; and that it was later discovered that they had somehow imbued their essence into the region in which they were slain, permanently corrupting it. The corpse of Yad-Raghesh remains in this vale, which seethes with hatred and fiends. There is no evidence that the consciousness of Yad-Raghesh remains as an active force, and they play no role in the Lords of Dust, but they have effectively transformed this “Vale of the Fallen Rajah” into a heart demiplane in the midst of Argonnessen. (Dragons of Eberron)
UNNAMED AND UNKNOWN. A number of overlords have been hinted at in canon sources but never described in detail. Secrets of Sarlona suggests that there are overlords imprisoned in the Kretok Peninsula and in Sustrai Mor, while the Player’s Guide to Eberron suggests that an overlord with power over the weather is bound on Tempest Isle. Some previous lists included Shudra the Fleshrender, a “mighty rakshasa” mentioned in Forge of War. However, Shudra is a rakhsasa champion on par with Mordakhesh and Hektula; he’s associated with the overlord Dhavibashta, who appears in James Wyatt’s novel In The Claws Of The Tiger. As mentioned at the start, this is not intended to be a complete list of overlords, and I would never want to create such a list; there should always be room in the world for an overlord who perfectly suits the needs of your story.
How Do These Overlords Relate to the Planes?
The overlords are spirits of Khyber and the material plane. As the material plane ties together all of the iconic concepts that define the outer planes, some of the overlords reflect ideas that are represented in the planes. Rak Tulkhesh is associated with war, and Shavarath is associated with war. Tul Oreshka and the Lurker in Shadows both deal with the unknowable and unnatural in ways that evoke Xoriat, and Val Gultesh shapes nightmares. But Val Gultesh isn’t a creature of Dal Quor and the Rak Tulkhesh isn’t from Shavarath. They are spirits of the material plane, and deal with mortals who fight and dream; but they influence those things in and from the material plane, and have no connection to or alliances with the denizens of the planes. In general, the power of an overlord will trump the power of any extraplanar entity while they are in the material plane; an unbound Val Gultesh might be able to control quori possessing human hosts. For this reason, extraplanar entities generally try to avoid conflict with overlords and the Lords of Dust.
Are The Overlords Allies?
Absolutely not. They often fought one another during the Age of Demons, and a few of those that have been named—Ran Iishiv, Sakinnirot, Dral Khatuur—have been specifically called out as being shunned by the Lords of Dust. Part of the point is that the overlords embody terrible things, and that all they desire is to express their nature. Rak Tulkhesh IS furious bloodshed and has no other way to the world; if you live next to Rak Tulkhesh, you KNOW he’s going to constantly attack you. Likewise, Eldrantulku is the embodiment of betrayal. The Lords of Dust who deal with him know that sooner or later any arrangement will have an unpleasant surprise; but because they know this, they can prepare and work around it. The key point is that the Lords of Dust aren’t the overlords, they’re the lesser fiends that serve them. Rak Tulkhesh is unreasoning war, but Mordakhesh is careful and calculating, and willing to scheme with the servants of other overlords. With that being said, the Lords of Dust always place the interests of their own overlord above all else… and many members of the Lords of Dust have long-standing feuds or rivalries with other fiends.
Why do the Lords of Dust serve the Overlords?
Given that the overlords ARE so firmly bound, it’s a reasonable question—why do the Lords of Dust serve the overlords? Why doesn’t Mordakhesh pursue his own interests? There’s a few aspects to this. The first is that the fiends are immortals, which makes them fundamentally inhuman. They were created as the physical embodiments of ideas, and they can’t change those ideas. Mordakhesh never chose to serve Rak Tulkhesh; it’s a fundamental aspect of what he is and he can’t change it. Furthermore, all native fiends are tied to heart demiplanes. When Mordakhesh dies, he returns to the Bitter Shield, the heart of Rak Tulkhesh. In essence, while he has his own unique personality, Mordakhesh is part of Rak Tulkhesh. Immortals CAN change—angels can fall, quori can become kalashtar—and it’s certainly possible to encounter a fiend that’s somehow shifted its allegiance or even become something other than a fiend. But it would be extremely unusual. Most fiends don’t choose to serve their overlord; it’s a fundamental part of who and what they are.
HOW CAN YOU USE THE OVERLORDS?
Eberron is balanced on a precipice. Should the overlords rise en masse, they’d destroy reality as we know it and drag the world back into the primal chaos of the Age of Demons. However, the release of a single overlord would be a devastating event that could destroy a nation—but it wouldn’t instantly herald the end of the world. We’ve seen examples of this before. In the Year of Blood and Fire, Bel Shalor devastated Thrane until he was rebound by the sacrifice of Tira Miron. In this article, I suggest that the Lycanthropic Purge was the work of the Wild Heart; as the Towering Woods were more remote than Thrane, the impact of their partial release and the sacrifices made to rebind them are less well known. It could even be that it was a release of an overlord.
Legacy. Overlords are sources of evil, and their existence can be used to explain why evil things existence in the world. The Daughter of Khyber corrupts dragons. The Wild Heart is one of the sources of lycanthropy, while Katashka creates many forms of undead. The overlords have the power to create artifacts; a sword bearing a shard of Rak Tulkhesh might grant great power while also spreading strife and hatred. An adventure or a campaign arc could involve creations of the overlords—a rogue dragon, a pack of werewolves, a clan of clever ghouls, a cursed artifact—without actually having anything to do with the overlord or its goals. The Book of Vile Darkness may have been written by Hektula and be a vector for the influence of Sul Khatesh; but it may be that Sul Khatesh’s plans are on hold for the next century, and the book is only dangerous by virtue of its innate power.
Cults and Influence. Even while bound, the overlords influence mortals. Exploring Eberron delves into the many forms these cults take—from ancient secret societies that actively work to release an overlord to deluded sects who have no idea of the power they’re tied to. The whispers of Bel Shalor are a threat to every follower of the Silver Flame. Followers of Rak Tulkhesh strive to cause strife, and the ghouls of Katashka feast on flesh beneath cities across Khorvaire. So adventurers can clash with a cult of the Whispering Flame or a cabal of Katashka’s ghouls even if the overlord has no greater role in the campaign.
Long-Term Plans. Prophetic paths that lead to the release of an overlord have many steps; they can take generations or even centuries for finally bear fruit. As discussed in this article, adventurers can be caught up in a scheme set up by one of the Lords of Dust, but regardless of the outcome, there’s no threat of an overlord actually being released. It may even be that a fiend wants to help an adventure acquire a powerful magic item—because the character needs to have that item to fulfill their role in the Prophecy. It’s also the case that the Lords of Dust have their own feuds and rivalries; adventurers could get a tip about a rakshasa scheming to take over a local guild, only to eventually realize it was another fiend that helped them.
Character Origin. Player characters can be tied to overlords. A Tome warlock could be tied to Sul Khatesh and the intrigues of her Court of Shadows. A Great Old One warlock might be receiving visions from Tul Oreshka, not knowing why they’ve been chosen by the Truth in the Darkness or what she wants with them. A barbarian character could have a sliver of Rak Tulkhesh’s prison shard bound to their flesh; the shard is what powers their rage, but by mastering that rage they help hold the overlord at bay. This could be vitally important if the campaign involves the potential release of the Rage of War… or it could be that there’s no risk of Rak Tulkhesh escaping this century, but the character may clash with cultists who want to claim the shard.
Threat of Release. The threat of an overlord’s release could be a driving arc for a campaign, building to a climactic clash in which the adventurers must fight against a doomsday countdown to prevent an overlord from escaping its binding. The key here is that if the players succeed, the overlord won’t be released. They’ll be dealing with cultists and Lords of Dust. It could even be that they face a weak avatar in the conclusion of that final battle, but it’s a battle that can be won.
So far, these ideas suggest ways to use overlords in minor roles… or how to use them as the ultimate challenge of a campaign. But there’s another option—to say that the campaign isn’t about stopping the release of an overlord, but rather dealing with the impact of it. Let’s look at a historical example…
THE YEAR OF BLOOD AND FIRE: Tira’s Campaign
When Bel Shalor broke his bonds in Thrane, he plunged the region into chaos—a period known as the Year of Blood and Fire. In my vision of things, Tira Miron didn’t simply ride up and smite him; it was a long road that led her from first touching the Flame to her final sacrifice. And while she may have made that sacrifice alone, she had companions on the journey. Canonically we’ve mentioned the avenger Samyr Kes, but in my opinion she had a full party of stalwart allies. In short, Tira was one of the player characters of her age. I see her campaign as going something like this…
- When Bel Shalor first breaks his bonds, his power is weak. The Eberron Campaign Guide says “If the Shadow in the Flame is freed, his influence will begin to extend out over the land around him, first covering a few miles, and ultimately spreading out across an entire nation. People who fall under his sway become selfish and cruel, turning on one another instead of standing against him.” This is the world in which the campaign begins—a Thrane in which people are drawn to darkness, where good people are tempted to commit atrocities. Tira begins as a paladin of Dol Arrah. She knows something is wrong, but she doesn’t know what it is. In her initial adventures, she fights the symptoms—clashing with newly-formed cults, with good people drawn to evil, and perhaps even with a few shadowy fiends—agents of Bel Shalor who helped with his release.
- As the campaign proceeds and Bel Shalor’s power grows, the Year of Blood and Fire truly begins. Murder and arson spread across the realm. Cities burn. Innocents suffer. Fiends emerge into the chaos, gathering cults and preying on the innocent. And it is in this time—perhaps as she chooses her Oath—that Tira has a vision of a couatl and is first touched by the power of the Flame.
- Along with her companions, Tira fights the horror spreading across the land. She learns to harness the power of the Silver Flame and uses it to protect the innocent. She establishes a haven in an Irian manifest zone, and develops techniques that can help her followers recognize and resist the insidious corrupting influence. Her and her allies discover the source of the darkness. Reaching it, they discover that Bel Shalor has broken his bonds but is not yet fully free; he can manifest a weak avatar but can’t yet leave the spot in which he’s been bound. Nonetheless, this avatar is far too powerful for Tira and her companions to defeat, and they are lucky to survive and flee. But now they know their enemy.
- While they can’t defeat Bel Shalor, Tira and her allies are celebrated champions protecting a community of people. They continue to deal with Bel Shalor’s servants and those who’ve been corrupted by his influence, but they are also doing all they can to learn how Shalor can be defeated. In addition to the couatl, they receive assistance from a (secret) agent of the Chamber. They travel to Daanvi, seeking knowledge in the Infinite Archive, and to other planes as well. They take steps laid out in the Prophecy, though many of these challenges are enigmatic and set them directly at odds with agents of the Lords of Dust.
- Guided by the Flame and the Prophecy, Tira obtains the greatsword Kloijner. A brutal cult is spreading across Thrane, but Tira presses to the heart of it and exposes Durastoran the Wyrmbreaker, the speaker of Bel Shalor. The rakshasa kills her Chamber ally, but Tira takes him down with Kloijner. This battle is part of a prophetic path Tira has uncovered. She knows it will keep Durastoran from reforming for decades. But it also fully releases Bel Shalor, who now strides across Thrane as a vast force of shadow.
- Tira knew the consequences of defeating Durastoran. She and her companions gather all those innocents freed from Shalor’s power in the Irian zone that has become their haven. She holds Durastoran’s heart, and beyond that she knows that the fully friend Shalor can’t stand to have a stronghold of light at the heart of his darkness. All of this has been foreshadowed by the Prophecy; though her Chamber ally has fallen, Tira knows that Bel Shalor will come to her and she knows what she must do. She rallies her allies, sharing the light of the Flame. Bel Shalor comes with an army of fiends and victims, and Tira’s faithful make their stand in the last bastion of light. Though the battle seems hopeless, Tira’s allies help her reach Bel Shalor himself—and it is in this moment that Tira and her couatl guide make their final sacrifice, binding Bel Shalor with the light of Tira’s soul and the power of the Flame, which surges forth as the column that can still be seen in Flamekeep to this day.
Now, this is MY vision of how this all went, and I’m sure there’s canon sources that tell the story another way. Furthermore, I’m writing this in the moment and I don’t have any more details about it. In my mind, Tira traveled to Irian and Daanvi as part of her adventures, but I don’t know exactly what she did in Irian. So I’m just saying: I’ve just sketched out an outline of the campaign Tira might have gone through, but it’s not like I’ve actually written any of the adventures.
Nonetheless, the point is that this isn’t a campaign in which Tira even has a chance to prevent Bel Shalor from being released. He’s already been partially released when the campaign begins—and if I was running the campaign, part of the point is that the players wouldn’t know it. In the session zero, I’d emphasize that something is wrong with the world, that they will be champions of the light trying to identify an infectious evil that is spreading across the land—that they’d be both warriors and investigators. During the campaign they not only uncover the true threat of Bel Shalor and the Wyrmbreaker, they also must develop their own personal connections to the Silver Flame. The first tier of the campaign would be almost entirely spent dealing with cultists and corrupted innocents, trying to determine what power is behind it; they might initially think they can stop Bel Shalor from being released, only to reach that stronghold of evil and discover he’s already out. In tier 2 they are dealing with the increasingly apocalyptic consequences of his release, fighting fiends as well as cultists and the corrupted; this get more dramatic from there.
This is an apocalyptic scenario; we know from the start that it’s called The Year of Blood and Fire. There’s going to be burning cities and mass chaos. However, that flavor would depend on the overlord involved. A campaign based around the release of Sul Khatesh could be far more subtle. The Court of Shadows spreads, and as the campaign continues its dark vision of the world starts to become real, towers of shadow appearing across the nation. Common people start gaining arcane powers and resolving petty feuds and disputes with curses. Sly rakshasa offer tempting pacts. It builds to a point where civilization could collapse into outright arcane terror… but it can take time. Minister Adal might even forge an order of witchfinders and seize control of Aundair, little realizing that he too is just a pawn of Sul Khatesh, helping to spread delightful fear and terror. Every story will be different. The release of the Rage of War will involve brutal bloodshed; the release of the Oathbreaker could have very subtle effects.
That’s all for now, but look out for a Patreon-exclusive article delving deeper into the Lurker in Shadow. Thanks as always to my Patreon supporters for asking the questions that inspired this article and for making all of these articles possible.
As time permits, I like to answer interesting questions posed by my Patreon supporters. One question that often comes up is “What do people in the world actually know about (subject)?” As players and DMs, we have access to a tome of absolute knowledge that tells us all about the Lords of Dust, the Dreaming Dark, the Empire of Dhakaan, and so on. We know that characters may know about these things if they have appropriate proficiencies and make successful skill checks. But what do people know WITHOUT making any skill checks? What things are just common knowledge?
This article reflects the common knowledge of a citizen of the Five Nations. Common knowledge will vary by culture, and I can’t account for every possible variation. People in Stormreach are more familiar with drow than people in Fairhaven. Shadow Marchers will have heard of the Gatekeepers, while Karrns won’t have. In general, you can assume that things that have a direct impact on the lives of people living in a region will be part of common knowledge. For example, the people of the Mror Holds don’t know a lot about the daelkyr in general, but they DO know about Dyrrn the Corruptor, because they’ve been fighting him for decades and he signed his name with Dyrrn’s Promise in 943 YK. So determining what things are common knowledge will often require the use of common sense.
With that said, the people of the Five Nations can be assumed to know the following things.
Planes, Moons, and Manifest Zones. Everyone knows the names of the planes and the moons, and the basic attributes of the planes (IE, Shavarath is the Eternal Battleground and is filled with celestials and fiends fighting). Think of this a little like knowledge of the planets of the solar system in our world; most people can name the planets and know that Mars is the Red Planet, but only someone who’s studied them can tell you the names of all of the moons of Jupiter. The main point is that the planes have real, concrete effects on the world through their manifest zones and coterminous/remote phases, and people understand these things. A common person may not be able to tell you the precise effects of a Shavarath manifest zone unless they actually live by one, but they know Shavarath is the Eternal Battleground and could GUESS what such a manifest zone might do.
The Creation Myth. Everyone knows the basic story: Khyber, Eberron, and Siberys created the planes. Khyber killed Siberys and scattered his pieces in the sky, creating the Ring of Siberys. Eberron enfolded Khyber and became the world. Whether people believe this is literally true or a metaphor, everyone knows the myth and everyone understands that magic comes from Siberys, natural creatures come from Eberron, and fiends and other evil things come from Khyber.
The Sovereign Myth. The Sovereign Host is deeply ingrained into daily life in the Five Nations. Even if you don’t BELIEVE in the Sovereigns, you know the names and basic attributes of the Nine and Six. Likewise, everyone knows the basic story that in the dawn of time the world was ruled by demons; that the Sovereigns fought them; and that the demons were bound. The Dark Six are largely only known by their titles—The Mockery, the Keeper—and their original names are something that would only be known by someone with a tie to a relevant cult or with proficiency in History.
The Silver Flame. Tied to this, everyone knows the idea that the Silver Flame is the force that binds demons. People do NOT know where it came from. Many vassals assume the Sovereigns created the Silver Flame. Those who follow the faith assert it is a celestial force that is strengthened by noble souls.
Dragons. Everyone knows that dragons exist and that they are terrifying and powerful creatures. People know stories of dragons guarding hoards of treasure, and if you’re from Thrane you know of the Bane of Thrane, the dragon who slew Prince Thrane. There are also a few stories about heroes making bargains with dragons, or dragons possessing secret knowledge. People know that Argonnessen is a land of dragons, but they know almost nothing about it beyond “Here there be dragons” and the fact that people who go there don’t come back. Some people know that dragons occasionally attack Aerenal, and know that the giants of Xen’drik were destroyed in some sort of war with dragons. So everyone knows that dragons exist; that they are extremely powerful; and that they can be deadly threats or enigmatic advisors. Most people don’t ever expect to see a dragon. The idea that there are dragons secretly manipulating humanity is a conspiracy theory on par with the idea that many world leaders in our world are secretly reptilian aliens; there are certainly people who believe it, but sensible people don’t take it seriously.
Evil Exists. Everyone knows that there are fiends, undead, aberrations, and lycanthropes in the world. They know that ghouls may haunt graveyards, that the creepy stranger in town could be a vampire or a werewolf, and that dangerous things could crawl out of Khyber at any time. This is why the Silver Flame exists and why templars are generally treated with respect even by people who don’t follow the Silver Flame; people understand that evil exists and that the templars are a volunteer militia who are ready to fight it.
The Overlords and the Lords of Dust. Everyone knows that the overlords were archfiends who dominated the world at the beginning of time. Regardless of whether you believe in the Sovereigns or respect the Flame, you know that the overlords are real because one broke out and ravaged Thrane a few centuries ago. Most people have heard stories of a few of the overlords and may know their titles—the Shadow in the Flame is the one most people have heard of—but would need to make checks to know more. But critically, everyone knows that there are bound archfiends that would like to get out and wreck things.
Most people have never heard of “The Lords of Dust.” People have certainly heard stories of shapeshifting demons causing trouble and know that this is a real potential threat, but the idea that there is a massive conspiracy that has been manipulating human civilization for thousands of years is up there with the idea that dragons have been doing the same thing. If you have credible proof that someone in town is actually a fiend or is possessed by a fiend, people will take the threat seriously; people know that such threats can be real. But few people actually believe that there’s a massive conspiracy that secretly controls the course of history, because if so, why haven’t they done anything more dramatic with it?
As a side point to this, most COMMON PEOPLE don’t differentiate between devil, demon, and fiend and treat these as synonyms. People know of rakshasas as “shapeshifting demons,” even though an arcane scholar might say “Well, ACTUALLY ‘demon’ refers specifically to an incarnate entity of chaos and evil, and the rakshasa is a unique class of fiend most commonly found on the material plane.” But the Demon Wastes could be called “The Fiend Wastes;” in this context, “Demon” is a general term.
Khyber and the Daelkyr. Tied to the creation myth and to the idea that evil exists, people know that BAD THINGS COME FROM KHYBER. They don’t know about demiplanes, but they know that if you find a deep hole there might be something bad at the bottom of it. Critically, most people just know that THE DRAGON BELOW IS THE SOURCE OF BAD THINGS and don’t actually differentiate between aberrations, fiends, and monstrosities. This is why the Cults of the Dragon Below are called “The Cults of the Dragon Below” even though a cult of Dyrrn the Corruptor really has nothing in common with a cult of Sul Khatesh; as far as the common people are concerned, they are cults that worship big evil things, and big evil things come from Khyber, hence, cult of the Dragon Below.
With this in mind, most common people don’t have a clear understanding of what a “daelkyr” is. Anyone who’s proficient with Arcana or History has a general understanding of the difference between the daelkyr and the overlords without needing to make a skill check. But for the common person, they are both powerful evil things that are bound in Khyber.
Fey and Archfey. Everyone knows that the fey exist. Everyone knows about dryads and sprites, and everyone knows that they’re especially common near manifest zones to Thelanis. Beyond this, everyone know FAIRY TALES about fey and archfey, and knows that there’s some basis to these stories. So people know STORIES about the Lady in Shadow and the Forest Queen, and they know that somewhere in the planes, you might actually be able to meet the Forest Queen. But they don’t actually EXPECT to every meet one. Most people have no way to easily differentiate between an archfey and some other type of powerful immortal. Notably, you could easily have a cult of the Dragon Below that’s bargaining with Sul Khatesh but BELIEVES it is bargaining with an archfey, or a cult of Avassh that thinks it’s blessed by the Forest Queen. If a cult worships “The Still Lord” or “The Queen of Shadows”, they don’t have some kind of special key that tells them whether that power is a fiend, a fey, or a celestial; that distinction is ACADEMIC, and would require a skill check.
Specific knowledge of the fey is more prevalent in regions that are close to Thelanis manifest zones or where people have a tradition of bargaining with the fey; notably, Aundairians know more about fey than most people of the Five Nations.
The Dreaming Dark and the Kalashtar. Everyone knows that when you dream you go to Dal Quor. Everyone accepts the idea that “There are demons that give you bad dreams!” Very few people believe that those fiends are manipulating the world. People have had bad dreams FOREVER. If bad-dream-demons were going to take over the world, why haven’t they already done it? As with the Lords of Dust, people will listen to credible threats that a specific person could be possessed, but few will believe stories of a massive dream conspiracy bent on world domination.
Looking to Sarlona and the Inspired, everyone knows that the Riedrans have a strict culture and they’re ruled by beings who they say are channeling celestial powers. Few people have ever met a Riedran, let alone one of the Inspired. Those who have met kalashtar (which for the most part only happens in major cities) know that the kalashtar have been oppressed and driven from Sarlona, but largely assume this is about political and religious differences, not a war between dream-spirits. It’s relatively common knowledge that people from Sarlona study some form of mind-magic, but most people don’t know the precise details of how psionics are different from arcane or divine magic.
The Aurum. While it’s a stretch to say that everyone’s heard of the Aurum, it’s about as well known as, say, Mensa in our world. It’s generally seen as an exclusive fraternal order of extremely wealthy people. Because it IS exclusive and because many of its members are minor local celebrities, there are certainly lots of conspiracies theories about what it’s REALLY up to… but even if there’s people who SAY that the Aurum wants to overthrow the Twelve or that it engineered the Last War, at the end of the day people know it’s that fancy members-only club on Main Street that always donates generously to the Race of Eight Winds celebrations.
Secondary Religions. Aside from the Silver Flame and the Sovereign Host, most of the other religious are relatively regional. The Blood of Vol is the best known of the secondary religions because of the role it played in Karrnath during the Last War, but outside of Karrnath most people think it’s some sort of Karrnathi death cult. Everyone knows druids exist, and the Wardens of the Wood are relatively well known because of their central role in the Eldeen Reaches, but the other sects are largely unknown outside of the areas where they operate; the Ashbound are likely the second best known sect because of sensationalized reports of their violent actions. The Path of Light is largely unknown aside from people who have direct interaction with kalashtar.
Goblins and the Empire of Dhakaan. Everyone in the Five Nations knows that goblins were on Khorvaire before humanity, and that they had an empire that fell long ago. Most people don’t know the name of this empire or exactly how it fell. People generally recognize Dhakaani ruins as being goblin creations, and know that many of the largest cities of Khorvaire are built on goblin foundations, but there’s certainly a lunatic fringe that asserts that those structures are clearly too sophisticated to be goblin work and must have been built by some forgotten human civilization. However, most people understand that these “forgotten human” stories are ridiculous conspiracy theories, on par with the idea that shapeshifted dragons are secretly manipulating the world.
The History of Xen’drik. People know that Xen’drik was home to a civilization of giants. Most people believe that the giants were destroyed in a war with the dragons. Many people know that the elves were originally from Xen’drik and fled this destruction. Without History proficiency, most people do NOT know the name of any of the giant cultures or that there were more than one, and they definitely don’t know anything about giants fighting quori. The idea that arrogant giants destroyed the thirteenth moon is a common folk tale, but it has many forms and it’s something most people know as a serious fact.
Spies. When people in the Five Nations talk about spies, they’re usually thinking of The Dark Lanterns or the Royal Eyes of Aundair. Both are well known spy agencies known to operate covertly in other nations, similar to the CIA and KGB during the height of our cold war. Most people in the Five Nations have heard of the Trust and understand that it’s some sort of secret police force that maintains order in Zilargo, but don’t know much more than that and they aren’t concerned about Zil spies. House Phiarlan and House Thuranni are known as providers of ENTERTAINMENT and aren’t generally seen as spies. The assertion that Phiarlan runs a ring of spies is like the idea that Elvis worked for the CIA; not IMPOSSIBLE, but not something people see as a particularly credible threat.
Exotic Player Species. Most people know that drow come from Xen’drik. People know that lizardfolk and dragonborn come from Q’barra, but most people in Khorvaire don’t know that these are two different species. Tieflings are generally understood to be planetouched; as discussed in Exploring Eberron, aasimar are generally so rare that they won’t be recognized by the general populace. With that said, overall people are fairly accepting of species they’ve never encountered. In a world where people DO deal with humans, orcs, shifters, goblins, warforged, elves, kalashtar, ogres, medusas, and more every day, people who’ve never seen a goliath before are more likely to say “Huh, never seen that before” than to panic because it’s some sort of alien giant-man; exotic characters will generally be targets of curiosity rather than fear.
Dragonmarks and Aberrant Dragonmarks. The dragonmarks have been part of civilization for over a thousand years. The houses provide the major services that are part of everyday life. Everyone in the Five Nations knows the names of the houses and the common twelve marks. Without proficiency in History, people won’t have heard of the Mark of Death. Common knowledge is that aberrant dragonmarks are dangerous to both the bearer and the people around them, and are often seen as the “touch of Khyber.” Without proficiency in History, they won’t know much about the War of the Mark, aside from the fact that the aberrants were dangerous and destroyed the original city of Sharn.
The Draconic Prophecy. Most people have heard of “The Draconic Prophecy” but know almost nothing about it aside from the fact that it’s, y’know, a prophecy. When such people talk about the Prophecy, what they’re usually talking about is the Caldyn Fragments, a collection of pieces of the Prophecy assembled by Korranberg scholar Ohnal Caldyn (described in City of Stormreach). Most people definitely don’t understand that it’s an evolving matrix of conditional elements or that it’s the key to releasing the overlords.
Aerenal, the Undying Court, and the Tairnadal. Aerenal is an isolationist culture that has little interest in sharing its traditions with others. However, the elves do trade with the Five Nations and there’s been enough immigration over the course of history to provide a general knowledge of their culture. Most people know that Aerenal is ruled by the Undying Court, and that the Undying Court is made up of ancient undead elves. Most people don’t have a clear understanding of the difference between deathless and other undead. In Five Nations, most people have never heard of “Tairnadal” and assume any Tairnadal elf is from Valenar. They know that Valenar elves are deadly warriors who are always looking for fights and who worship their ancestors, but they don’t know any specifics about patron ancestors or the Keepers of the Past.
What do most people believe about the connection between shifters and lycanthropes?
Most people believe that there is some sort of distant connection between shifters and lycanthropes. Shifters are often called “weretouched,” and some people mistakenly believe that they get wild when many moons are full. However, few people few people believe that shifters are capable of spreading lycanthropy or are sympathetic to lycanthropes. Those negative stereotypes exist, especially in rural Aundair or places where people have never actually SEEN shifters, but they’re not common.
What do followers of the Silver Flame believe about the Sovereigns? What does the Church teach about them? Is it normal to venerate both, at least among the laity? Do they even believe the Sovereigns exist?
Nothing in the doctrine of the Church of the Silver Flame denies the existence of the Sovereigns. It’s entirely possible to follow both religions simultaneously, and templars are happy to work with paladins of the Host. However, the point is that the Church of the Silver Flame doesn’t CARE if the Sovereigns exist. Their general attitude is that if the Sovereigns exist, they are vast powers that are maintaining the world overall. Arawai makes sure there’s rain for the crops. Onatar watches over foundries. That’s all great, but SOMEONE HAS TO DEAL WITH THE GHOULS IN THE GRAVEYARD. It’s notable that the Church of the Silver Flame, for example, doesn’t have a unique creation myth because at the end of the day it doesn’t MATTER where the world came from, what matters is that the people who live in it are threatened by supernatural evil and we need to work together to protect them.
I’ve said before that the Church of the the Silver Flame is more like the Jedi or the Men in Black than any religion in our world. It is EXTREMELY PRACTICAL. Evil exists, and good people should fight it. The Silver Flame is a real, concrete source of celestial energy that can empower champions to fight evil. Noble souls strengthen the Flame after death, so be virtuous. If you want to believe in some sort of higher beings beyond that, feel free. What’s important is to protect the innocent from supernatural evil, and faith in the Flame will help you to do that. So the Church doesn’t teach anything about the Sovereigns and it doesn’t encourage its followers to believe in them or incorporate them into its services in any way, but it doesn’t specifically deny that they exist or forbid followers from holding both beliefs.
That’s all for now! Feel free to ask about other general information topics in the comments, but I won’t have time to address every topic. Thanks again to my Patreon supporters who make these articles possible!
As time permits, I like to answer interesting questions posed by my Patreon supporters. Today, I want to look at native fiends, with a particular focus on rakshasa.
What’s a “Native Fiend”?
A native fiend is a fiend that was spawned in a demiplane of Khyber. If it’s physically destroyed, its energy will return to its place of origin and it will reform. Powerful fiends retain their identity and memories from incarnation to incarnation, while weak fiends may not. So if you kill Hektula the Scribe, she will reform in the Tower of Shadows—the heart demiplane of Sul Khatesh—and she will remain Hektula and remember how you defeated her. On the other hand, if you kill Bob the Imp, a new imp will eventually appear to take his place, but it may be Bill the Imp, and he won’t remember you.
The key point is that native fiends are from the material plane. Hektula isn’t from Shavarath or Daanvi; she’s part of the spiritual architecture of the material plane. She belongs here.
How does this affect spells like Banishing Smite or Banishment?
While native fiends belong in the material plane, they are spawned in demiplanes. I’d say that banishing effects banish them to their demiplane of origin. The main question is whether they return at the end of the spell effect (which is normal for native creatures) or remain banished to the demiplane (following the rules for extraplanar creatures). There’s a case to be made either way—on the one hand, they are native to this plane; on the other, the balancing effects of the 5E rules don’t consider the possibility of a native fiend. Personally, I’d be inclined to base it on the power of the fiend in question: a lesser fiend would be banished to their demiplane, while a major villain would return when the spell expires; you can’t banish an overlord with a 4th level spell. And of course, rakshasas are immune to spells of 6th level or below, so you can’t banish Hektula with these spells.
Fiends from the planes reflect central ideas. Fiends from Shavarath are tied to war, while fiends from Daanvi are about tyranny and the abuse of law. What do native fiends represent?
At the most basic level, native fiends represent evil. They are all that is wrong with the world, all the things we hate and fear made manifest. Fiends from other planes generally don’t care about Eberron because they have business on other planes; the devil from Shavarath has a war to fight. The devil of Khyber is part of Eberron; their purpose is to represent evil in our world.
Beyond that, there are two basic classes of native fiend, based on their demiplanes of origin. As described in Exploring Eberron, heart demiplanes are essentially the true manifestation of an overlord. Fiends from heart demiplanes are, fundamentally, extensions of the overlord and they should be projected through the lens of that overlord. This is why Hektula is a scribe and Mordakhesh is a warrior; Hektula is an element of the Keeper of Secrets, while Mordakhesh is an element of the Rage of War. Fiends from heart demiplanes can freely leave those demiplanes, and while their personalities reflect their overlords, they have independent consciousness and personalities. It’s even possible—though quite rare, except with Eldrantulku—for fiends to scheme against the overlord they are tied to.
The second common class of native fiend are those tied to shadow demiplanes. These demiplanes are essentially alien worlds within the world; each reflects a concept—the Ironlands, the Abyssal Forest of Khaar—but they have no overlord and no obvious purpose; they simply are. Compared to heart fiends, shadow fiends have limited self-awareness and independence; they may appear to be intelligent, but they don’t actually have long-term goals or aspirations. They’re essentially set dressing, part of the story of the demiplane; most can’t voluntarily leave their demiplanes. However, there are places in the world where these demiplanes can bleed into Eberron… most notably, the Demon Wastes. As a result, there are fiends roaming the Demon Wastes that aren’t aligned with the Lords of Dust and who have no long-term agenda; they leave other fiends alone, but anything else is fair game. So when you fight a vrock in the Demon Wastes and think “Doesn’t it have something better to do”—no, it really doesn’t.
Night hags are a notable exception to these classifications. While they’re native fiends, they are independent beings with no known ties to the overlords. They not only move freely across Eberron, but are able to move throughout the planes; the night hag Jabra can often be found at the Immeasurable Market of Syrania, and Sora Kell is well established as a planar traveler. The Aereni sage Tyraela Mendyrian claimed to have visited a demiplane called the Covenant, which she believed to be the point of origin of the night hags; she theorized that the night hags were created by Khyber for a specific purpose, and were intentionally independent of the overlords.
Why are most native fiends rakshasas?
Surprise twist: Most native fiends AREN’T rakshasa. During the Age of Demons, all manner of fiends roamed Eberron. There were goristros and mariliths in the armies of Rak Tulkhesh, and scheming ultroloths in the city of Eldrantulku. It’s not that most native fiends are rakshasas, it’s that most UNBOUND native fiends are rakshasas, and that’s because rakshasas are hard to bind.
The Age of Demons came to an end when the native celestials of Eberron fused their essence together to create the Silver Flame, which was then used to bind the fiends. This not only bound the overlords, it bound the vast majority of their fiendish minions—who, again, are in many ways extensions of the overlord. But some fiends were able to escape the binding. Some were just lucky. Others were so weak that they escaped notice; think of the tiny fish that slips through the gaps in the net made to catch larger creatures. And then you have the rakshasas. One of the defining features of the rakshasa is its complete immunity to spells of 6th level or below. Rakshasas can’t be spotted with detect good and evil. They can pass through magic circles. Forbiddance? Not a problem. Now, this effect isn’t absolute; you CAN trap a rakshasa with, say, imprisonment. But the grand binding wasn’t targeting the rakshasas, it was targeting the overlords, and catching their lesser minions in the same net. And it turns out that rakshasas are especially slippery fish, and were able to slip through in far greater numbers than other lesser fiends.
As it turns out, rakshasas are also exceptionally well suited to the long, subtle work required to free the overlords. They’re immune to the divination and abjuration magics common in the Five Nations. They can read thoughts. They can either shapeshift or disguise themselves with illusions (depending what edition you’re using). Which comes to the second point. There ARE a handful of other free fiends loose in the world. There is at least one goristro tied to Rak Tulkhesh roaming in the Demon Wastes, revered by his Carrion Tribes. But as a general rule, the Lords of Dust don’t have a need for a twenty-foot engine of destruction stomping around; Mordakhesh can actually get a lot more mileage by controlling, say, a newspaper editor.
So the short form is that rakshasas are the most common native fiends that are loose in the world, because they are difficult to detect and bind and because they are the fiends most capable of accomplishing the things that need to be done. However, there ARE other fiends in the world, and if you want to use one in a story, go ahead. The main things to consider are which overlord it’s tied to (if any) and if it’s working with the Lords of Dust.
Why do rakshasas look like tigers? Are people superstitious about tigers because of them?
What we’ve long said is that the appearance of immortals is something that can vary based on their origin. You can find a pit fiend in Shavarath, a pit fiend in Fernia, and a pit fiend in Khyber, but they don’t look the same. The pit fiend of Shavarath is a spirit of war and will wear heavy armor engraved with burning runes. The pit fiend of Fernia is a spirit of fire, a figure of shadow wreathed in flame. The form of the pit fiend of Khyber will vary based on the overlord it’s associated with. The general idea remains the same — a terrifying winged humanoid — but the cosmetic details should be adjusted to fit the defining concept of the fiend.
Take this basic idea and add to it the idea that rakshasa are innately shapeshifters. In 5E they don’t actually shift shape, but rather use disguise self. Nonetheless, the key point is that rakshasa look like what they want to look like. With this in mind, in my opinion, THE TIGER FORM ISN’T THE TRUE FACE OF A RAKSHASA. I feel that in their natural, purest form, the appearance of a rakshasa will reflect the nature of its overlord. Rakshasa servants of the Lurker in Shadow might have a sharklike appearance. Rakshasa tied to the Cold Sun could be serpentine. Hektula the Scribe may be a cloaked figure whose actual appearance can’t be seen within the shadows of her cowl, because mystery is part of her defining concept. So they’re all humanoid, but their appearance varies. Having said that, I feel that for the rakshasa shape is like clothes are for a human. Most of us don’t walk around naked; we wear clothes, and we generally take into account the common styles of our culture. Currently, the fashion in favor with the Lords of Dust is “tigers” and as we’ve described, the Lords of Dust add their personal touches to this; Mordakhesh has stripes of flame, while Hektula is a jaguar with arcane sigils in place of spots. But this is the fashion they choose to wear, and specifically you can think of it as the working uniform of the Lords of Dust. Hektula wears her jaguar-shape while she’s tending the library of Ashtakala, but when she returns to Tower of Shadows she may wear a shape closer to her true form.
So this has two aspects. First, not all rakshasa appear as tigers. I think animal-human hybrids are common, but as I suggested with Hektula I don’t think it’s absolutely required. Second, however, tigers have been in fashion with the Lords of Dust for at least the last few thousand years. So I think it is likely that there are superstitions associated with tigers, but I think that this is much like we have stories about the Big Bad Wolf. It’s not like any reasonable person thinks all tigers are inherently evil or that this stops Boranel from loving his ghost tigers; it’s just that there are surely folk tales about fiendish tigers.
What use do you see the Lords of Dust having for Shadow Demiplanes?
Part of the idea of the demiplanes is that each is an idea in the mind of Khyber. Because of this, fiends aren’t especially COMFORTABLE entering other demiplanes. This is why the Lords of Dust meet in Ashtakala rather than in the Tower of Shadows—because Mordakhesh doesn’t BELONG in the Tower of Shadows. Most likely he could enter it, but it would be uncomfortable and potentially impose exhaustion or have other negative effects. Essentially, each demiplane is a particular pure idea—the material plane is where all those ideas can come together.
From a practical, design standpoint this ties to the fact that as a DM, I don’t particularly want the Lords of Dust to make extensive use of demiplanes. I like the idea that demiplanes can fill the role of undiscovered country—rather than saying that the Lords of Dust have been harvesting the Abyssal Forest for tens of thousands of years. It also leaves room for lesser domain lords, which could include any of the existing archdevils or demon princes; it’s been a while, but IIRC in my conversion of the Savage Tide adventure path I suggested that Demogorgon was just such a lesser archfiend, below the status of an overlord but ruling over an aquatic demiplane. With that said, I’m fine with the idea that MORTALS have been messing with demiplanes—the Kech Shaarat have an outpost in the Ironlands, the Ghaash’kala gather supplies in the Abyssal Forest, Marcher cultists strive to find the Vale of the Inner Sun. But all of those things have a small impact on the region because they ARE mortal, and because they don’t truly understand what they’re dealing with.
So the funny thing is that in some ways, if you’re in the Demon Wastes and being pursued by fiendish forces, it may be that the safest haven you can find IS a shadow demiplane — because if your pursuers aren’t from that demiplane, they won’t follow you into it.
Wouldn’t adventurers face instant death if they walked into a heart demiplane? Is there an avatar of the overlord in its heart demiplane?
Exploring Eberron says this about heart demiplanes:
To defeat the overlords, the champions of the Age of Demons used the Silver Flame to bind their immortal essence, preventing them from returning to their heart demiplane to reform. This essentially severed the brain from the heart—but the heart demiplanes still exist.
Think of a heart demiplane like the body of a human in a coma. It is a reflection of the overlord, but their consciousness isn’t there; everything is running on autopilot. Think of it as Barad-Dûr (the Tower of Sauron) in The Lord of the Rings; it was still a very dangerous place when Sauron was regenerating, but Sauron wasn’t there. So if you go to the Tower of Shadows you will have to deal with the lesser fiends that you find there, and you might have to deal with Hektula if she’s taking a break from the Library of Ashtakala, but you won’t find an avatar of the overlord and there’s no omnipotent, omniscient presence that will instantly find you and destroy you. A heart demiplane is still, by definition, one of the most dangerous places you could possibly go, but it’s not instant death.
Now, if an overlord is partially released, things would be different. In my opinion, the most common form of “partial release” would be that the overlord’s spirit has returned to its heart demiplane but that it is unable to fully emerge from the demiplane. So to look back to Lord of the Rings, Sauron is now back in Barad-Dûr, but he can’t leave it. At that point, yes, if your paladin of the Silver Flame enters the Tower of Shadows, Sul Khatesh would likely feel it and you definitely could encounter her avatar there. However, that’s the point. Again, this is literally THE MOST DANGEROUS THING YOU COULD EVER DO. The only way it would be feasible would be if you have some form of preparation that makes the impossible possible—“Sul Khatesh would normally detect us the instant we entered her domain, but the Cloak of the Traveler will shield us from her gaze… Just make sure it doesn’t get damaged!” This also specifically gives epic adventurers an opportunity to face an overlord in battle without having the overlord unleashed into the material world.
Since there’s native fiends, are there native celestials?
Certainly. However, you rarely see them in the present day. First of all, from a mythological standpoint celestials are children of Siberys while fiends are children of Khyber… and Khyber killed Siberys. So if you accept the creation myth as literal truth, there’s a concrete reason why the material plane has more fiends than celestials; this is also an intentional part of the design of the world, because it’s why Eberron needs heroes. Second, the vast majority of the native celestials of Eberron fused their essence together to create the Silver Flame, becoming the force that now binds the overlords. But native celestials can be encountered—either temporarily drawn out of the Silver Flame, or spirits that were never part of the binding. The couatl are the most common and preferred form of native celestial, but you could definitely have an angel of the Silver Flame. As with fiends, the point is to adjust its appearance to reflect its source. So if I had a deva of the Flame, I’d give it rainbow-feathered wings, a nimbus of silver flame, and slightly serpentine features. So native celestials are extremely rare and typically couatl (or at least couatl-ish) but Siberys could produce any sort of celestial.
That’s all for now! Thanks to my Patreon supporters for making these articles possible.
Looking at the power of the Council of Ashtakala, people might wonder why the Lords of Dust haven’t conquered the world. A rakshasa’s first answer to this would be, “Haven’t we?”“Eternal Evil,” Dragon 337
This month is challenging for many reasons, so rather than writing a long article I planned to write a number of smaller articles addressing questions posed by my Patreon supporters—questions like…
How do the Lords of Dust actually manipulate the people of Khorvaire, considering that their mental manipulation magics are not quite on par with, say, the Dreaming Dark? What’s the edge that allows them to compete with even mundane intelligence agencies such as the Dark Lanterns or House Phiarlan?
The problem is that sometimes questions that SEEM like simple topics turn out to have a lot of layers, and this turned out longer than planned. But let’s start with the shortest summary. How do the Lord of Dust manipulate the people of Khorvaire?
- The Lords of Dust have been manipulating the people of Khorvaire since before there were people on Khorvaire. They don’t need to subvert people as the Dreaming Dark does, because they have a vast network of pawns that have been serving them for many generations.
- Because of this, they already have people in influential positions in most major institutions and organizations in Khorvaire. They generally don’t directly control any of those organizations, but they are able to control the flow of information, burying reports, guiding the leaders in particular directions, and so on. And they do have Thuranni assassins, Dark Lanterns, and Trust agents (among others) who are directly loyal to them if they need them.
- They have amassed vast wealth over the course of a hundred thousand years. Their top agents are mind-reading fiends. When they do need to put pressure on someone new, they can use both gold and secrets to do so.
- They know possible paths of the future. They can start political movements that they don’t directly control because they know that in a century that movement will accomplish the thing they want it to. They have the Butterfly Effect on their side; they DO know that this one butterfly flapping its wings will cause a hurricane across the world in a decade. Now, that knowledge isn’t ABSOLUTE. They don’t know the impact of EVERY butterfly. But they know a few of them, and use those to their benefit.
- A fun way for the Lords of Dust to manipulate people in the present is Faustian bargains: Give me your soul and I will grant you great wealth! Beat me at fiddling and I’ll give you this golden fiddle, but if you fail I take your life! The point is that FIENDS CAN LIE. Sul Khatesh can actually form warlock pacts, but a normal rakshasa CAN’T actually claim your soul. The point of this is the butterfly effect. What the fiend WANTS is for you to have this golden fiddle or to have wealth (which the Lords of Dust can easily grant through their connections and amassed resources) because somehow those things advance the prophetic path they are trying to lock in. But they want you to think that you WON the fiddle, or that they have claim to your soul… when both of these were just set dressing so people wouldn’t try to understand their REAL motives.
That’s the short answer. But as I said, there’s a lot more to this. So if you’d like to know more, read on.
An important step in planning an Eberron campaign is to decide which major villains you want to use, because you don’t have to use them all (and I personally wouldn’t). There’s nothing wrong with saying that it’s going to be a century before the Lords of Dust have an opportunity to release an overlord, that the stars aren’t right for any of the daelkyr, or that the Dreaming Dark is content in Riedra for the moment. So first of all, keep in mind that there’s no rule stating that the Lords of Dust HAVE to be actively competing with the Dreaming Dark, because it could be that the Lords of Dust aren’t trying to accomplish anything significant at the moment.
In choosing which villains you want to use, you want to consider the difference in their goals and methods, something I briefly discuss in this article. The Dreaming Dark is an alien force that seeks to conquer through subversion and infiltration, and this is why its tools are mind seed and possession. The story of the Dreaming Dark is a story of people you trust being turned against you, a story of secret invasion. The Lords of Dust tell a very different story. They have immense power in the present day. They have resources they’ve been amassing for a hundred thousand years. They have access to artifacts and eldritch machines. They have agents in place in every major house and organization. But they don’t care about the present day. Look back to the quote that opened the article. The Lords of Dust aren’t trying to conquer the world, because from their perspective they already have. They don’t want the trouble of openly ruling pathetic mortals, but through their vast network of pawns, they already have all the power they need in the present. Their goal isn’t to infiltrate existing organizations, because if they need to infiltrate an organization, they’ve already done it. Their goal is to shape events that will in turn shape the path of the future. Let’s take a quick look at the resources they have available.
- The Lords of Dust are immortals who have been present since time began. They have been planning their schemes for a hundred thousand years. This has given then time to amass vast resources and to shape civilizations on both a large and small scale; the “Eternal Evil” article notes that when Lhazaar planned her expedition to Khorvaire, a rakshasa was advising her.
- Through their studies of the Draconic Prophecy, they not only know the paths that will release their overlords, but they have a general roadmap of the paths the future can take. So that raksahsa guiding Lhazaar wasn’t acting blindly; they KNEW the consequences of pointing Lhazaar at Khorvaire and were intentionally shaping the future. The Lords of Dust are the organization who could build a vault in the wilderness because they know that THREE THOUSAND YEARS LATER it will be important. Again, think of them as time travelers; they just have to live their way forward to their desired future instead of jumping back and forth.
- The central core of the Lords of Dust are rakshasa. Their leaders—Hektula, the Wyrmbreaker, etc—are exceptionally powerful rakshasa. But even the default rakshasa is a shapeshifting, mind-reading fiend with a range of enchantment and illusion abilities and potentially, the ability to return after death. But in many ways, the most powerful rakshasa ability is their spell immunity. A rakshasa cannot be “affected or detected” by spells of 6th level or below unless it allows it. That includes things like detect evil and good, see invisibility, and even true seeing. It allows them to walk through magic circles and forbiddance as if they weren’t there. They can ignore the vast majority of tools that would normally be used to detect the presence of fiends or to defend against them. It’s up to the DM to decide what it means that you “can’t be affected or detected” by, say, true seeing or zone of truth. In MY campaign I say that both spells appear to work normally even though they don’t; so a truthteller BELIEVES the rakshasa has been affected by zone of truth even though they haven’t, and true seeing shows the rakshasa’s disguise self as it it was its true appearance. So again, the point is that the rakshasa have a huge advantage because the magic we rely on for our highest security doesn’t work on them; the rakshasa CAN lie in a zone of truth and can look a top Medani agent in the eye without its true nature being exposed.
- The majority of the agents of the Lords of Dust are mortal “pawns.” Some of these are what Exploring Eberron calls loyalist cultists, who know the power they serve and and proud of this allegiance. But just as many are devoted to SOMETHING or SOMEONE but don’t realize that this is a fiend or a creation of fiends. Again, the Lords of Dust have been working at this since before human civilization existed, and they are shapeshifting, mind-reading fiends with a map of the future. They have created political movements, art movements, devoted groups of friends, what have you — all to gain pawns who will do a favor at the precise moment it’s needed, likely never knowing the full significance of that favor. One of the most important functions of a pawn is to be in a useful position that allows a rakshasa to temporarily take their place at critical moments. It’s a waste to have a rakshasa working as a clerk in the royal archives of Breland for thirty years. But the Lords of Dust may have a PAWN working as a clerk, and on the three days where there’s something vitally important that the Lords of Dust need in the archives, a rakshasa can take the pawn’s place and accomplish those tasks. Again, it’s almost impossible to identify these pawns, because FOR THE REMAINING THIRTY YEARS that pawn is just a loyal clerk doing their job and they don’t even KNOW what the rakshasa did or why it did it when they let it take their place.
So the story of the Dreaming Dark is one of aliens infiltrating our world. The story of the Lords of Dust is one of discovering that aliens infiltrated our world thousands of years ago and have been secretly pulling the strings ever since. The goal in dealing with the Lords of Dust isn’t to UTTERLY DEFEAT THE LORDS OF DUST. They’re simply too deeply entrenched, not to mention immortal, and again, they are actually part of the status quo of society as we know it. You’ve lived alongside them all your life, and they NEED the world to generally be stable; if they need you assassinate Queen Aurala in order to free Sul Khatesh, they need there to be a Queen Aurala. So the goal is to disrupt their immediate plans so that they will go back to the drawing board and scheme for another two centuries while our lives go on as normal.
When dealing with the Lords of Dust, part of the question is what you’re actually dealing with. You can use them in small ways or as major villains. Here’s a quick overview.
- Lone Wolves. The schemes of the Lords of Dust unfold over the course of centuries. What do they do to pass the time in the space in between? Adventurers could clash with a fiend who, while technically tied to the Lords of Dust, is pursuing an entirely personal agenda. A lone rakshasa could be playing a game with a mortal family—say, killing the second child of each family member when that child reaches their 22nd birthday—just for fun. They could start a cult of serial killers because it amuses them to do so. They could seek revenge on a dragon that annoyed them a thousand years ago. In creating lesser fiends, consider that they are likely to share some traits with the overlord they serve. Minions of Sul Khatesh may be interested in arcane experiments, minions of Rak Tulkhesh may enjoy murder and cruelty, and minions of Eldrantuklu love intrigues. So essentially, you can have a villainous fiend—even a member of the Lords of Dust—without the adventure being about THE LORDS OF DUST.
- Doing What They Love. Mordakhesh and Rak Tulkhesh love to spread war and hatred. Hektula and Sul Khatesh love to have people using magic in ways that sow fear. These schemes don’t necessarily AMOUNT to anything; they are literally just a way to pass the time for a few centuries while they wait for their next release-the-overlord possibility to come around. In general, you can think of this as “feeding the overlord.” It’s not like Rak Tulkhesh can starve to death, but if Mordakhesh can feed him war he is HAPPY and that in turn pleases Mordakhesh. So he LIKES to sow hatred even when there’s no world-shattering threat involved, as long as he doesn’t cause so much chaos that it interferes with future plans. So you can fight an evil wizard who’s empowered by Sul Khatesh and do something good by defeating them, but the FATE OF THE WORLD was never at stake and Hektula herself doesn’t care too much. You did a good thing that protected the local community from that wizard, but it’s not like Hektula will vow vengeance because she has literally done THOUSANDS OF TIMES. Sometimes the seeds grow into beautiful bloody flowers, sometimes troublesome adventurers stop them. No big deal… she’ll plant more.
- Butterfly Collectors. It’s possible that one or more of your characters has a critical role to play in events that will trigger the release of Sul Khatesh… two hundred years from now. The whole idea of manipulating the Prophecy is that it takes generations to play out. As such, it’s possible that a Lord of Dust needs the adventurers to do something that doesn’t threaten them or the world in the present day, and that could even be useful to them. Consider The Hobbit: Gandalf could be a disguised rakshasa, who brings the dwarves to the Shire, convinces Bilbo to join their company, and helps them defeat Smaug because he knows that if Bilbo joins them he WILL find the One Ring, and he’s just laying the groundwork for the events of The Lord of The Rings, which will occur a century later. But in the short term, Bilbo and his friends defeat a dragon, find a magic ring, have great adventures and become friends. This is exactly the sort of thing a Lord of Dust could set in motion; it not only SEEMS innocent, it IS innocent… until a century later, when the fate of the world is determined by these events. Remember that the Lords of Dust are limited by needing the correct mortals to fulfill the Prophecy, because they need things to happen in the proper way. In this example, Hektula might know EXACTLY where the Ring is the whole time, but she needs BILBO to defeat Golumn in the battle of riddles and to claim it himself.
- Loyalist Cults. Many pawns work for the Lords of Dust without knowing it. But all of the overlords have cults that DO know who they work for and revel in it. The Carrion Tribes of the Demon Wastes are examples of this, but there can be fiend cults throughout Khorvaire. If you need a quick minor villain, great, use an overlord cult. This is in the middle of this list because it can go in either direction. The cultists could be engaged in a scheme that will lead to the release of an overlord, or they could just be in that “doing what they love” role. Rak Tulkhesh loves to have cults shedding blood, and it could be that’s all that’s going on—and you stopping that cult is just a good thing for everyone. Or it could be that the actions of that cult are part of an early stage of releasing an overlord. The question there is whether a) by the time the adventurers defeat the cult, they have already done the critical action they needed to perform to push the prophecy to the next level or b) whether the cult being defeated WAS PART OF THE PLAN ALL ALONG. Because that’s the way the Lords of Dust work; they may have pushed their cult into your path because they NEEDED you to defeat them. Exploring Eberron discusses the cults of five different overlords.
- Releasing an Overlord. This is the main event: the idea that the Lords of Dust are working toward the release of an overlord, and that a release—or at least a partial release—could occur in the course of a campaign. This requires the Lords of Dust to get a particular path of the Draconic Prophecy to pass; this is discussed in this article. The critical point is that these are things that have MANY steps and you’re just coming in at the end; they have likely been working on this for centuries, and these are the last steps. So usually this is something that adventurers will discover at a critical point and then have to fight on multiple steps. The challenge is that the rakshasa have a map of the future and the adventurers don’t. As noted above, it could be that by the time the adventurers defeat a cult they’ve already accomplished what they needed to do, or it could be that defeating the cult was part of the plan.
- Rebinding an Overlord. Here’s the thing: preventing the release of an overlord isn’t nearly as much fun as rebinding an overlord that has been partially released. If you successfully keep the plan from succeeding, you never actually get to see how bad things could be. History is full of moments when the plans of the Lords of Dust were blocked and NOBODY KNOWS ABOUT THEM. But everybody knows about Tira Miron’s sacrifice to rebind Bel Shalor, because the Shadow in the Flame WAS partially released and terrorized Thrane for months before Tira figured out how he could be defeated… which meant identifying a different path of the Prophecy (she needed to be channeling a couatl; to be wielding Kloijner; to fight him at a particular place and time; to be working with specific allies). A campaign involving the partial release of an overlord gives all sorts of opportunities to battle fiends and unravel mysteries, and to ultimately fight an aspect of the overlord (which is what the stat blocks in Rising represent, though they are MUCH weaker than the overlords presented in third edition)… While a campaign in which the adventurers just block the release can feel anticlimactic.
You might well say “If the Lords of Dust are so powerful, why don’t they just kill the player characters the moment they become a threat?” Because sure, from a mechanical standpoint they easily could. They have hundreds of rakshasas—possibly thousands—epic magic and countless pawns in positions of power. The reason they don’t turn all the power against the adventurers is because they need the player characters—or at least, believe that they MIGHT need the player characters. You know how we always say that player characters are remarkable and that they’re the heroes of the age? That’s because they are PROPHETICALLY SIGNIFICANT. It may be that the Lords of Dust have specific plans that they need to use the PCs for (Hektula needs you to kill Queen Aurala to release an overlord) or it could be that they are just the first dominos in a long line (Hektula needs your wizard’s GREAT-GRANDAUGHTER to kill Aurala’s great-grandson… and your wizard doesn’t even have any children yet). They may not even KNOW what role they need you for, but they know you’re significant and they’re figuring it out. This is why pawns of the Lords of Dust tend not to be the people IN power, but rather the advisors, the scribes, the people in the background. The Lords of Dust can’t force the actions of prophetic lynchpins without derailing the prophecy. They couldn’t just replace Lhazaar with a rakshasa or use dominate person (which any raksahsa can cast) on her; they needed her to CHOOSE to go to Khorvaire. It’s the same here. They can manipulate the adventurers by manipulating the events around them, but they can’t just mind control them or replace them.
One way to think about it is rats in a scientist’s maze. Your PC is a rat and the Wyrmbreaker wants you to go down a particular path. He can try to lure you to go the way he wants—drop a piece of cheese down the right path—but he can’t just PUSH you down the path or the experiment becomes invalid. Should you at the final moment FAIL to go down the proper path, he’s not going to kill the rat; what’s the point? Instead he’s going to put you back in the cage and start figuring out the next experiment. Because that’s the thing: there will ALWAYS be a way to release the overlords. The moment Tira rebound Bel Shalor, a new path for his release began to take shape. It could take centuries for the Lords of Dust to identify that new path, and a thousand years before they have a chance to make it happen, but they WILL figure it out. Dustoran has tried and failed HUNDREDS OF TIMES. When you foil his plot, he’s going to just move on to the next one. And let’s face it, even if he was certain he has no further use for you, he doesn’t NEED to kill you. You’re mortal. If you’re human, you’ll be dead in a few decades; he’ll still be here in ten thousand years.
That’s all for now! Thanks as always to my Patreon supporters for posing this question and for making these articles possible!
The following questions came up in response to my recent article on High Level Adventures in Eberron:
Why has the Light of Siberys not been regularly staging strafing runs against the Demon Wastes? In the 3.5 Explorer’s Handbook, Ashtakala is still a viable, functioning headquarters for the Lords of Dust. It retains an array of magical facilities, some of which are very powerful. Does the Light of Siberys have nothing to gain from a targeting blasting of Ashtakala, if only to eliminate it as a resource? Or is Ashtakala actually supposed to be a genuinely blasted ruin, where the Lords of Dust meet in the… dust?
There’s a number of interesting points here. I will note that I created Ashtakala and wrote its description in the original Eberron Campaign Setting, but I was not involved in any way with the Explorer’s Handbook. My own idea of Ashtakala has evolved over the years and what I’m going to present here is how I use it today.
First of all, let’s revisit what I wrote about Ashtakala in the original Eberron Campaign Setting.
Ashtakala (Metropolis, Special): The one city of any real significance in the Demon Wastes is Ashtakala, the last citadel of the Lords of Dust. Surrounded by a permanent storm of sand and volcanic glass and shielded from all forms of divinatory magic, Ashtakala rarely reveals itself to human eyes. Explorers who manage to penetrate the eternal storm find a bizarre yet beautiful metropolis, a citadel built from basalt and brass. Compared to the shattered ruins spread throughout the rest of the Wastes, Ashtakala seems impossibly alive, filled with thousands of demons and other fiends.
While Ashtakala appears as it did a million years or more ago, it is a city of ghosts and shadows—all an illusion. In addition to the illusory inhabitants and the spirits of ancient things that still wander the decaying streets masked by powerful illusions of the city’s zenith, a handful of zakyas and rakshasas and a host of minor fiends serve the great Lords of Dust who congregate here. The Lords of Dust occasionally meet in this shadow of their ancient city, and rakshasas return to Ashtakala to scheme and to study in the vaults and libraries, reading scrolls and tomes that will crumble to dust if ever removed from the city. The power that preserves the image of Ashtakala transforms anyone who enters the city; visitors find their clothing and equipment altered to match the archaic fashions of the city, as if by a disguise self spell. The city of fiends is a dangerous place for mortals to visit—only the luckiest of intruders caught by the rakshasa lords get to die quickly.
So: Ashtakala is the last surviving city of the Lords of Dust. It has endured for a hundred thousand years. It’s immune to divination and is surrounded by a deadly storm. The entire region around it is an unnatural wasteland that has never been tamed. While Ashtakala was supposedly ruined long ago, its magic is so powerful that it creates an alternate reality within its storm—it still appears to be at its zenith, and people who enter its influence are themselves altered to fit this haunted narrative. Also, an important point: it’s used as a meeting place by all of the Lords of Dust, implying that it’s not tied to any single overlord. We know that Hektula, the Speaker of Sul Khatesh, maintains the library of Ashtakala. But Ashtakala isn’t the heart of Sul Khatesh; It’s is a neutral ground where all the Lords of Dust can find sanctuary. We also know that while Ashtakala has stood for a hundred thousand years, it has never expanded. It is immortal but largely unchanging, like the fiends themselves.
We also know that the dragons have no obvious presence in the Demon Wastes. The defenses of the Demon Wastes—both the Ghaash’kala and the Labyrinth itself—are tied to the Silver Flame; you don’t have dragonborn or dragon guardians, as we see in Q’barra. In my Eberron, this is no accident: the dragons shun the Demon Wastes because they have no choice. I say that the Light of Siberys DID attack the Demon Wastes tens of thousands of years ago. They did lay waste to it, and destroyed a humanoid civilization that predates the Carrion Tribes (who arrived in the Wastes less than two thousand years ago). And this attack was a disaster. Aside from the many fiends, many powerful magical defenses were unleashed against the attackers. Ashtakala was the worst of all. Just as it shields the city from divination magic, the storm surrounding Ashtakala repelled magical and elemental attacks… and as dragons drew close to it, their souls were ripped from their bodies and they turned on their allies. When they were wounded, dust spilled out instead of blood. The attacking force was almost entirely wiped out—and the dust-stuffed dragons claimed by Ashtakala proved to be an ongoing threat and asset to the Lords of Dust for thousands of years. And while humanoids were wiped out, the fiends that were slain simply reformed. The dragons have shunned the region ever since; while they know Ashtakala is an asset for the Lords of Dust, they don’t have the power to destroy it, and while it is a useful sanctuary for the Lords of Dust it’s been there for a hundred thousand years—it’s not like it poses a dire, imminent threat to the safety of Argonnessen.
But how is this possible? How could a fortress of raskhasa be strong enough to resist the power that leveled Xen’drik? Consider again what we know of Ashtakala. It is surrounded by a corrupted region the size of a nation. The corruption cannot be undone, and the region is filled with free-roaming fiends. It alters reality within its confines. And while it has endured for a hundred thousand years, it remains fundamentally unchanged—maintaining the shadow of its glory, but never expanding.
Corrupting a region the size of a nation? Surrounded by free-roaming fiends? Possessed of such mystical power that it can resist the might even of Argonnessen? That sounds a lot like what Bel Shalor did to Thrane when it was partially released. And therein lies the answer. Ashtakala isn’t just a city: Ashtakala is an overlord. It is an immortal embodiment of eternal evil, something that irrevocably corrupts the region around it and that is attended by a host of lesser fiends. While it is trapped in place by the wards of the Labyrinth and by the power of the Silver Flame, of all the overlords Ashtakala alone was never fully bound. The crucial concept to understand is that Ashtakala was always a city. All fiends embody malevolent ideas; Ashtakala is the Dark Citadel, the fortress of ultimate evil. It can’t move and it doesn’t have an anthropomorphic form; it is a DEMON CITY. But like any overlord, it’s immortal and it alters reality within its sphere of influence. Ashtakala is the source of the never-ending storm. It’s the power of the city itself that transforms those who enter it. The host of illusory fiends are the servants of the city. And Ashtakala is the source of the unnatural corruption of the region, the blight that cannot be lifted—for that blighted landscape is a part of its defining concept as the citadel of evil.
So what does this mean? First, Ashtakala was never constructed. It is literally the CONCEPT of a city given form. And not just a city, a city of fiends. The currency of Ashtakala is souls, for the city can rip the souls from mortals and forge them into coinage (and potentially other things). This is the concept of the Drain Works described in Explorer’s Handbook, but that’s a case of the parasite rakshasa making use of the capabilities of Ashtakala rather than the city doing it itself. Ashtakala can just rip the soul out of a dragon in an instant; the Drain Works is a slower process rakshasa can use on creatures the city considers to be insignificant. Because this is an important point. Overlords don’t think the way mortals do. They are vast, alien, and unique. Ashtakala allows the Lords of Dust to dwell within it, but it doesn’t cater to their whims or help them with their schemes. I’ve mentioned before that the weakness of the overlords is that they didn’t work together, and that is the case here. Ashtakala doesn’t CARE about the fact that the other overlords are imprisoned. It doesn’t care about the needs of the Lords of Dust. Ashtakala simply IS. It expresses itself by creating and maintaining the Demon Wastes. It is doing the thing that gives its existence meaning. This is the point of the “illusory servitors”—they are literally extensions of the city, serving no purpose other than to maintain it. They’re much like the subjects of Daanvi or the conscripts of Shavarath; they have no lasting identity, no purpose beyond playing out the story of Ashtakala. They can’t be recruited to serve the schemes of Rak Tulkhesh or Sul Khatesh because they literally don’t exist independently of Ashtakala. Beyond that comes the larger point that Ashtakala doesn’t recognize lesser humanoids as a threat. It fought dragons, titans, and celestials, and if any such creatures approach it Ashtakala will strike them with its full force. But humans? Orcs? Elves? Ashtakala doesn’t register them as having any significance. So a DRAGON that approaches the city will have its soul ripped out and replaced with dust. But a HUMAN that manages to make it through the storm will in fact be cloaked in illusion so they DO fit in the city… because the city literally can’t conceive of them as a threat. The fiends that dwell within Ashtakala may capture them, torture them, or take them to the Drain Works—but the city doesn’t care about them.
A secondary aspect of this is that like all overlords, Ashtakala is immortal. If it was somehow burnt to the ground, it would return within days. This is what is meant by the city being an “illusion”. While you are within it, it is real. But if you steal an ancient tome from the Library of Ashtakala and it will crumble to dust when you leave the city… And it will be BACK in the library the next day. The exceptions to this are things that are brought INTO the city (or things forged from outside materials, like stolen souls). So if Hektula steals a tome from Arcanix and brings it to Ashtakala, THAT book can be stolen from the city or destroyed permanently. But the most ancient scrolls dating back to the Age of Demons aren’t truly REAL; they are memories in the mind of the Demon City.
All of this means that Ashtakala is a perfect haven for the Lords of Dust. It’s shielded from hostile magic and their greatest enemies cannot even approach it. They don’t need to maintain it—no one repairs the masonry, or fixes the sewers, or touches up the paint—because the entire city is a concept, and it maintains itself. It provides them with invaluable resources, such as the Library and the Drain Works. But again, part of the point is that while it appears to be a thriving metropolis filled with tens of thousands of fiends, less than a thousands of those are truly independent and REAL; the vast majority are just ideas in the mind of the Demon City.
With that said, there’s a few points to clarify based on questions in the comments. When I say that the denizens of Ashtakala aren’t “truly independent and real” what I mean is this: They can’t LEAVE Ashtakala, and they have no desires beyond playing out their role in the story. But they exist within the city… and that means that they can hurt you. Beyond that, the point that Ashtakala itself doesn’t target mortals means that it won’t rip their souls out the instant they enter the city. But that doesn’t mean it welcomes them or protects them. Ashtakala is an incarnate nightmare. Imagine the most horrifying hell-city you can; that’s what it is. The music of Ashtakala is the screams of tortured mortals kept in hideous painful stasis. There are furnaces filled with bones—not because Ashtakala NEEDS to burn people to keep the fires going, but because that’s what its story is about. The 4E ECG notes that mortals who remain within Ashtakala will be slowly transformed into fiends themselves. It is surely one of the most dangerous locations in Eberron—but it won’t instantly smite you with the force that can lay a titan low. It literally doesn’t NOTICE mortals—but its servants and denizens definitely will. As the ECS said: The city of fiends is a dangerous place for mortals to visit—only the luckiest of intruders caught by the rakshasa lords get to die quickly.
Why Does This Matter?
Fine: Ashtakala is an overlord. Dragons can’t come near it without being corrupted. What does this mean for you and your campaign?
- The mind of an overlord doesn’t work like that of a human. Ashtakala isn’t working WITH the Lords of Dust; it simply allows them to dwell within it, because that suits its nature as the Citadel of Evil. But by default, it doesn’t have goals beyond the Demon Wastes. It is expressing its nature by creating and maintaining the Demon Wastes, and by destroying any dragons or similar threats that come too close. But it doesn’t actually PARTICIPATE in the schemes of the Lords of Dust or help them in their schemes to free other overlords.
- This ties to the idea that Ashtakala will destroy and consume any dragon that comes close, but that it doesn’t recognize lesser humanoids—orcs, humans, etc—as threats. This is why a human can enter the city and simply have its appearance altered. Ashtakala essentially doesn’t even NOTICE a human, and the altering of their appearance is a background effect. This in turn means that if the Chamber has any interests tied to Ashtakala—if they want to spy on the plans of the Lords of Dust, or to steal information from the Library of Ashtakala—they need to work with capable humanoid agents, which is to say, player characters.
- One interesting plot point would be to introduce warlocks or active fiends who DO represent the interests of Ashtakala—to say that after a hundred thousand years of largely ignoring the world, Ashtakala now has its own desires. What would these be? How would these agents interact with the fiends serving other overlords?
- There was another mortal civilization in the Demon Wastes before the Carrion Tribes, which was destroyed when the dragons attacked. Adventurers exploring the Demon Wastes could find relics of this previously unknown civilization. This could also be used to explain the origin of some other species you want to add to the setting.
- Ashtakala is a city that corrupts the land around it—a region as large as a nation, making it into a warped wasteland. Sound familiar? It could be that the Mourning is the result of a similar demon city being released into Cyre. If so, has it taken the place of an existing city like Metrol? Or is it still waiting to be found?
- Ashtakala can rips souls from mortals and forge them into solid form. Among other things, this effect prevents resurrection, much like a Keeper’s Fang—and one possibility is that the Keeper’s Fang weapons are in fact tied to ASHTAKALA. Regardless, one point is that adventurers might acquire magic items of artifacts forged from the souls of ancient dragons, giants, or couatl. Could the item be somehow destroyed, and if so could the fallen champion be resurrected? Alternately, what could a modern artificer do with a handful of coins forged from dragon-soul?
- One explanation for the dragon attacks on Aerenal is that they are “practicing fighting something with the power of an overlord.” It could be that these centuries of intermittent war have all been preparation for a NEW assault on Ashtakala. How could this involve the player characters? Might the Chamber ask powerful characters to help with the assault, perhaps sabotaging Ashtakala from within during the attack? Or might the players learn about the planned attack and realize that it will inflict devastating collateral damage on Aundair and the Eldeen Reaches?
- Explorer’s Handbook includes the Dust Works, a facility that allows fiends to suck out a creature’s soul and replace it with dust. As I suggest above, my thought is that this is something Ashtakala can do on its own, and the Dust Works is simply a way the Lords of Dust have found to harness this power for their own purposes. A dust-stuffed dragon working with the Lords of Dust could be an interesting alternative to a rogue dragon. And if the adventurers have an ally within the dragons of the Chamber, a tragic twist would be for that dragon to be captured by the Lords of Dust and taken to Ashtakala, returning as a dust-stuffed villain.
Thats all for now! Thanks to my Patreon supporters for making these articles possible.
A hidden alliance of rakshasa and other fiends, the Lords of Dust have manipulated the world since the dawn of time. The rakshasa wove themselves into the tapestry of human civilization in its earliest days. When the explorer Lhazaar gathered her expedition for Khorvaire, there was a rakshasa advisor at her side. Looking at the power of the Council of Ashtakala, people might wonder why the Lords of Dust haven’t conquered the world. A rakshasa’s first answer to this would be, “Haven’t we?”“Eternal Evil”, Dragon 337
The aftermath of the Last War has produced many threats. The Swords of Liberty, the Order of the Emerald Claw, and the Lord of Blades are revolutionaries or extremists. The Aurum and the Dragonmarked Houses are driven by greed and ambition, capitalizing on the chaos caused by the Last War. People frightened or unhinged by the horrors of war may embrace dark powers, creating cults of the Dragon Below.
As an adventurer, these may be first threats you’ll encounter. But as you delve deeper and grow in power, you may face older and stronger threats. Now you’re not just fighting the Cults of the Dragon Below, you’re dealing with Dyrrn the Corruptor or one of the other daelkyr who destroyed the Empire of Dhakaan. You began by battling soldiers of the Order of the Emerald Claw, but now you’re dealing with Lady Illmarrow, who has spent two thousand years plotting her revenge. Perhaps you initially fought a street gang being manipulated by their dreams; now you’re dealing with the Dreaming Dark, who spent the last thousand years consolidating their power over Sarlona and are now reaching out for Khorvaire. You may have clashed with a rakshasa or dealt with a dragon; was it operating alone, or did you have a glimpse of a greater plan?
If you pull on that thread, you may come into direct conflict with the greatest powers of Eberron: the Lords of Dust and the dragons of Argonnessen. These forces have been fighting one another since the dawn of time. Humanity may think it’s fought the last war, but the first war has never ended. The dragons (and the couatl) bound the ancient overlords who once dominated Eberron, but the Lords of Dust—the immortal servants of the overlords—endlessly toil to release their dread masters and to return Eberron to an age of primal chaos. The dragons of Argonnessen will stop at nothing to prevent this from happened. Both discovered long ago that little can be accomplished with direct physical conflict; victory depends on using the Draconic Prophecy to shape the future, which requires them to manipulate the younger races. So as the opening paragraph relates, despite their vast power neither fiends nor dragons have any interest in conquering humanity; the nations of Khorvaire are unwitting pawns in a vast and ancient game. The lesser forces you fought in your first adventurers may themselves have been manipulated by one side or the other in the First War, and you may have received assistance from a dragon or fiend—something that was surely helpful at the time, but that drove you down a particular Prophetic path.
To sum up: Most adventurers begin their stories dealing with mortal, modern threats. As they progress they will face older and stronger powers, and they may see the hand of the Chamber and the Lords of Dust. As they come into their full strength, adventurers may finally see the full scope of the First War… and they may have the power and influence to stop being pawns and to become active players in this great game. The First War cannot be won, but powerful adventurers can choose the path for the future, rather than being manipulated by ancient forces.
Friend or Foe?
The Lords of Dust want to collapse the world into a fiendish apocalypse, which is clearly bad for everyone. Argonnessen opposes that, which makes it easy to see the dragons as the heroes—champions opposing demons! But it’s important to understand that the dragons are not friends to humanity. Think of how we humans interact with mice. Most of the time, we ignore them completely. A few of us think they’re cute, and keep a few specific mice as pets. When mice become pests, we exterminate them without a second thought. And when we need something—to test our cosmetics, to study cancer or psychology—we will use them for our experiments, torturing or killing them without remorse. So it is with Argonnessen and humanity. Yes, their battling the Lords of Dust protects us from the demons, but that’s incidental. They aren’t doing it for us, and if they have to wipe out a human nation—or human civilization—to protect Argonnessen, they will. It’s entirely possible that the Chamber caused the Mourning—killing hundreds of thousands of innocent humans—because it served their goals in the First War. The dragons aren’t our saviors; they are still monsters, who can inflict devastating damage in pursuit of their goals. Why don’t they stop the Dreaming Dark, or the Last War, or injustice against warforged? Because they don’t care about any of these things. A SINGLE dragon might take an interest and help lesser creatures—as Vvaraak did when she established the Gatekeepers—but note that Vvaraak was an outcast because of these sympathies. A dragon MAY help you when you are fighting the Lords of Dust, but that’s likely because your actions serve its purposes… and if your usefulness comes to an end, it will abandon you.
Again: any individual dragon—whether a rogue pursuing its own agenda, or an agent of the Chamber manipulating mortals—could become a friend or ally of the adventurers. Dragons are mortal creatures and unique individuals; they’re pursuing interests of their civilization, but they could always choose a new path, or simply develop an attachment to their particular mortal tools. Adventurers are less likely to develop a friendship with one of the Lords of Dust; as immortals, these fiends are literal embodiments of evil and won’t stray from far from their core purpose. But the thing to remember is that as a whole the dragons aren’t fighting to protect humanoids; they’re fighting to protect Argonnessen, and any benefit to humanoids is incidental. To most dragons, humanoids are necessary tools at best, annoying pests at worst. They will sacrifice individuals, cities, or even nations without remorse if it supports their agenda… and as the non-giant civilizations of Xen’drik can attest, collateral damage is a serious risk when Argonnessen unleashes its full power.
The Battleground of Prophecy
The Lords of Dust and the Chamber are battling to drive the direction of the Prophecy. But what does that MEAN? This article goes into more detail about the prisons of the overlords and the role of the Prophecy in binding them. The short form is that the Prophecy is a vast matrix of If-Then statements. The future isn’t set in stone, but anchor events can lock in specific consequences. If the Beggar King kills Queen Aurala in the light of five moons with the Blade of Sorrows, Then the Eldeen Reaches and Aundair will join together as the Kingdom of the Pines. If the Greatpine’s Daughter is slain by the Tyrant Kraken at the Battle of the Bloody Field, then the Wild Heart shall rise again. While the grand scope of the future is always fluid, anchor events lock in particular consequences. If the Beggar King (and is this an elevated urchin… or could it be Prince Oargev?) kills Aurala as described, Eldeen and Aundair will be joined. Exactly how that happens isn’t set, but seemingly random chance will keep pushing in that direction until it happens. Anchors don’t set the ENTIRE future, but they will ensure specific parts of it.
One thing to bear in mind about the First War is that it’s being fought on many fronts. We talk about the Lords of Dust as a singular entity, but it’s an alliance of servants of many overlords, each pursuing their own goals. Looking to the example of the Beggar King, the servants of the Wild Heart have identified a Prophetic thread that leads to their goal—a series of anchoring events, likely spread out over a vast span of time. The Beggar King killing Aurala is just one point on that thread. Let’s say the Beggar King is Prince Oargev. The servants of the Wild Heart had to make sure the Mourning happened, because it was the Mourning that destroyed Cyre and created the Beggar King. Earlier in the thread, they had to ensure the creation of the Blade of Sorrows, which involved manipulating a Dhakaani daashor… so that ten thousand years later the Beggar King could use that blade to kill Aurala, and ultimately, lead to the release of the Wild Heart. Keep that glacial pace in mind. There are at least thirty overlords, and different factions of the Lords of Dust are working to unleash all of them. But each overlord is bound to different Prophetic threads, and most of those cannot be resolved in the near future. The Lords of Dust may be working on a plan to release the Voice in the Darkness, and one of its anchoring events may play out in a campaign, but she still can’t be RELEASED for at least another two centuries; a victory in the present just gets them closer to the goal. So in creating a campaign, it’s up to the DM to decide which overlords COULD be released in this current time; the others can still be background threats, but they won’t be released in this century.
It seems like such a complex web of causality would be easy to disrupt. If the Wild Heart needed the Mourning to occur, why didn’t the Chamber stop it? The first point is that there are thousands of threads of the Prophecy in motion. While the Wild Heart needed the Mourning to occur to aid in its release, the Chamber may have needed the Mourning to occur to lock in five other threads that they want to have happen. The Chamber might also want to create the Beggar King, but THEY want him to marry the Queen of Words, because that’s what will ensure that the Daughter of Khyber remains bound. It’s also entirely possible that the Chamber doesn’t KNOW about the thread concerning the Beggar King and Aurala. The signs that reveal threads are spread across the world and are constantly evolving; a major part of the work of the Chamber is digging for new threads and monitoring changes.
Changes? Yes. A crucial point is that the Prophecy is a living thing. It’s entirely possible that after all the work the Wild Heart did—ensuring the creation of the Blade of Sorrows, making sure the Mourning came to pass—that someone will simply kill the Beggar King in a manner that prevents resurrection. Hurrah! Now he can’t kill Aurala and the Wild Heart will never be released, right? Wrong. What it means is that the Prophecy will weave a new possible path that results in the release of the Wild Heart. The Lords of Dust will search for it and start setting it in motion. This is what the war looks like; the Wild Heart has surely almost been released a dozen times (and may HAVE been released or partially released during the Silver Crusade), but it’s always ultimately been blocked and rebound, kicking the can down another few centuries as new threads are woven.
Keep in mind that the Prophecy requires the actions of specific individuals, though the identity of those individuals may be cryptic: the Beggar King, the Greatpine’s Daughter, the Tyrant Kraken. It would be easy for the Cult of the Wild Heart to kill Queen Aurala. They have an army of demons. But just killing Aurala won’t serve any purpose. They need the Beggar King to do it—at a specific time and with a specific weapon. They likely needed a specific daashor to forge the Blade of Sorrows. For all their vast might, both dragons and demons are dependent on the individuals through which the Prophecy flows.
The First War and You
So, Why does this matter? What is the narrative purpose of the First War, and why did we make it part of the setting? First of all, it establishes the most powerful beings in the setting, factions that should be terrifying even to the mightiest player character. But having done that, it also provides a concrete reason why these forces don’t dominate the world, making all lesser beings and conflicts irrelevant. It’s that basic question — Why don’t the Lords of Dust conquer the world?—to which the answer is that won’t get them what they want. They COULD conquer Breland easily enough, but they don’t want to rule a kingdom of mortal mice; they want to revel in the immortal glory of the overlords, and that means following the thread. So, it establishes that there ARE powerful beings that can challenge any adventurer, but it clearly gives them something to do and a reason to keep a low profile. It also gives them a clear reason to work through mortal agents, meaning that they can be patrons for the heroes and villains alike—pushing the stories you want to have happen from the shadows. They can be mysterious benefactors and shadowy masterminds, working at any level of a story. A rakshasa patron could be assisting a bandit chief in eastern Aundair, someone who seems entirely unimportant, and who IS entirely unimportant in the big picture—except, that his rise to power and subsequent defeat at the hands of the adventurers is part of a Prophetic thread. So, the adventurers defeat the bandit chief; they get a cool magic sword, which seems way TOO cool for this thug to have; and they learn from defeated bandits that the chief received the sword from a mysterious sage, who also gave him guidance. That sage is nowhere to be seen. But perhaps, as the adventurers continue the journey, that sage will turn up again, helping another group of their enemies. Are the adventurers interfering with the plans of the Lords of Dust? Or are the adventurers themselves part of the plan—are their victories actually part of the thread that the rakshasa needs to release its overlord? You could have a campaign that is ostensibly about fighting the Emerald Claw and Lady Illmarrow, and only discover after she has been defeated that the “final fall of the Queen of the Dead” was a crucial key to the release of Katashka the Gatekeeper, and that the Lords of Dust have been helping them in minor ways all along.
As a DM, consider the following ways you could use the Draconic Prophecy and the First War in a campaign.
Who Needs Prophecy? You don’t have to use the Lords of Dust, the dragons of Argonnessen, or the Draconic Prophecy in your campaign at all. All canon is just a starting point for your stories; if you want, you can drop these elements from YOUR Eberron entirely. Even without changing any canon material, you can simply decide that nothing significant will happen with these forces over the next year, decade, or even century. Just as you can choose to run a campaign in which you completely ignore the Dreaming Dark and Sarlona, you can easily ignore the Chamber and Argonnessen. This doesn’t stop you from using dragons or native fiends in a story; it’s simply that they are rogues or loners and not involved in world-shaping schemes.
Weaving Threads. The Lords of Dust and the Chamber are both advancing threads, but there is no threat of an overlord being released, and they aren’t setting anything major in motion like the Mourning. One of these forces could have a particular interest in a player character (described in more detail). One of them could be supporting a faction that does play a major role in the campaign, but their involvement only goes as far as to ensure a critical triggering event occurs; they want a particular player character to destroy a specific lieutenant of the Lord of Blades in a particular battle, but after that battle occurs, they’ll abandon the Lord of Blades; he’s served his purpose. Essentially, a dragon or rakshasa may serve as a mysterious patron or sinister foe for any adventure or two… but this isn’t building to an epic conflict with an overlord or a showdown with Argonnessen. The First War touches the story of the campaign, but it’s not what the campaign is ABOUT, and the adventurers don’t need to ever know the true scope of the war.
Operation: Overlord. An entire campaign could be build around a single overlord; WotC’s Tyranny of Dragons campaign is an example of this form, with a plotline that slowly drives towards a final conflict with an archfiend. This can begin with clashes with lesser cultists or forces that don’t even know they’re serving the Lords of Dust. The adventurers might battle the Aurum in one adventure and the Emerald Claw in the next, slowly picking up the clues that reveal the true danger—Why are they all collecting pieces of a shattered Khyber shard? Who’s this mysterious sage who’s advising all of these groups? By the middle of the campaign they’re fighting more powerful foces—fiends, possessed mortals, perhaps even corrupted dragons. By the time they understand the nature of the threat (perhaps with the assistance of a Chamber advisor or a couatl) the overlord may already have been partially released, just as Bel Shalor was partially released for a year in Thrane. The overlord won’t be able to channel its full power or to leave the region of its prison, but it can manifest an avatar (which is the role of the stat blocks for Rak Tulkhesh and Sul Khatesh in Rising From The Last War), it can unleash more of its fiendish servants into the world, and it can exert its influence over a wide area. This may seem like an obvious time to rally an army, but the critical point is that numbers may not matter. If you raise an army and send it against the avatar of Rak Tulkhesh, the Rage of War will cause the soldiers to turn on one another; all you’ll accomplish is to send your allies into slaughter. Even the Chamber can’t destroy an overlord, and the only way to restore its bonds is to do so in a manner laid out in the Prophecy. The adventurers must build their strength and learn the key to victory—and then assemble the pieces they need for success. Consider Tiran Miron and the Shadow in the Flame. When Tira heard the call of the Flame urging her to fight Bel Shalor, the archfiend was already partially released; along the way she had to protect innocents from both fiends roaming Thrane and mortals corrupted by the overlord. And in the end, she had to defeat Bel Shalor in a very specific manner and with a great sacrifice. The adventurers can’t just charge into the final battle, because it’s not just about whether they can defeat the overlord’s avatar, it’s whether they can defeat it in the way that will actually restore its binding.
Players in the Great Game. The previous example focuses on a single overlord, leading to an ultimate battle with a semi-released archfiend. Another campaign could focus on a wider interaction with the First War, where the adventurers find themselves dealing with lesser schemes of multiple factions of the Lords of Dust. These aren’t schemes that could directly release a warlord, they’re anchoring events or plots that gather resources or information for the fiends. So the adventurers defeat a bandit chief—how’d he get that cool magic sword? They clash with an Aurum warlock—why has Sul Khatesh given him this power? The truth is that the adventurers are being used as tools by the Chamber. They could know this from the start (while dragons aren’t immortal, this is essentially the Immortal Being group patron), or they could come to realize that the helpful ally who keeps setting them on the right path is a Chamber dragon. At first this might seem great. They’re fighting fiends who are doing evil things! How can this be bad? But then they might learn that the Chamber has done terrible things in pursuit of its goals—for example, that the Chamber (in this version of Eberron) caused the Mourning. They realize that the Chamber is using them, that neither side in the First War cares about human lives. What will they do? What can they do? On the one hand you have an army of immortal fiends; on the other, you have a continent of dragons. It doesn’t matter how powerful the adventurers become, they can’t defeat these threats by rolling initiative and killing them one at a time. So what can they do? If they have Prophetic significance, they may be able to use that as leverage; the dragons need them to fulfill a particular anchor event, but they want the Conclave to make promises before they’ll play the game. If you want a truly apocalyptic solution, perhaps the adventurers can find a way to destroy the Prophecy, or at least cause it to become unreadable; this is something that would likely involve an unlikely alliance with daelkyr or Xoriat. This would be a pretty extreme step, but even having it as a threat would be way to give the adventurers real leverage over both sides.
The key is that a campaign could focus on a single thread of the Prophecy—a specific faction within the Lords of Dust, a particular overlord—or it could focus on the Prophecy as a whole, with the adventurers dealing with servants of different overlords and ultimately engaging with the broad scope of the First War itself.
Characters Bound to the Prophecy
The preceding section considers ways the Prophecy could affect a campaign. Another question is whether any of the player characters have a specific role to play in one or more threads of the Prophecy. Looking to the example given above, one of the player characters could be destined to become the Beggar King or the Tyrant Kraken; factions within the Chamber or the Lords of Dust could have a vested interest in the character’s future. The Prophetic Role table provides a few ideas…
So, a few examples to consider…
- You must create a child with your mortal enemy.
- You must destroy the Orb of Dol Azur while Fernia, Shavarath, and Mabar are coterminous.
- You must restore Cyre while wearing the Crown of Galifar.
- You must take control of House Lyrandar by betraying someone you love.
- You must found a new religion at the cost of your own life.
A key point with a Prophetic Role is what’s the consequence? The Prophecy is a series of If/Then statements. It’s not that you MUST have a child with your mortal enemy, it’s that IF you have a child with your mortal enemy, THEN that child will reunite Galifar… or IF you take control of House Lyrandar by betraying someone you love, Eldrantulku will be released from its bonds. So a Prophetic Role could be something you WANT to happen, or it could be something you really DON’T want to happen, because even if it’s good in the short term it will have disastrous long-term consequences. But the servants of Eldrantulku WANT you to take control of House Lyrandar through an act of betrayal, and they will do their best to direct you down that path.
A Prophetic Role is something that must be approved by the DM, as it will play into the unfolding story of a campaign. Personally, I wouldn’t make a character a lynchpin of the Prophecy without at least discussing the idea with the player first (even if they won’t know the DETAILS of the Prophecy they’re tied to). I’d also be open to a player presenting me with a thread they’d like to have tied to their character… that they want their artificer to be destined to create a significant artifact in a distant land. Again, this doesn’t mean that this WILL happen, it means that if it does there will be a significant consequence for the future—and that there are powerful forces that want it to happen to that want to be sure it DOESN’T happen.
Dragonmarks and the Prophecy. Dragonmarked characters inherently have Prophetic significance, but that doesn’t mean they automatically have an important role to play. There are many ways to interpret the shifting threads of the Prophecy; just as some people read the future in tea leaves or the movements of birds, there are scholars who can gain information from gatherings or actions of dragonmarked characters. Essentially, think of dragonmarked characters as tarot cards; the individual card isn’t important, but it has symbolic meaning and one who understands the mysteries can gain information by interacting with it. It’s also the case that all of the previous examples have been extremely specific events with massive impacts on the future. But there’s also thousands of minor threads that are constantly in motion. IF someone with the Mark of Storms burns their tongue on hot tal at midday, THEN a conductor stone on the eastern rail will fail in the evening. These are micro-anchors with minor, short term effects, and in that example anyone with the Mark of Storms will do. So, dragonmarked characters have an innate minor tie to the Prophecy, but that’s not as significant as being the Beggar King. Though dragonmarked characters can ALSO have major roles to play in addition to their lesser significance; as noted above, the Tyrant Kraken is likely a Lyrandar heir who seizes control of the house by betraying a loved one!
Rising From The Last War provides a host of ideas and story hooks for using both the Lords of Dust and the Chamber, and this builds on that. The First War is a source of threats that can challenge epic characters, but there’s a reason those forces don’t dominate the world. Fiends or dragons (or their humanoid agents) can serve as patrons for either the adventurers or their enemies. It can be a reason for the characters to receive unexpected aid: A kindly stranger has a skill or spell they need; a local merchant has exactly the scroll in stock that will help them out; a watch patrol shows up at just the right moment, and they’re actually good at their job. However, when character receive such aid, there’s always the question of whether it’s a good thing. If one of the Lords of Dust is helping you, it probably means your actions will help them in the future!
This article began with a few questions from my Patreon supporters, and grew into something larger. But I do want to address those questions…
What would be the biggest difficulties in exposing the Lords of Dust, the Chamber, and/or the Dreaming Dark to the nations of Khorvaire?
A major question here is whether you are exposing a specific plan versus whether you are trying to expose the vast scope of these conspiracies. Exposing a specific plan—An unnatural force is controlling the House Kundarak enclave in Sharn!—is going to be far easier than convincing people the Lords of Dust have been manipulating all of us for thousands of years and we must all rally together to hunt them down once and for all! In the case of that corrupted enclave, you don’t HAVE to convince people of the vast conspiracy and ultimately, it doesn’t matter who’s behind it; you are simply convincing people that there is a concrete threat that we can and should eliminate. That’s quite different from we need to rally together to stop a fiendish conspiracy that caused the Last War by manipulating our dreams.
A second aspect to this is how difficult do you WANT it to be? If you and your players WANT to explore a story where they expose the Lords of Dust once and for all, then for Aureon’s sake, tell that story! It’s YOUR campaign. YOU decide just how many agents the Chamber has hidden in Khorvaire and who can be trusted. But just to look at the things that COULD make it difficult to expose these forces…
Limited Knowledge. When you’re looking to the grand scheme of things, one question is how much you REALLY KNOW about these threats. Do you actually know what the Chamber is trying to accomplish? Do you know how many Chamber agents are operating in Khorvaire? Do you have absolute, unimpeachable evidence? Again, this is where it’s easier to convince people “Someone is manipulating the Boromar Clan in Sharn” as opposed to “Someone has manipulated human civilization since Lhazaar came to Khorvaire.”
Who Can You Trust? The Lords of Dust and the Chamber have been planting agents across the Five Nations since civilization began. In addition to hidden rakshasa and shapechanged dragons, there are families who have served these masters for countless generations, and others who have sold their loyalty without even knowing who they’re working for. These hidden agents could be watch captains, chronicle reporters, royal advisors. Do we know with certainty that Queen Aurala herself isn’t a quori mind seed? Often the sole job of these agents is to observe, collecting information and watching for people who try to reveal inconvenient truths… and either to discredit or eliminate them. So part of the difficulty of exposing these plans is whether you can truly trust anyone—or whether the moment you start spreading these rumors, agents of the Citadel will target you as a “threat to national security”, while a royal advisor presents Boranel with trumped up proof of your instability and unreliability. Tied to this…
Crying Wolf. These powers have had agents within society for ages. Which means they’ve had centuries to spread false rumors and get people to believe that these ideas are ridiculous. It’s not that people have never heard of the Lords of Dust, it’s that they’ve heard SO MANY ridiculous stories (King Jarot was possessed by a demon! The entire Wynarn family ARE demons!) that no one is going to take YOUR story seriously. It would be like trying to convince people on our world that world leaders really ARE reptoid aliens in disguise. While people know that dragons and demons exist, they’re sure all those stories of “vast demonic conspiracies” are rubbish. Besides which, if something like that exists, surely the Church of the Silver Flame will deal with it! Again, this is why it will be easier to convince a LOCAL leader of a LOCAL threat, using concrete proof, than to convince a NATION that there’s a GLOBAL threat (where again, you’ll immediately get loyalist pundits and chroniclers muddying the waters and presenting countering evidence). A secondary aspect of this is why anyone should trust you. Are you just a group of vagabonds and murder hobos? Or do you have an established reputation, with nobles or barons in your debt who will trust your word even when your story is ridiculous?
What Will It Achieve? One of the core themes of Eberron is that player characters are remarkable and that they can achieve things normal people can’t. For sake of argument, imagine that the adventurers discover that the dragons of Argonnessen are going to destroy Khorvaire in a week. Rallying all the nations won’t be too much help, because this isn’t a problem that can be solved by a human army. All the armies of the Five Nations combined would be slaughtered within minutes if they faced the full force of Argonnessen. King Boranel has no particular weight when negotiating the dragons; they don’t care about his crown or his nation. This doesn’t mean that humanity is doomed; it means that the adventurers will have to do something seemingly impossible. They’ll have to sneak into Argonnessen and find a way to make the Conclave listen to them. How? Maybe they can somehow channel the spirit of Ourelonastrix. Maybe they can threaten to release the Daughter of Khyber if the dragons don’t back down. Perhaps they can can find proof that the Conclave has misinterpreted the Draconic Prophecy. The point is that all the horses and all the king’s men may be useless in this struggle, while six bold adventurers may be able to do the impossible.
You COULD Expose Them… But SHOULD You? Another possibility is that you discover a plot, you have all the proof you need to expose it… and you discover a compelling reason why you SHOULDN’T. Imagine you discover that the Chamber is planning to trigger a second Mourning that will destroy Valenar. You’ve obtained all the information you need to expose this to the world, to prove with absolute clarity that Argonnessen is behind it. And THEN you discover that this second Mourning is the only thing that will prevent the release of Rak Tulkhesh who will collapse ALL the nations of Khorvaire into a brutal conflict that will make the Last War look like a play date. Further, you discover that it was Mordakhesh the Shadowsword who helped you obtain your evidence and he clearly WANTS you to expose the plot. So, do you? If you do nothing, you’re allowing a hundred thousand people to die when you could stop it. If you expose it, you may be dooming millions when Rak Tulkhesh rises. Do you take that chance, confident you can find another way to stop the Rage of War? Or do you allow Valenar to be destroyed? One of the central themes of Eberron is stories don’t always end well, and while this should be the norm, I love to present my adventurers with situations where there IS no good answer, where it’s a question of deciding what is the lesser of two evils. The second aspect of You could, but should you? is whether your actions will make you or your loved ones—or even your entire nation—a target for retribution. Generally these powers are so far above you that they don’t feel a need to take vengeance; yes, you stopped the second Mourning they had planned, but you’re human and in fifty years you’ll be dead, and that’s the blink of an eye to a dragon. But again, using the mouse analogy, when humanoids become pests they’ll be wiped out… and as Xen’drik shows, they have no concerns with inflicting massive collateral damage. Again, MOST of the time even what appears to be a serious setback doesn’t require retribution; the Lords of Dust and Argonnessen have been feuding for A HUNDRED THOUSAND YEARS, and if they have to kick the can down the road for another three centuries so be it. But if the adventurers KNOW that, say, revealing the cause of the Mourning might cause Argonnessen to kill everyone who has that knowledge—including Breland itself, just to make sure—are they going to take that chance?
Ultimately, this is the same principle you see in stories like Men in Black—why don’t they just tell the world about aliens? Often, the answer is because it would cause panic and wouldn’t actually accomplish anything useful. The player characters can solve problems that entire nations can’t. HOWEVER, again, ultimately it’s up to you how difficult it should be. If you WANT the final challenge to require the adventurers to unite the Five Nations, perhaps they can find a way to expose the servants of the Lords of Dust, or even present such a compelling case that these agents will change sides. Perhaps they can bring the Twelve and the Church of the Silver Flame together to create a device that can reveal rakshasa across Khorvaire. It’s not supposed to be easy, but this is always about the story YOU want to tell.
If these forces are so powerful, why don’t they immediately kill player characters that get in the way of their plans?
There’s two basic answers here. The first is why don’t you kill the mouse that chewed through your power cord? An aspect of the Lords of Dust and the Chamber being so far above humanity is that they don’t really pay too much attention to specific mortals. If an Anchor event fails, what matters is finding the new thread that will take its place; why bother killing the humans responsible, when they’ll all have died of old age by the time the next thread comes together?
That’s fine as a general principle. But perhaps the adventurers have an ongoing, antagonistic relationship with a particular rakshasa. They’ve foiled its plans time after time. Surely THIS fiend will want revenge. One option plays on the fact that immortals have all the time in the world. Death is easy; this enemy wants to make the player characters suffer. It wants to wait until they have children, so it can kill their children or make them serve its overlords. It wants to wait until they have risen to great heights so it can make it all come tumbling down. It doesn’t want death, it wants pain, and it has ALL OF TIME to take it (and to be clear, when it DOES come for revenge, I certainly hope the adventurers will find a way to foil those plans!). A second approach is to say Good question… why ISN’T it taking revenge? The obvious answer is that it can’t kill or punish them because it needs them. If the player characters have a Prophetic role that serves the ends of one of the Lords of Dust, that fiend may have forbidden others from breaking its toys.
It seems like the Chamber and the Lords of Dust fill the same role that gods play in other settings. I thought one of the central ideas of Eberron was not to have incarnate gods?
There’s certainly some truth to this. Mechanically, the overlords in 3.5 actually used Divine Rank and possessed the power of gods. However, philosophically there are a number of important differences between these forces and gods as they appear in other settings. Gods typically depend upon and demand mortal worship, and reward those who give them devotion. The Lords of Dust and the Chamber are so secret that most people don’t even know they exist; they aren’t demanding human worship. The clerics and paladins of Eberron don’t get their magic from dragons or fiends; their power comes from faith, belief in something far great than a great wyrm. A second aspect is that gods often servant as ultimate embodiments of good and evil, while as noted about, Argonnessen isn’t GOOD; it just happens to not want a demon apocalypse, and we can all agree on that, but that doesn’t mean it won’t destroy your entire kingdom to achieve that. Generally you don’t WANT dragons to get involved in your story, because they’re NOT benevolent celestials; they are ruthless, powerful, and interested solely in what serves Argonnessen.
Rather than looking at Argonnessen as fantasy gods, I would go the other direction and consider them as a powerful alien race in a science fiction series—consider the Shadows and the Vorlons in Babylon Five. They possess science far beyond that of humanity and can accomplish things that appear to be miracles. They can raze a continent if they choose. But instead they largely remain in isolation, with their agents moving among the primitive people and carrying out secret agendas, while humanity may not even know they exist.
But why does the setting NEED to have beings of such power in the first place? Why not just leave them out?
One of the founding principles of Eberron is “There’s a place for everything.” That includes dragons. But we also like exploring the logical consequences of mechanics. The dragons of 3.5 possess great intelligence as well as power. A default gold great wyrm has a 32 Intelligence and the spellcasting ability of a 19th level sorcerer, giving it the potential to cast wish. A basic question was if creatures of such intellect and power existed—and had existed for tens of thousands of years—why would the be randomly sitting in caves waiting for adventurers to wander by? If we’re saying that human spellcasters have used their magic to build civilization, and all dragons eventually become near-epic spellcasters, shouldn’t they have the most powerful civilization in the world? Essentially, rather than follow the standard trope of a-dragon-is-a-monster-in-a-cave, we decided that dragons were masterminds and hidden manipulators, the ultimate illuminati. We gave them a place in the world, but that place is hidden in the shadows. Likewise, the mechanics for Divine Rank exist. It can be a fun challenge for epic adventurers to face a creature with Divine Rank… and in Eberron you can, by fighting the avatar of Rak Tulkhesh. It creates a PLACE for these epic threats, but keeps them from overshadowing the action from the very beginning. Argonnessen is a spot on the map where no-one returns from, a place labeled here there be dragons. The Demon Wastes is known as a place of ancient evil, but the people of the Five Nations are generally more worried about the monsters of Droaam than the Council of Ashtakala. And again, this is why you could choose to remove these forces entirely if you don’t want them in your campaign… or just say that they’re going to be dormant this century. They are so secretive that no one will NOTICE if they’re absent. So they exist for those DMs who want to pit their adventurers against great wyrms and archfiends, but they are so deep in the shadows that adventurers could go their entire lives without seeing them.
The Prophecy and the First War are both hooks you can use to shape and direct a campaign arc, with adventurers coming to realize that their early adventurers were all part of a grand cosmic plot. But you CAN choose to have your entire campaign stay grounded in the now, focusing on the Lord of Blades, the Twelve, House Tarkanan, the struggle the reunite Galifar. Ultimately it’s a question of the story you want to tell.
How could this conflict come to an end?
Under canon, there’s only one way it could actually end: if the Lords of Dust unleash the overlords, destroying all current civilizations and collapsing Eberron into fiendish chaos. The basic principle is that the overlords cannot be destroyed, and that as a result, no one—not the Chamber, the Church of the Silver Flame, even the player characters—can permanently eliminate the threat that they pose. Tira Miron can certainly be considered one of the “player characters” of her age, but she couldn’t DESTROY Bel Shalor; however, she rebound the archfiend and created a force that would fight on for the light even after she was gone. “Victory” against the overlords doesn’t mean that the conflict is OVER; it means that you have bought peace for a time, whether that’s years or centuries. But ultimately this is tied to the idea that Eberron will ALWAYS need heroes, that evil cannot be entirely and conclusively defeated; there will always been a need for the next generation to remain vigilant, to choose light over darkness.
You can of course change this if you want to. You could say that in YOUR Eberron the overlords can be destroyed. But in both canon and kanon, it’s a core part of the idea that the threat of the overlords will always require vigilance and courage, that there will always be a need for new champions to be ready to fight to preserve the light.
Thanks again to my Patreon supporters, who make it possible for me to write these articles. And if you haven’t seen them already, check out Exploring Eberron and Magic Sword: An Eberron Adventure Seed on the DM’s Guild!
Everyone in Eberron knows the story of the Progenitor Wyrms. There are a few who believe that these beings were literal dragons who ruled over a civilization we can’t even imagine… that they turned on one another and destroyed all traces of that world in their feud. But the common myth — shared in various forms by almost every culture — paints things in more mythical and metaphorical light. Here’s one version.
The Progenitor Wyrms breathed creation into the void. Siberys breathed fire and kindled the endless flames of Fernia. Khyber’s icy breath formed the frozen depths of Risia. They had new ideas and worked together to give those form. Siberys envisioned a realm of peace, and together they shaped the serene towers of Syrania. Khyber demanded an endless war, and so Shavarath was born. Eventually they made a place where all of these creations could convergence — a realm where there was both life and death, war and peace, darkness and light. And it was in this place that Khyber turned on the others, tearing Siberys to pieces. Eberron grappled with Khyber. She couldn’t defeat her sister, but she caught Khyber in her coils, wrapping around her. Eberron transformed herself into a living prison, becoming the world itself, forever trapping Khyber within the world. Dying Siberys coiled around Eberron, and so it remains today: The Dragon Above, The Dragon Below, and The Dragon Between.
Life was the only prison that could hold Khyber, and so Eberron gave birth to the natural world. The blood of Siberys fell from the sky. Some drops quickened as they fell and became the celestial couatl. Others touched Eberron, and from this union the dragons were formed. Where blood struck ice, a white dragon emerged; where it touched a swamp, a black dragon was born. Thus the dragons are the mightiest creatures of the natural world, imbued with the magic of Siberys and yet still born of Eberron and thus mortal.
Khyber could not escape her prison, but her fury spawned horrors both endless and mortal. The host of fiends rose from the depths and laid claim to Eberron, twisting the natural world and tormenting its creatures. Terror ruled for an unimaginable time. This was the First Age of the world… the Age of Demons.
As I said, this is one version of the Progenitor myth. In some versions, the Progenitors begin as siblings working in harmony. In others, they were always rivals seeking to outdo one another with acts of creation. Some say that the entire act of creation was driven by their pursuit of the Prophecy… and that Khyber killed Siberys in an attempt to harness this power. As a game master it’s up to you to decide if any element of this is true. Did three mighty beings create reality? Were they literally dragons, or unimaginable beings of untold power? Or is this all just a way to explain the world, the ring in the sky, and the darkness below where horrors are born?
Whatever the origin of the world, we haven’t talked much about the Age of Demons. But the legacy of the First Age still haunts the present day. Fiends and dragons spar in the shadows, and the threat of the Overlords is an eternal threat, held at bay by the light of the Silver Flame. But what was the world like in those days, and what would a return of the Overlords actually mean?
About The Overlords…
I’ve covered some of these topics in the past. This post is an extended discussion of the Overlords of the First Age, including a list of known Overlords, the nature of their bonds, and what they might do if released. This post discusses the Demon Wastes and the nature of demonic ruins. Here’s a quick summary of things you should know.
- The Overlords are immortal fiends with godlike power (equivalent to divine rank 7 in 3.5 terms). At full power, an Overlord exerts influence over a broad region, but this dominion is finite; it might cover a country, but not an entire continent. There were approximately thirty Overlords, and between them they dominated the world. While they have the equivalent of Divine Rank and while I may refer to them as “gods” in this article, they ARE NOT ACTUALLY DEITIES. They cannot grant divine magic, though a devout follower might be able to draw power directly from Khyber as a result of their faith.
- The Overlords cannot be permanently destroyed. The couatl sacrificed themselves and fused their celestial energy together to create the Silver Flame, a force capable of binding the Overlords and most of their minions.
- While most of the fiendish forces were bound with their masters, some slipped through. These beings largely work to release their masters, and they are called The Lords of Dust. They are opposed by the dragons of The Chamber.
- Each Overlord is bound in a physical vessel, but it is the power of the Silver Flame that keeps them bound. They can only be released if a particular piece of the Draconic Prophecy comes to pass. The Draconic Prophecy is constantly evolving, and so the Chamber and the Lords of Dust study it and seek to manipulate it to achieve their goals.
- Even while bound, the Overlords still influence the regions around their prisons. Most Overlords are effectively asleep, and this influence is essentially an effect of their dreams. A few — such as Bel Shalor, the Shadow in the Flame — are aware and actively scheming.
- “Demon” usually refers to a chaotic evil fiend, but it can also be used as a general term for any evil immortal, and this is its context of “The Age of Demons.”
An Age of Demons
The Overlords dominated Eberron for millions of years. They didn’t choose to rule. There wasn’t any sort of organized civilization as we would recognize it. The Overlords didn’t form a government or establish countries. Rather, they shaped reality within their dominions to reflect their nature. The Heart of Winter embodies the killing cold, and bitter ice engulfs any land where she resides. The Rage of War thrives on strife and conflict, and armies clash in his wake. Katashka the Gatekeeper sets the dead against the living. Where the Overlords raised cities, it was because the city was somehow a part of this identity. Rak Tulkhesh might create a fortress simply so it could be besieged. The dark metropolis of Eldrantulku was home to clans and guilds whose endless intrigues reflected their master’s love of betrayal and discord. Mortals caught in the sphere of an Overlord would be swept into these things and forced to play a part in them. But these things didn’t build towards anything. The fortress of Rak Tulkhesh would be forgotten once his attention shifted, replaced with some new battle. We sometimes say that the Overlords had mortal slaves, but this implies an institution of slavery; it’s more accurate to say that all mortals were helpless playthings caught in the dreams of cruel gods.
The Overlords weren’t allies and had no interest in cooperation. When the domains of two overlords overlapped they would clash, and many took great joy in these conflicts. But mortals remained helpless pawns.
We have no records of precisely what creatures existed at that time or how they came to be. The Ghaash’kala orcs and lizardfolk of Q’barra seem to have traditions that can be traced back. Some believe that means these races were widespread. Some say that the orcs were created by demons, that Rak Tulkhesh imbued hobgoblins with his rage and that the Silver Flame redeemed them. The human and demihuman civilizations covered in canon didn’t come into existence for many tens of thousands of years. The dragons were first; then the giants; then the elves and goblins and dwarves. As a DM, feel free to explore this however you see fit. If you wish to add an ancient human civilization that rose and fell while the giants still ruled Xen’drik, go ahead.
The couatl helped mortals resist the influence of the Overlords, and it was this that ultimately allowed a resistance to form — primarily the dragons (themselves imbued with some of the essence of Siberys), but also other mortal species. The Overlords are immortal, and there seemed to be no way to achieve a true victory… until the Prophecy revealed the way that the Overlords could be bound. This led to the couatl sacrifice and the kindling of the Silver Flame. While the Couatl formed the Flame, just as with Tira and Bel Shalor, it took mortal heroes to complete the binding; this is where Ourelonastrix, Dularrahnak and other champions played a crucial role. The Overlords and most of their minions were bound; their works collapsed; and the normal course of history began.
What Does This Mean?
First of all, understanding the nature of the Age of Demons helps understand why the Lords of Dust don’t just take over Khorvaire. They don’t want to rule this pathetic, mundane world. They want to return to a time when their gods walked the world and reality bent to their will. Bear in mind that the Lords of Dust are immortal beings who may have been around for a million years. They aren’t human, and their motives and the way they experience time are unlike those of mortal creatures. They, too, are incarnate ideas. They are for the most part aspects of their master’s domain, and pursuing the release of their master is a natural thing. To be sure, there are a few of the Lords of Dust who want to supplant their Overlords and steal their power… but that sort of behavior would be most common in a servant of someone like Eldrantulku or even Bel Shalor, both of whom embody corruption and betrayal.
It also shows why the Lords of Dust aren’t close allies. The Overlords fought one another more often than not. The Bleak Council of Ashtakala was established to prevent the Lords of Dust from interfering with one another accidentally, and to allow sharing of resources when it is useful. But the key word there is accidentally. The circumstances that will release one Overlord might actively block the release of another; even failing this, two rakshasa might pursue a personal vendetta that goes back long before human civilization. This post talks more about the Council of Ashtakala, the binding, and the relationships between Overlords.
The Nature of the Binding
The spirit of each Overlord is contained in some sort of vessel. However, it is the Silver Flame that binds the spirit to the vessel. The only way to release an Overlord is to follow a particular path of the Draconic Prophecy. The Lords of Dust seek to drive the world down these paths, while the dragons of the Chamber work to identify and negate Prophetic paths that could release an Overlord. Prophetic paths are very specific; it’s not simply Queen Aurala must die — something a rakshasa could easily do on its own — it’s that The seventh son of the Great Kraken must slay an innocent queen with the Blade of Sorrows, in the belief that doing so will save the world. The rakshasa can’t do this alone. But to make it happen, they need to make sure the following things happen…
- Aurala becomes Queen.
- Someone becomes “The Great Kraken” (probably a Lyrandar heir) and has seven sons.
- That seventh son acquires the Blade of Sorrows.
- The seventh son is convinced that killing Aurala will save the world, and successfully carries out this assassination.
In setting this up, the Lords of Dust also want to use a light enough touch that they aren’t noticed by the Chamber. The key point here is that a rakshasa may end up helping player characters. They want this Lyrandar heir to become a champion who would try to save the world, and they want him to acquire the mighty Blade of Sorrows. So for a time, the rakshasa would actually be acting as a patron for the group.
Of course, there’s two forces that might interfere: the Chamber and other Lords of Dust. As I mentioned before, the circumstances that release one Overlord might block another; while killing Aurala might release Sul Khatesh, it could be that Tul Oreshka needs Aurala to marry the Seventh Son of the Great Kraken and to have a child who will then be sacrificed. Meanwhile, if dragons of the Chamber identify this particular thread, they will try to find a way to block it… which could range from keeping the Great Kraken from having children, hiding the Blade of Sorrows, or simply killing the Seventh Son. This all ties to the fluid nature of the Prophecy. There are so many possible threads that the Chamber doesn’t know them all — and any time an equation is altered, the Prophecy shifts to account for it. There will ALWAYS be a Prophetic path to release Sul Khatesh. If the Chamber kills the Seventh Son of the Great Kraken, a new path to release will be established… but it will take time for her prakhutu to discover the new path, and it could be decades or centuries before that path can be fulfilled.
So the point here is that the path to releasing an Overlord is generally something that will have been in motion for a long time, and if it connects to player characters, it may involve a series of events: gaining power, killing an enemy, acquiring an artifact, falling in love, etc, etc. If you want quick action, choose a path that can be resolved quickly. If you want things to be more dramatic, let PCs discover that they have a long-term role that has yet to play out. Say two PCs become romantically involved. What happens if they learn that their (as yet unconceived) child is destined to release Rak Tulkhesh?
All of this ties to the idea that the Dragon-Fiend conflict is a long term cold war. It involves the most epic threats to the world… but it’s something that can’t be rushed by demon or dragon, and a struggle that plays out over the course of decades and centuries.
The Fraying of Bonds
RELEASING an Overlord requires the completion of a Prophetic Path. However, there’s a range of options between absolute release and total imprisonment, and this is where Overlords like Rak Tulkhesh and Bel Shalor live.
When the Overlords were first bound, they were in absolute torpor, unaware of their surroundings and influencing the world only incidentally. But each Overlord embodies an idea. when people within a certain vicinity of the Overlord’s prison embody that idea, it strengthens the Overlord. As the Overlord gains strength, it becomes more aware and more able to actively influence events. If this goes far enough, you can even posit a partial release — the Overlord might not be able to exercise its full power, or to venture far from its prison, but it could manifest a physical form and cover a larger radius with its effect. This is what happened with Bel Shalor, who obtained a partial release and exerted influence over Thrane for a year before being rebound by the sacrifice of Tira Miron in what is now Flamekeep. You could even present a story where partially releasing an Overlord and rebinding it is desirable, because its bonds have frayed severely and rebinding it is the only way to strengthen them.
While Bel Shalor remains bound an unable to physically manifest, he has a stronger connection to the Silver Flame and is able to tempt anyone who heres the Voice of the Flame. He doesn’t have actual coercive power (…yet…) but if people fall prey to temptation, that gives him strength and frays his bonds. Likewise, it’s been suggested that Rak Tulkhesh has vessels spread across Khorvaire and that his agents are actively aggession and hatred to strengthen their master. And of course, you could decide that this kind of fraying is all that is required to achieve a partial release, or that this is tied to the Prophetic condition of the bonds. If Rak Tulkhesh requires a specific sort of war to be released, the stronger his influence, the more chance he can help to trigger that war.
Beyond this: what about those vessels? I’ve already said that shattering a vessel doesn’t release the Overlord… it just spreads their influence. So… is that a GOOD thing? Is there any negative to the Overlord? Yes, certainly. The smaller the vessel, the more restricted its influence is in range and effect. An overlord with a singular prison might be bound to a Khyber shard the size of a small whale. This might have a powerful effect across a radius of miles and absolutely overwhelm weak-minded people in its immediate vicinity. By contrast, a shard of Rak Tulkhesh embedded in the hilt of a sword might empower and influence its wielder, and might have a minor effect in their vicinity (encouraging aggression in a 120 radius, say), but it’s not the same. On the other hand, it lets the Rage of War draw strength from a wider area. So breaking up a vessel sacrifices concentrated power for a wider net. If an an Overlord is truly released, its essence will be drawn from all its shards. So it’s not a requirement for its agents to reassemble a shattered prison; if it was, ALL prisons would have been shattered and scattered.
Other Ways To Use This
Obviously the endgame of plots involving the Lords of Dust can generally involve an Overlord. But what else can you do with the Lords of Dust or Overlords that doesn’t involve that epic conflict? Here’s a few points.
Trouble with Vessels. The vessels of the Overlords take many forms. Khyber crystals are common… and if those crystals are shattered, every shard has a link to the Overlord. So you could have a static, immovable prison that influences the region around it. You could have a shard of an Overlord’s vessel embedded into an object — creating a powerful (and potentially useful) item, but one that spreads the Overlord’s influence. A sword bearing a shard of Rak Tulkhesh would surely be powerful in battle… but it might cause conflict to break out in its vicinity, or drive the bearer into a rage. With either static or mobile vessels, you might also say that the influence is amplified under certain circumstances. The effects of Katashka’s vessel might be amplified when Mabar is coterminous, and the sword of Rak Tulkhesh could grow stronger with every battle in which it is used. Consider the ideas of “The Fraying of Bonds”, above.
A Piece of a Puzzle. Releasing an Overlord is a long term project. PCs could be caught up in an early stage action — rakshasas or their agents seeking to steal an artifact, assassinate someone, manipulate someone. Success or failure won’t obviously alter the fate of the world, because it’s so far down the road… but it gives an immediate action to deal with.
Ancient Feuds. PCs could be caught up in conflict between servants of different Overlords, or even manipulated by one fiend into fighting another.
Spreading Influence. When Lords of Dust aren’t specifically working to release their masters, they may seek to strengthen the Overlord by encouraging the behavior tied to their sphere. Mordakhesh, the speaker of the Rage of War, encourages conflict across Khorvaire. Hektula might (in disguise) spread arcane knowledge — whether aiding an enemy cult or mentoring a player character — because the discovery of arcane secrets forges a bond with Sul Khatesh. Again, this doesn’t enable the RELEASE of the Overlord, but it increases their awareness and ability to affect the world from within their prison.
Active Agents. Setting the Lords of Dust aside, you can have mortals working directly with the Overlords. A barbarian berserker’s rage could come from a bond to Rak Tulkhesh; the fiend grants them great power, but will they some day demand a price? Likewise, Overlords are great patrons for warlocks, and you can find an Overlord for almost any pact. It could be that the Overlord begins with requests that seem harmless — for example, asking the warlock to battle the agents of other Overlords, so hey, they’re just fighting bad guys, right? Or perhaps the warlock believes that THEIR Overlord is actually just misunderstood; Sul Khatesh just wants to share knowledge the Silver Flame seeks to keep from humanity! You can certainly have a story where the longer it goes, the more questionable the requests get… or you could decide that while the Overlord is EVIL, their power can be used to achieve good things. The main thing here is to make sure the player is on board with the direction you’re going in.
Another option is to say that the power of the PC is drawn from the Overlord, meaning that the PC is actively weakening the Overlord by using that power — so the warlock isn’t doing the bidding of the Overlord, they are actually working against them and using their own power to do it. This is back to the Fraying of Bonds. Such a warlock isn’t significantly weakening the full immortal power of the Overlord, they are simply limiting its ability to perceive and influence the world.
Agents of Darkness
A quick point, but an important one. It may be that you just don’t like rakshasa. That’s fine. Rakshasa are the most common native fiends, and they are well suited to subtle manipulation. But as noted in this article, any sort of fiend can serve an Overlord. And as noted above, you can likewise have mortal agents who are in some way empowered by an Overlord — with or without any sort of connection to the Lords of Dust. Some Overlords are called out as NOT associating with rakshasa; Tiamat and Dral Khatuur are two such fiends.
Good vs Evil
One question has come up a few times, essentially: why are the forces of evil stronger than the forces of good? Why aren’t there benevolent equivalents of the Overlords? If the rakshasa can’t be killed, how come the Couatl were sacrificed?
There’s two basic answers to this — one ground in mythology, and one based on game design.
Mythologically, consider the most basic lesson of the Progenitors. Khyber (immortal evil) treacherously defeated Siberys (immortal good). Eberron (mortal life) contains Khyber and holds it at bay. Siberys is dead, but his gifts — magic — empower the children of Eberron to fight the children of Khyber. The Silver Flame reflects this same metaphor: The couatl sacrificed themselves to create the Silver Flame, and now they can’t fight evil themselves — but through the Silver Flame empowers mortals to fight evil. Eberron is founded on the principle that evil used treachery to gain a strong position, but that mortals can triumph over it.
From a game design standpoint, one of the fundamental principles of Eberron is that it is a world in need of heroes. If everything is in balance — if the forces of good were as strong or stronger than the forces of evil — then heroes wouldn’t be as vital. If a rashasa is doing something evil, a couatl isn’t going to just show up and smite it, because that doesn’t involve YOU. Instead, the Voice of the Flame will give you a vision of the threat and the spirit of a couatl will empower you through divine channeling… but YOU are still the critical component.
So the short form is that we WANTED evil to be stronger than good, because that’s why the world needs YOU. There’s no all-powerful force of good that can solve the problem without you. With that said, the couatl weren’t destroyed. They sacrificed their existence as individuals in order to create a gestalt force of immortal energy with the power to bind ALL THE OVERLORDS. It’s simply that they can’t exercise that power on their own; they need mortals to be their champions. But that force for good is there. Anything that the Overlords can do can be undone by mortal heroes. There’s always hope; it’s just that there’s never an ABSOLUTE victory. There will always be threats for the heroes of the next generation to deal with.
Here’s a few questions that touch on this subject. If you have questions, ask in the comments!
Do the big bads of other settings have a place in eberron? Tiamat, jubilex, demogorgon…
Certainly. If the entity in question has godlike power, the logical approach is to recast it as an Overlord, and this is exactly what was done with Tiamat; see Dragons of Eberron for more information. If the entity is powerful but not THAT powerful — such as Demogorgon — there’s a few options. One is to place them in one of the outer planes, if there’s a good match. Another is to make them lieutenants of an Overlord, because remember, it’s not ALL about rakshasa. Orcus could be the prakutu of Katashka, if that fit your vision of him. The third option is what I suggested for Demogorgon when I converted the Savage Tide adventure path: to make the demon prince ruler of a realm within Khyber itself. As I talk about in this post, my vision is that Khyber is filled with demiplanes, which larger fill the role of layers of the Abyss. So Demogorgon could rule a realm within Khyber. Throughout most of history, he has simply dwelled within his realm — perhaps held in check by the Ghaash’kala or other agents of the Silver Flame. Now something has changed and he is reaching out to affect the mortal world.
Are there any Overlords imprisoned on Sarlona? Any ancient wielders of the Silver Flame (the human equivalent of the Ghaashkala?) Or do the Inspired maintain the barriers themselves?
Yes, there are Overlords in Sarlona. Secrets of Sarlona says “Scholars sifting the legends of the Age of Fiends believe that three rakshasa rajahs are bound in Sarlona—one within the heart of Korrandar in Adar, one beneath the yuan-ti ruins of Syrkarn, and a third in the Krertok Peninsula of the Tundra.” The ancient human kingdom of Khalesh is presented as having had a bond to the Silver Flame and the Shulassakar; Khalesh fell during the Sundering, but a secret order of adepts might survive. But the Adarans act to contain the fiend in Korrandar, and the Inspired have an elite order known as The Edgewalkers who are trained to deal with this sort of thing.
Are denizens of other planes aware of the Overlords? What effect might a freed Overlord’s influence have on manifest zones, can effects of its dominion bleed through to other planes?
This answer goes both ways. Every plane has powerful entities that could match an Overlord. But these spirits are bound to their planes just as the Overlords are bound to Eberron. A manifest zone would be a beachhead that could give such a bring influence in another plane, but by default, the native powers of the plane will trump interlopers. On Eberron, Tul Oreshka has more power than il-Lashtavar; if Tul Oreshka extended herself into Dal Quor, the Dreaming Dark would put her in her place.
But that’s the default, and as always, the real question here is “What’s the story you want to tell?”
What could be some other ways that the Bleak Council can use the Draconic Prophecy against the Dragons (and all of Eberron as well) ?
The Draconic Prophecy is a series of complex If-Then statements. If (X) happens, (Y) will happen. It can predict the release of an Overlord, the death of an individual, a natural disaster, the rise of a cult, or anything else. If X happens, a massive volcano will detonate in the heart of Argonnessen. If X happens, manifest zones to Syrania will be cut off and the towers of Sharn will collapse. If X happens, an avatar of Tiamat will cause a civil war among the dragons. Generally these are all things that could happen. It’s not that doing the thing suddenly makes a volcano appear in Argonnessen; there’s a dormant volcano already there, and it COULD suddenly become active, but if this path is enacted it WILL happen. You are taking a possible path of the future and locking it in.
Is there any motives other then breaking free that a overlord could have? More concretely, how could a non-evil warlock constructively work with a patron that was revealed to be a overlord (at first seemed to be a elven tairndal ancestor)?
This is covered by my point above. They could be interested in something that will help them break free… in two centuries. Is the PC warlock concerned about helping start a path that won’t be resolved for generations? The could be interested in any sort of action that is logically within their sphere, because this theoretically strengthens them. Or for the simple answer, they could want the PC to fight the agents of other Overlords, enacting some old grudge.
Can you tell us more about Sakinnirot, the Scar that Abides? Any advice on how you can show Sakinnirot’s influence in and around Stormreach?
According to page 157 of City of Stormreach, the Scar That Abides is “patron to all those who plot bloody revenge, reveling in the gratification of a grudge satisfied. Its following is the cult of an injury savored, and wounds of both a physical and spiritual nature are left to fester in its name.” That same page calls out that Sakinnirot enjoys conflict between the Dragonmarked Houses, especially if that conflict ends in violence or ruin. Sakinnirot’s domains are Passion and Destruction.
Sakinnirot is clearly a cousin to Eldrantulku and Bel Shalor, who also specialize in sowing discord. But each are still distinct. Bel Shalor focuses on drawing good people to evil action. Eldrantulku specializes in pure strife and chaos. Sakinnirot is about lingering hate and resentment that builds to destruction… the infection that remains hidden until it is far too late to be cured. So the first and simplest way to reflect Sakinnirot’s influence is an increase in violent vendettas and feuds. This begins with people taking bitter offense at any possible slight, and nursing that hatred until it bursts into a violent flame. This can start small — an increase in murders, an innkeeper poisoning customers because they don’t appreciate her hard work — but it could build to dramatic tensions that threaten the city. Consider a Romeo & Juliet scenario where members of two Dragonmarked houses fall in love, resulting in the death both of the lovers and a few other members of the houses. This leads to further retaliatory measures and murders, which escalates to open, violent conflict between members of those houses, along with demands on other local houses and powers to take sides. It seems ridiculous to throw the city into chaos over such a thing — yet neither side will relinquish their burning hatred for the other. This is one example, but you could likewise see bitter rivalries between the Coin Lords and their followers, or open violence between followers of different religions. We’re back to the convergence of Passion and Destruction… the city becoming a haven for hate in all its forms, passion that leads to destruction.
Should Sakinnirot’s power grow, you could also play up the physical aspect of lingering wounds that won’t heal. Healing magics could begin to falter, initially healing for only half the usual amount… and if the effect continues, possibly failing altogether.
If one was to try to stat out The Scar that Abides, what would you theme his abilities around?
Follow up on the ideas suggested above. Wounds that won’t heal. The ability to amplify existing tensions… if I can identify a grievance between two people, I can use a suggestion effect to amplify this and force them to turn on one another. You can also play up the idea of bloody revenge, saying that Sakinnirot can return any injury done to him with even greater effect. And, of course, you can use the abilities of the Passion and Destruction domains as inspiration. Beyond that, like any Overlord, he’s a being of immense raw power.
In Eberron what is the difference between a Devil, Demon, and Yugoloth?
In many settings these beings are affiliated with a particular plane. In Eberron these classifications are much like “Elf” or “Dwarf” — they inform you about the basic nature of the fiend, but not its CULTURE… which is defined by its plane of origin. As a general rule, demons embody concepts of chaos and evil; devils concepts of law and evil; and yugoloths, just evil. This is discussed further in this post — in short, a devil from Shavarath is above the organized and evil implementation of WAR, while one from Fernia is about FIRE, and one from Khyber might just be about corruption and strife. In Shavarath, you have an endless bitter struggle between devils, demons, archons and more — but the devils of Shavarath don’t care about the demons of Fernia.
How would you Imagine an Eberron Campaign themed around thwarting the LOD to play out, how would you start it off and what direction/ story elements would you introduce to make for an exciting long term campaign?
Laying out an entire campaign arc is the sort of thing I’d want to devote an entire article to. There’s no one simple option. Are you focusing on pulp or noir? Are your players big damn heroes? Are they researchers who dig too deeply? This ties to the fact that the choice of Overlord would have an ENORMOUS effect on the flavor of the campaign. If I choose Rak Tulkhesh as my big bad, then I might have the players be former soldiers and have the campaign focus on their dealing with the scars of the Last War and the tensions that are driving towards a second war. Whereas if my Overlord is Sul Khatesh I’d want a strongly arcane part dealing with new arcane revelations. And if the Overlord is Katashka, I might do something more straightforward like the Age of Worms or a zombie apocalypse. I don’t have time to go into all these sort of options in depth. But the point is to start by choosing your Overlord and to consider: What are the actions that help her followers fray her bonds? What are the visible effects of her greater influence and awareness? What is the nature of her vessel? If it’s singular, where is it? If it’s split, how might the players encounter a fragment of it? If she could be released, what are the Prophetic conditions of her release?
That last one is a big deal, because it’s something that the players should be driven towards and it’s something they would have to slowly piece together… even if they can’t stop it, the slow revelation of it would be an important part of the campaign. You’d never want to say “Surprise! You released an Overlord!” You’d want to say “Remember how that mysterious old man helped you get the Blade of Sorrows? How you all thought that was a little weird? Now you know why.”
So: I’d want to figure out the Overlord. I’d want to decide how their growing influence would be reflected in the campaign. I’d want to come up with the Prophetic seal and figure out how meeting that condition would be spread across the campaign. I’d want to come up with a “seasonal arc” that the characters are going to deal with at low levels — the Overlord and their Prakhutu may be the big bads, but what’s a compelling storyline — that may or may not have any connection — to start things off? So maybe the early bad guy is going to be ann Aurum greedhead who’s collecting Khyber shards. Eventually it will become an issue that’s he’s stupidly been bringing together shards tied to a particular Overlord. But initially he’s just a low-level bad guy who might start off hiring us to get shards, and who we can then clash with once we discover he’s bad, and that gets us a little ways and a little power before we start to realize there are greater powers at work.
That’s as much as I have time for now, but hopefully you get the idea.
I feel that there are two kind of Overlords: the ones that involve “moral corruption” and the ones that involve physical threats like killing cold. Do you agree that the first one are more interesting for a campaign? How is an Overlord of cold campaign different from one involving the plain of cold?
There’s a number of different things to unpack here. First: I agree that the more subtle Overlords are generally more interesting for a campaign… but not every Overlord has to be part of a campaign. Dral Khatuur was created for use with a backdrop in the Frostfell, and was intended to justify the powerful magic and supernatural threats that explorers encountered in that place. She wasn’t intended to drive a campaign; she was intended to drive a short, horrific story arc. Thus it helps for the threat she poses to BE more concrete and obvious, because the players don’t have time to be drawn into a larger and more complex storyline. Tied to this, Dral Khatuur is called out as not having a faction among the Lords of Dust. She’s an Overlord, but she serves a different sort of story purpose. Her story included the possibility that if freed, she would reach out to strike Khorvaire or other lands, but that wasn’t the primary context in which she was presented. This same principle holds true of other Overlords. Tul Oreshka, the Voice in the Darkness, is an Overlord I’d be more likely to use as part of a short arc dealing with madness and revelation than as the big bad of an entire campaign. Katashka the Gatekeeper could be the main arc of an entire campaign, but I’d make that campaign about the dead rising to prey on the living, a blend of zombie apocalypse and ghost-story horror… and it would again be far more obvious and physically dangerous than the subtle machinations of Bel Shalor. And yet, that could be a tremendously compelling campaign if the players were in the mood for it.
How is an overlord of cold different from an elemental? And if all it wants is freezing and killing, how does he shows his immense intelligence?
Dral Khatuur isn’t an embodiment of the natural concept of cold. She embodies mortal fear of the cold and the darkness. She is the winter that steals the sun, the terror you feel when you hear the icy wind howling in the night. She can trap the spirits of those she kills; if that icy wind sounds like screaming, it may be the tortured cries of Dral Khatuur’s victims. She can even craft simulacrums of her victims out of frost, and send them back to prey on their friends… so if a comrade of yours disappears for a time in the icy dark and then returns, are you sure that it’s still your friend? In short it’s the same as a lycanthrope; it resembles a natural phenomenon, but it is embodying mortal fears as opposed to an actual, natural concept. This comes back to the fact that Dral Khatuur was designed to drive a suspense/horror story arc as opposed to a long term campaign.
How much is the undying court aware of the Overlords? What do the various groups in Eberron know about this story? I assume the general populace of Khorvaire knows often warped mythology, but do the sages of Arxanix know what rests underneath their island-towers? Does the Library of Korranberg have records on the Age of Demons? What do Phiarlan, Thuranni, and to a lesser extent, Medani know about this? What has the Silver Flame pieced together? Does Dariznu, for instance, know that a shard of Rak Tulkhesh’s essence lies below Thaliost? Do the Carrion Tribes know what exactly they worship?
I’ve lumped these all together, because it all ties together. The basic concept of the Overlords is common knowledge. Followers of the Sovereign Host assert that the Sovereigns defeated mighty demons in the dawn of the world; the Church of the Silver Flame is founded on protecting the world from fiends. So the GENERAL story is common knowledge: there were mighty demons, they were defeated and bound, and there are still lesser fiends out in the world seeking to prey on innocents and free their masters.
Now: the specific names and attributes of those fiends? Where they are bound? Much more obscure. It’s not simply that it’s unknown; it’s that accurate information is buried in massive amounts of inaccurate myths and outright lies. Aside from knowledge just being clouded by time, consider that throughout human history you’ve had agents of the Lords of Dust intentionally spreading misinformation. If Korranberg had a tome that was truly a threat to the Lords of Dust, they’d either have it destroyed or discredited. So this is the point of making a skill check. Say you set the difficulty of a check at 25. That doesn’t mean that if you get a 24 you know NOTHING — it means that you know an assortment of conflicting stories, or slightly inaccurate information.
The basic point here: in my Eberron, the cold war between the dragons and the Lords of Dust is the ultimate high level story. The Dreaming Dark and the Daelkyr have been causing trouble for a few thousand years; the Lords of Dust have been here since the dawn of time. They have literally been pulling the strings of history. The only reason they don’t rule the world is because that would be a boring waste of time. In MY Eberron, this is why I’m going to usually have some OTHER villain in the spotlight. You THINK the bad guy is the Aurum, or the Emerald Claw, or even the Dreaming Dark. It’s only as you work through these battles that you may discover that all of your previous actions — heroic though they were — were all leading down a particular path of the Prophecy.
But beyond all of that, in my Eberron it’s important to me to have the players at the heart of things. Does Dariznu know about Rak Tulkhesh’s influence in Thaliost? Well in MY campaign, either he doesn’t and the players may be able to help things by discovering this… or he knows about it and if someone keeping it secret and using it for his own ends, and the PCs may discover THAT. Same goes for Arcanix and Sul Khatesh. Surely it’s not a coincidence that Arcanix was moved to a location within the influence of the Keeper of Secrets. The question is if it was arranged by a human who hopes to gain arcane knowledge… or if one or more of the masters of Arcanix are agents of Ashtakala. So SOMEONE knows, sure… but I’d make it something the PCs need to discover, not anything like common knowledge.
With that said, I might have SOME locations that have been identified by the Church of the Silver Flame over the years. It’s just back to the core question: will it make a better STORY for the knowledge to be known, or is it more interesting for the players to uncover a secret.
As for the Undying Court, they surely know OF the Overlords. But their power — and interest — is limited beyond Aerenal. I’m sure they are very focused on protecting Aerenal from the Lords of Dust — just as they protect it from Argonnessen. But in my Eberron they aren’t actively out in the world fighting the Lords of Dust… because again, that’s the job of the PCs.
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I’ve got a lot of articles I’d like to write when time permits, but at the moment it’s not permitting. So today I wanted to revisit a previous topic: the Lords of Dust and their masters, the Overlords of the First Age. I’m incorporating a few new questions from the mailbag, and post your questions in the comments below. I also want to give another shout-out to Maze Arcana, an Eberron livestream campaign put together by Ruty Rutenberg and Satine Phoenix, the mastermind behind the ChariD20 events I’ve done for the past few years. Check it out! And now, on to the Overlords. As always, these answers are just my opinions and may contradict canon sources… though to the best of my knowledge, I’ve written most of the canon sources on the Lords of Dust!
There are a number of decent sources of information on the Lords of Dust. I recommend the Eberron Campaign Guide (4E) and Dragon 337. With that said, let me try to clarify some of the common points of confusion right away.
The Lords of Dust is an alliance of fiends—mostly rakshasa, as they are the most common native fiends of Eberron—who serve the interests of the fiendish Overlords of the Age of Demons. There were originally approximately thirty of these Overlords. Their power was equivalent of that of gods in most other settings. Most exerted influence over a region akin to a large modern nation, but some had more subtle influence reaching across the entire world. Overlords are part of the very fabric of reality, and they cannot be destroyed any more that you can destroy death or treachery. They can only be bound, and that only with the guidance of the Prophecy. The only known force capable of binding them is the Silver Flame, which was created by the sacrifice of the Couatl host, a sacrifice that created an immortal force of light to contain the immortal force of darkness.
The Overlords of the Age of Demons are the most powerful entities that exist in the setting. An individual Overlord is equivalent in power to il-Lashtavar (the force behind the Dreaming Dark) or the entire Undying Court. A question worth asking is, if they are so incredibly powerful and had hordes of demons on top of it, how did the war of the Age of Demons last so long? It lasted for centuries… why didn’t the Overlords just win?
There’s a few answers. The first is that it wasn’t a “war” in the sense we think of it. Some of the Overlords—like Rak Tulkhesh and Katashka—fielded armies that could be fought in a traditional battle. Some sought to directly control and enslave dragons, titans, and other creatures. But with many of them, the “war” was simply existence. They are immortal. Their fiendish servants are immortal. They don’t need to conquer you. They just do what they do. A battle against Tul Oreshka is a battle against madness; having more soldiers doesn’t help you win a fight. The Voice in the Darkness “wins” when you succumb to madness; she doesn’t need to occupy your city if she occupies your mind.
Got that? Now add to this the fact that for the most part, the Overlords were neither friends nor allies. They are not human in any sense of the word: they are primal entities who shape reality by virtue of existing. Far from being friends, many of them actually fought one another; when you’re an incarnation of strife or discord, that’s kind of what you do. One of the main reasons they were finally defeated is because their opponents were able to target them individually or use their existing rivalries against them. And bear in mind that absolute immortality and nigh-omnipotence breeds a lot of overconfidence.
After they were bound, their surviving servants eventually recovered and began laying plans to free their masters. Eventually this brought them in conflict with one another. The Lords of Dust aren’t a monolithic force; they are more like the United Nations, with each member of the Council of Ashtakala representing the interests of a different Overlord. They don’t all share resources, and three different Lords of Dust may all have personal agents in the same court. The purpose of the Council is at best to exchange favors and at worst to try to keep the Lords from interfering with one another’s plans accidentally (key word: accidentally. Intentional interference happens). The Wyrmbreaker calls the council together and explains that he’s going to be doing something that involves a group of heroes and will probably kill the Queen of Aundair. The Shadowsword explains that he has plans involving Aurala, but based on his insights into the Prophecy, perhaps Durastoran could achieve the same results with the death of Kaius III—and he’d be happy to lend some agents to that cause. Perhaps the Wyrmbreaker agrees, perhaps he doesn’t, perhaps he agrees but still plans to see to it that Aurala dies.
The next thing is to understand what it takes to release an Overlord. It’s nothing so simple as breaking a seal or melting a ring. The conditions for the release of an Overlord are different for each one, and involve a long-term manipulation of the Prophecy. In the case of the Aurala death above, we’re not just talking about Aurala’s death; it would be trivial for one of the Lords of Dust to make that happen. Instead, it’s that a particular hero (the son of a particular person, herself the daughter of a particular person, born in particular circumstances) must kill a beloved ruler on a particular day with a particular weapon, and must do so believing they are serving a greater good but in fact be wrong. So the Lord of Dust not only can’t kill the ruler, they actually have to make sure that the person who does the killing doesn’t know why they are doing it. Some of the Overlords’ release conditions have nothing to do with one another; others are actually overlapping or contradictory, so actions cannot be taken to free one without directly screwing with another. This can result in Lords of Dust helping heroes. The problem is, if a Lord of Dust is helping you, you can be certain it’s somehow benefiting them.
If an Overlord is released, it generally won’t return at full power. It will take time for its power to grow. Bel Shalor was released, and wreaked havoc in Thrane for almost a year before he was finally bound again by the sacrifice of Tira Miron. It wasn’t the end of the world; it was simply a year of utter terror for the people of Thrane. Of course it’s possible that Bel Shalor intended this all along as a way of infecting the Silver Flame, and thus his release wasn’t as devastating as it could be. But generally, the immediate release of an Overlord will affect an area of a few miles, spreading out until it encompasses a nation or more. The impact will also greatly depend on WHICH Overlord is released. An incarnation of madness or war will cause immediate violence or insanity. An elemental force like Dral Khatuur would cause a new ice age. But an incarnation of tyranny or betrayal may have a very subtle effect that takes years to really be noticed. It’s entirely possible that the Mourning was caused by the release of an Overlord, and that there are continuing effects that people simply haven’t identified. Essentially, the effect of an Overlord’s release is up to the DM. It could have instantly apocalyptic effects, or it could be a slow cancer that eats away at the region over time.
Tied to this, I once had a PC warlock in my campaign who was actually a willing agent of an Overlord. The idea behind his character was that it was inevitable that an overlord would eventually be released… but his overlord would at least keep society intact in a form that people could live in, as opposed to dissolving it into chaos, war, or ice. Life in the domain of his overlord might be endless tyranny and oppression and tears of blood, but it’s far better than what you’d get from Tul Oreshka or Rak Tulkhesh. He didn’t LIKE the future he believed was coming, but he believed that ONE of them had to get out eventually, and his was the best option.
So bearing all that in mind…
Is there a list of all the rajahs already published somewhere? With the rajahs theme, location and where to find the full writeup?
I’ve never done it. However, Lord Gore at the WotC forums put together this list, which may be the most comprehensive around; I’ve updated it with Overlords mentioned since it was written.
- Bel Shalor, the Shadow in the Flame (Tamor Hills, Khorvaire) ECG page 29
- Dral Khatuur, the Heart of Winter (Frostfell) female overlord Druid 25/Sorcerer 15/Frost MageFb 10 Death, ColdFb, WinterFb unpublished
- Eldrantulku the Oathbreaker (unknown) NE male overlord rogue 15/sorcerer 15/mindbenderCAr 10 CorruptionBoVD, Trickery Dragon 337 pages 63, 69-70
- Katashka the Gatekeeper (Lair of the Keeper, Khorvaire) LE male overlord cleric 8/wizard 8/true necromancerLM 14 Deathbound, UndeathECS DoE page 36, Dragon 337 page 70, ECG page 30
- Rak Tulkhesh, the Rage of War (Khorvaire) NE male overlord fighter 15/blackguard 10/cleric 15 Destruction, War; Dragon 337 pages 65, 70; ECG page 31; Eye on Eberron, Dragon 314
- Tul Oreshka, the Truth in the Darkness (unknown) CE female overlord bard 20/wizard 10/loremaster 10 Madness, ShadowECS Dragon 337 pages 64, 70
- Masvirik the Cold Sun (Haka’Torvhak, Q’Barra); Dungeon 185 (DDI)
- Sul Khatesh the Keeper of Secrets (Arcanix, Khorvaire) LE female overlord wizard 36/archmage 4 Knowledge, Magic CoS 89, Dragon 337 pages 60, 68; ECG pg 31
- Sakinnirot the Scar that Abides (Stormreach, Xen’drik) CoS page 156
- Tiamat, the Daughter of Khyber (Pit of Five Sorrows, Argonnessen) DoE page 9
- Shudra the Fleshrender (Mel-Aqat, Xen’drik) PGtE page 155, TFoW page 127
- Ran Iishiv the Unmaker (Korrandar, Sarlona) SoS page 12
- Unnamed (Krertok Peninsula, Sarlona) SoS page 12
- Unnamed (Sustrai Mor, Sarlona) SoS page 91
- Unnamed (Tempest’s Isle, Lhazaar Principalities) PGtE page 99 possibly a rajah
- Yad-Raghesh (The Vale of the Fallen Rajah, Argonnessen) colossal two-headed overlord DoE page 50 “dead”
- The Spinner of Shadows (Xen’drik), DDO
I believe that Sul Khatesh is the only one that’s received a complete 3.5 writeup, in Dragon 337. I’ll also note that I prefer the term Overlord to rajah. “Rajah” tends to get subsumed into “rakshasa rajah”—and while the Overlords rule the rakshasa, they are not themselves rakshasa.
For you, how many overlords do exist? There is 17 listed, that’s all? There is a couple more? 17 more? A hundred more?
According to the Eberron Campaign Guide (page 30), “approximately thirty fiendish overlords are bound in Khyber.”
How big is the area of influence of an overlord?
Thirty overlords once held dominion over all of Eberron. A fully empowered overlord can easily hold dominion over an entire nation. However, it will take time for a released overlord to regain its full power. Its immediate dominion would cover a few miles, and would then quickly grow until it covered an entire nation or more.
If Katashka is made free, how long until the effects(pests, deaths, undead hordes) are sensed in the Talenta Plains? And Q’barra? Or Xen’drik/Sarlona?
That’s entirely up to you. You could decide that Katashka’s influence spreads quickly and that within days wights are crawling out of cemeteries across the world. Or you could decide that his power is growing slowly and won’t expand exponentially until Mabar’s next coterminous phase.
What if more than one overlord is released. Would they ally or make war on one another?
It entirely depends on what overlords they are. The Voice in the Darkness doesn’t do alliances. The Oathbreaker will, but there’s no question that any alliance with him will end in betrayal. And in some cases there’s no real basis for alliance—Rak Tulkhesh wants endless war, while Dral Khatuur simply wants to freeze everything in her reach. Some might fight, but such a feud might be even worse for mortals in the disputed territory than an alliance.
Are the overlords friendly to each other enough to release some or all of the other still bound ones? If Bel Shalor breaks his bonds, he will stride to Aundair and try to release Sul Khatesh, or he will just make sure she never gets free?
First, Bel Shalor can’t stride to Aundair and release Sul Khatesh. For Sul Khatesh to be released, the conditions of her Prophecy must be met. It doesn’t matter how much raw power Bel Shalor brings to bear; releasing an overlord is delicate work. Now, would he TRY to? Possibly. Bel Shalor in particular is a devious force, and has clearly learned a thing or two from his imprisonment. He might well see the value in releasing as many of the other overlords as possible, where Tul Oreshka just wouldn’t bother. On the other hand, there are certainly rivalries and some overlords might work against one another. It’s been noted that Dral Khatuur has no love for any of the others, and as a result she doesn’t have representatives on the Council of Ashtakala.
How common is the knowledge about how their prison works or where each of of then is between the overlords? Does every overlord know how to break free? Or how to break other free?
Extremely uncommon, no, and no. The secrets are all held in the Prophecy. It likely took thousands of years of study before any rakshasa figured out the secrets of releasing their master, and there may well be ones whose release conditions have never been identified. One thing to bear in mind is that the Prophecy is a living thing that constantly shifts as the future becomes the present. So Rak Tulkhesh can be released if X, Y, and Z happen. If you remove Z from the equation—by destroying the person who was supposed to have a child or the sword that child was supposed to use—the universe will simply recalculate and find a new way to solve for Z; and all the scholars who knew the original answer will have to keep studying until they figure it out. This is what the Chamber does: seek to identify paths that will release Overlords and eliminate them, while the Lords of Dust find paths that will release them. It’s a never ending conflict, even though it rarely comes to a demon and a dragon fighting one another.
What should the response of the Argonessen dragons be if an overlord is released?
Rebinding an overlord is just as difficult as releasing one, and in the same way, brute force is no answer. Bel Shalor wreaked havoc for a year in Thrane before Tira defeated him. Do you think Argonnessen just didn’t know or care? They knew; they simply had no path to rebind him, so they stayed far away. They may well have helped Tira without her knowing it. Just as it doesn’t help Sul Khatesh to have a rakshasa kill Queen Aurala, it doesn’t help Argonnessen if an army of dragons defeats Bel Shalor; he’d just reform tomorrow. So Argonnessen would get to work trying to find an answer to the problem, and trying to isolate themselves from the impact of the release. But brute force—even all the magic of Argonnessen—is no answer to the release of an overlord.
Of course it’s possible they would take action to contain the impact of a release. If the Rage of War gets out and transformed the Five Nations into a raving army of bloodthirty reavers, the dragons might sink their boats before they can reach Argonnessen. But this won’t stop Rak Tulkhesh.
And what about Aerenal? Are they safe against one overlord? Two? How long could take to the free overlord to crack the island defenses?
The Undying Court is essentially an artificial overlord. As such, it would be able to stave off the hostile influence of another overlord for a time, but as noted above, it would also depend on the form that influence takes. Tul Oreshka drives mortals mad. Rak Tulkhesh drives them to war. Aerenal could keep Rak Tulkhesh from infecting the elves, but they can’t stop him from flinging hordes of reavers at the island. And if you had an alliance of overlords, who knows?
Realizing that the bonds of the Daelkyr have to be maintained, and with the chaos brought by one or more released overlords, is safe to assume that sooner or later they would falter, and the mad gods would spill in Eberron again. How could they interact with the acting overlord(s)?
Daelkyr are small potatoes next to overlords. Bear in mind that the daelkyr aren’t even the toughest things in Xoriat; they’re just the toughest things that have any interest in other planes. Beyond that it depends on the overlord in question. The Voice in the Darkness might welcome the daelkyr. Rak Tulkhesh doesn’t care who’s fighting as long as someone is. An overlord who actually wants to exert dominion over mortals and have some semblance of civilization—an incarnation of Tyranny, for example—would need to deal with the daelkyr to keep them from wrecking that. But many overlords might just incorporate the daelkyr into their plans.
And Sarlona? What would be the Dreaming Dark response to an age of demons again?
Pretty much any free Overlord will mess things up for the Dreaming Dark. However, the Dreaming Dark has never been noted as having expert knowledge of the Prophecy, which means a) they don’t have lots of warning about it and b) they don’t really know what to do to deal with it. And remember, fiends don’t dream. Again, the Dreaming Dark was active when Bel Shalor spent a year free in Thrane. Most likely they would keep their distance while studying the situation and trying not to panic about it. They might provide aid to whoever proves to have a chance to bind it. But a Riedran army won’t help. Though they may not know that—so if you WANT them to, you could have them panic and do something dramatic, simply so it can fail awesomely. Heck, a confrontation between the Dreaming Dark and an overlord might be just what it takes to push Dal Quor into the next age… which could be the best thing that could possibly happen, if the next age of Dal Quor is one of light.
You mentioned that “An individual Overlord is equivalent in power to il-Lashtavar (the force behind the Dreaming Dark) or the entire Undying Court”, but then said that il-Lashtavar would lose against an overlord. Isn’t that a contradiction? Do the Quori stand no chance?
The power of il-Lashtavar isn’t directly relevant because it can’t manifest on Eberron. The specific phrase I used was “any free Overlord would mess things up for the Dreaming Dark.” Chaos is the enemy of the Dreaming Dark: they seek to enforce stagnant order and stability, and any free Overlord would shake that up. The power of the Dreaming Dark is spread over continents, and it’s not like they’d want to pull every active Inspired away from what they are doing to battle an Overlord… and even if they could defeat it, it would be reborn. So rather than fighting it directly, I would expect them to operate as they always do – by manipulating mortals to fight the battle for them.
If a Lord of Dust was killed, would the death be for good (akin to killing a demon in the Abyss) or would it reform somewhere?
In Eberron, immortal spirits cannot be destroyed. Unless they are bound, they will always reform. This is true of every immortal from rakshasa to devils to quori. Depending on the type of immortal, it may not retain its memories after death and reincarnation. This is true of quori, and it’s why the Dreaming Dark seeks to exterminate the Kalashtar quori – so they can be reintegrated and reborn as part of il-Lashtavar. With rakshasa, weaker ones generally lose memories, while strong ones (such as the Council of Ashtakala) will generally reform with memories intact. Now, there are ways to ensure that you destroy the memories, and ways to delay that reincarnation, and the key there is to know your Prophecy. Kill the Wyrmbreaker with normal steel on a Tuesday and he’ll be back by Thursday. But if the Son of Seven Sorrows kills him with a silver sword forged in the tears of the Keeper under the light of a new moon, he might be dead for a year and a day. Which is to say, a DM should always feel free to come up with interesting circumstances under which it is possible to effectively kill a fiend.
Are there angelic or good aligned counterparts to the overlords?
If you mean “Is there an incarnate force that’s called something like ‘The Cuteness of Kittens’?” No, there isn’t. If you mean “Is there any sort of native celestials on Eberron,” there WERE: the couatl. They were never as powerful as the Overlords, and were more on par with the rakshasa… and they sacrificed themselves to create the Silver Flame. On some level you could say that the Silver Flame is the good counterpart to the Overlords, which is why it can bind them; it’s simply less concrete and more abstract.
Why is this? Look to the progenitor myth. Khyber killed Siberys and was in turn imprisoned by Eberron. The Overlords are Khyber’s children, and like Khyber, are forces of evil that cannot be vanquished, only bound. Eberron doesn’t produce incarnate spirits like the Overlords: her children are mortal. So Eberron DID create a thing that embodies the cuteness of kittens: she created kittens. Meanwhile, Siberys would be the source of native celestials, and he did create some, like the couatl – but they were created from the blood of Siberys after his defeat, and thus lack the power of the victorious Khyber.
From a purely practical worldbuilding standpoint, there’s a simple reason for this. Eberron is designed to be a world that needs heroes. All the powerful forces of good are limited. Jaela Daran is a child whose power is limited beyond Flamekeep. Oalian doesn’t leave the Greenheart. When evil rises, the world needs you; there is no ultimate good force that can step in and solve the problem for you. The Silver Flame can empower you to solve the problem, but it can’t solve the problem for you.
Is there not even a single surviving Couatl?
We have a few places in canon where there are still couatl who were left behind to watch over things. And there are of course the Shulassakar, the feathered yuan-ti. Beyond this, the fact that the couatl are gone from the word doesn’t mean that they can’t play a role–it means that they need your help to do it. Tira Miron was aided by a couatl, but it didn’t help her in corporeal form; it empowered her and advised her spiritually. In D&D 3.5 this is called divine channeling; I don’t know if 4E ever did a version of it. Essentially, it’s a form of possession that doesn’t actually control the person being possessed, instead granting them additional powers. The premise is that this isn’t something just anyone can do; Tira’s faith and courage made it possible, and it’s what defines her as the Voice of the Silver Flame — her ability to hear the Flame when others did not. So the couatl CAN affect the world, but only through the medium of heroes. Which comes back to that basic premise of Eberron: there are no forces of good that can solve the problem alone. They need you.
On the other hand, the Silver Flame preaches that it will one day cleanse the world from all evil, and naturally that involves the lords of dust, which entails that they are not truly invincible.
This idea comes from Faiths of Eberron. I didn’t work on that book, and I don’t agree with the idea. To me, the key of the Silver Flame is that you don’t fight because you think the battle can be won: you fight because it is that battle which makes the world a better place. There’s no end condition: it is an eternal struggle. There will always be a need for champions. There will always be a need for courage and sacrifice. Evil can’t be permanently vanquished, because good and evil are choices people make. You can’t eliminate lying from the world, because every time someone speaks they have the choice to lie. You can teach that person the value of honesty. You can encourage them to tell the truth. But if you truly eliminated their capacity to lie, you have taken away their free will, and how is that a good thing? This is the lesson of the Overlords. They will always be there, just as the potential for war, death, and treachery will always be there. Through our actions, we hold them at bay, both physically and in the human heart. Through courage and virtue, we show people the proper path and inspire them to be better than they are, to ignore the tempting whispers of evil. And when a noble soul dies their spirit joins the Flame, where it continues to hold evil at bay and strengthen those who fight it.
In several tales heroes tend to be inspired by higher noble powers and realize that they are still fragile and prone to temptation (this is well reflected by Eberron’s handle of alignments), and just as the lords of dust embody several aspects of evil (war…), there ought to be embodiments of goodness.
The Silver Flame is a positive source of spiritual power. It is a source of inspiration. But unlike the Overlords, it cannot act alone: it needs to act through champions. Again, this is part of what defines it as good; it cannot enforce its nature on others, but rather they must choose it. Rak Tulkhesh makes people fight. Katashka revels in death. There is no entity that forces you to be good; there are simply powers that can strengthen you if you choose to be good, just as it was Tira’s courage and virtue that allowed the couatl to empower her.
In my eyes, the fact that virtuous behavior is a choice is what makes it truly virtuous. If it is enforced–whether by a supernatural agency or a mortal power–it loses its meaning. The followers of the Silver Flame don’t do what they do because they expect to win and utterly eliminate all evil forever; they follow the precepts of the Flame because doing so is what makes the world a better place.
This is in marked contrast to the Blood of Vol, many of whose followers believe that they can some day eliminate the concept of death from the world; one can well ask what that would actually mean, and if in so doing they would also eliminate new birth. But that’s another topic. Meanwhile, you might want to consider the following…
Could the place of an Overlord be usurped, or could a person rise to become an overlord? For example, if Erandis Vol decided that her destiny was to achieve actual dominion over death, could she rise to become the embodiment of the concept of death, or failing that, usurp the place of Katashka as the gatekeeper of death?
Anything is possible. We have said that there are members of the Lords of Dust who don’t want to free their Overlord masters, but rather to usurp their power. If it’s possible for a rakshasa to do it, than it’s presumably possible for a human to do it; you’ve just got an interim step of becoming an entity of incarnate spirit like a rakshasa. With that said, you don’t have to usurp the power of an Overlord to become an embodiment of a concept. Erandis Vol wishes to become the Queen of Death (and bear in mind, she’s been working at it for thousands of years and has a unique spiritual basis for being able to do it–the Mark of Death–so clearly this isn’t a casual thing). However, I don’t think this requires her to displace Katashka. The Overlords embody horrible things. That doesn’t mean they govern them. Katashka embodies our fears of death and the horror of the undead. He can enslave the spirits of the dead and bind them to his service in the mortal world. But as he is part of this world, he doesn’t govern the fate of the dead in the worlds beyond. Rak Tulkhesh gains strength from strife, and when free he can create strife. But again, he only has dominion over the rage of war… he has nothing to do with a just conflict.
So the question you have to ask, is do you want to become an Overlord… a finite entity who can be bound and whose dominion is limited… or do you want to become a Sovereign, whose power is unbound and touches all it inspires? The Sovereign Host maintains that Dol Dorn and Dol Arrah can be found any time a blade is drawn, and that Onatar is there in every forge. Tied to the previous answer, the Sovereigns don’t take incarnate form; they inspire and act through mortal vessels. When you create something new, Onatar (or the Traveler) is with you. When you fight, Dol Dorn is with you. And, of course, when you choose to do evil in war, the Mockery is with you. But even the Mockery isn’t finite in the way an Overlord is.
People have sought to become Sovereigns before. The founder of the Library of Korranberg sought to displace Aureon as lord of knowledge. According to the draconic faith of Thir (as discussed in Dragons of Eberron), this is possible; when a new being takes on the mantle of a Sovereign, the previous one ascends to greater realms. Myths suggest that the first Sovereigns were ascended dragons who fought the Overlords in the first age. So there’s mythical precedent for it; it’s just a question of what it takes, and what it actually means if you succeed, since Sovereigns don’t manifest after ascension.
Is there any connection between Katashka the Gatekeeper and other prominent undead-themed entities (eg Vol and her followers).
Not according to canon. However, you could always decide that Katashka is connected to all negatively empowered undead, whether they know it or not… and that Vol, Kaius, and other influential undead are all secretly pawns in the Overlord’s plans. This certainly seems like a fine approach for starting with the Emerald Claw as a heroic tier threat, moving to Vol herself in paragon, and then bringing Katashka in as the true epic threat. For those wanting to know a little more about Katashka, check out Dragon 337 or this Eberron Expanded article.
Any idea what Overlord you would place under Sharn? Some of the details of Fallen (the improvement of which was a major goal of a paladin in one of my games) seems to imply something malign is buried below the city.
By canon, the spiritual force of evil in Sharn isn’t tied to an Overlord; it’s tied to the fact that it’s a dumping ground for Syrania where fallen angels… AKA Radiant Idols… are left to rot. My novel The Son of Khyber specifically addresses the idea of a malign spiritual force tied to Fallen. With that said, you could decide that the reason Sharn is such a great place for dumping angels – aside from being a manifest zone – is due to the presence of an Overlord.
Why could Siberys be killed, but Khyber only imprisoned? Or could Khyber be killed by (only) Eberron or an alive Siberys?
Assuming you take the myth at face value, there’s a few reasons. First, Khyber employed treachery, taking Siberys by surprise. Second, because that is what Khyber is: destruction. Treachery. Corruption. Evil. Eberron, on the other hand, is Life. Destruction isn’t in her nature. So she deals with Khyber by imprisoning him through creation–by building the world around Khyber, creating a living prison to hold her sibling at bay. One point I’ll make is that despite the power of Khyber’s children, their number is limited. They may never die, but if there are thirty overlords today, there will never be thirty-one tomorrow. Eberron’s children may be mortal, but they have the power of creation, and that’s something Khyber lacks. So again, Eberron didn’t create an immortal, stagnant overlord called the Cuteness of Kittens; she created kittens, and new kittens are born every day.
Of course, the progenitors and the myth are symbols as much as anything else. The triumph of Khyber explains why evil can exist in the world. Destruction cannot defeat creation, which is why Khyber can never escape Eberron; however, it can corrupt creation, as made manifest in the Age of Demons. The defeat of the demons shows that mortal life can choose a better path – that virtue can hold evil at bay – but as noted above, it can never be defeated eternally.
Meanwhile, it’s worth noting that the Ring of Siberys is the primary source of arcane energy; as such, even in death Siberys gives people the tools to change the world. They must decide whether to use them wisely.
I’m planning a campaign now and I was wondering if you had any thoughts on the Overlords and the planes… Dral Khatuur & Risia, Rak Tulkhesh & Shavarath. As Eberron natives, do you see them as being linked to the planes at all? Or do you prefer to emphasize ties to Eberron? Esp. curious about ones like those, where there’s some conceptual overlap.
Every plane has its own native spirits. The native spirits of Shavarath are the fiends and celestials who fight the Eternal War. The Overlords are native spirits of Eberron (or more, strictly, Khyber). It is true that Rak Tulkhesh embodies an aspect of war, and Shavarath embodies war. But the catch is that Shavarath is ONLY war, and ALL of its spirits represent war in some way. By contrast, Eberron is a realm where you can have war AND peace, life AND death. Thus, the native spirits of Eberron can embody ANY concept that has a place in Eberron.
One way to think about this: According to the creation myth, the Progenitors created the outer planes together. Khyber’s touch is especially strong in Kythri, Mabar, Shavarath and the like, while the hand of Siberys is felt in Syrania, Daanvi, and Irian. They crafted each of these planes around a single idea. Eberron is the final product, where all these ideas are blended together. So the native spirits of Eberron reflect the full spectrum of concepts, as opposed to the outsiders who are always tied to the core concept of their plane.
According to the myth, Eberron, Khyber and Siberys were “dragons”. So, why the children of Khyber are not dragons too?
The Progenitor myth is a metaphor. If you believe the myth, the Progenitors were beings who shaped planes. According the the legend, the planet is Eberron’s body – but the planet isn’t a giant dragon, is it? Again, assuming you believe the myth, it’s likely that the Progenitors were conceptual beings with no fixed form – that Eberron BECAME the planet to trap Khyber. But it’s not much of a story to say “In the beginning, there were three conceptual entities of no fixed form…”, and so we call them dragons.
The Overlords are themselves conceptual entities with no fixed form. The Lords of Dust article in Dragon 337 provided D&D 3.5 stats for Overlords, and noted that all Rajahs possess the following ability:
Change Form (Su): A rajah can assume any form from Fine to Colossal size, or simply increase or decrease its own size. This is similar to polymorph, but the rajah retains the outsider type and use of all of its special attacks and qualities while in another form. The rajah can maintain a form until it chooses a new one.
Overlords have PREFERRED forms – Tiamat likes her five-headed dragon – but an Overlord can take any form it wants.
As a side note, per the classic myth, dragons as we know them were formed when drops of the blood of Siberys fell from the sky and struck Eberron. The different types of dragons are based on what the blood touched – so white dragons were born when the blood of Siberys struck ice, black dragons in the swamp, etc.
I admit that I don’t like too much the idea that overlords don’t have a real form.
I didn’t explain the idea clearly. Overlords represent ideas. Their physical forms represent those ideas. Any overlord has a default, “resting form” that they tend to return to – such as Tiamat and the five-headed dragon. But an overlord may have a wardrobe of forms that reflect its core idea. Rak Tulkhesh might appear as a massive armored rakshasa; as a dragon with bloodstained claws and steel scales; as a handsome human general with blood on his hands. He will choose the form that fits the situation. And if he NEEDS to, he can become something else: A giant, a fly, a duck. But by default, his form will reflect his concept – and he has a few forms he will always return to, which are recorded in myths. In Dragons of Eberron there’s a picture of Dol Arrah fighting Katashka in the form of a dracolich; but that’s just one of Katashka’s shapes, chosen because it was fighting dragons.
If overlords exist since the beginning, do they KNOW if myths are true? Do they remember the agonizing Siberys and Khyber being trapped inside Eberron?
Overlords didn’t exist at the beginning. Per the legend, ALL life as we know it exists after the binding of Siberys. The Overlords emerged from the depths of Khyber onto the surface of Eberron — thus, after that legendary conflict. The beings who could have had personal interactions with the Progenitors would be the immortal spirits of the outer planes, as the planes were (according to myth) created before the struggle between Khyber and Eberron. So if you want to confirm it, check the libraries of Daanvi’s Infinite Archives. However, if you’d rather keep it mysterious, you could easily say that even the inhabitants of those planes had no contact with realms beyond their plane until after the final struggle – they were created, but they never personally encountered the entities that created them.
You’ve already made clear the differences between the Sovereign Host and the Overlords, but would you consider the Dark Six as a whole to be enemies of the Overlords as well?
I’m going to rewrite my original answer to this question, because I think it was unclear. First of all, a defending element of the Sovereigns and Six is that their existence cannot be conclusively proven. They are said to be omnipresent and to influence their spheres wherever events occur. The Dols are present anytime blades are drawn. And yet they cannot physically manifest. In this, they are concretely different from Overlords, who influence a limited area (even if potentially a very large one) and can physically manifest. An Overlord can be bound, and an Overlord cannot. So in some ways it’s a meaningless question, because the Dark Six don’t manifest, so HOW WOULD YOU KNOW? With that said, I’d argue that EVERYONE is against the Overlords. If I’m a medusa priestess of the Shadow, I’m not going to look at Bel Shalor and say “I dunno, I kind of like the cut of his jib.” Among other things, most cultures that revere the Dark Six look at their positive elements. You could say that Tul Oreshka and the Fury have some overlap, but Tul Oreshka is PURE MADNESS, while the Fury can reflect the positive aspects of passion and emotion.
WITH THAT SAID: Canon sources suggest that many of the myths associated with the Sovereigns and Six are drawn from the actions of dragons in the First Age, who may have somehow ascended to become the Sovereigns; this is the foundation of Thir and the Church of the Wyrm Ascendant. By these principles, Dol Dorn, Dol Arrah and Dol Azur were all martial dragons, and Dol Azur was flayed after betraying the others – suggesting that he, at least, was working with the enemy. The dragon who became the Keeper may have had an alliance with Katashka. The MYTH of the Shadow may have been inspired by Bel Shalor – even though the Shadow that is worshipped in Droaam ISN’T Bel Shalor.
If I can humbly say my opinion, the dark six are very different from overlords.
They are entirely different. The Overlords embody very specific, dark concepts. Their influence is limited to a particular area. They can physically manifest. The Dark Six are broader in concept, universal in influence (if you believe in them) and can be seen in a positive light. Per canon sources, there are many in the Five Nations who worship the Dark Six in some way; the Three Faces of War, the Cannith Traveler cults, the Restful Watch. A Zil assassin could definitely offer a prayer to Dol Azur.
I remember you in other posts said that the myth of sovereign host exist in some way even in other planes. That suggests that they may exist since the very beginning, since before Eberron and Khyber maybe.
Yes and no. It’s unquestionably the case that in the Age of Demons, a number of dragons gained transcendental power and crafted identities that resemble the Sovereigns and Six. Beings on the outer planes interacted with these entities. This isn’t myth; this is fact. Asmodeus claims to have taught Aureon about politics. In 4E, the Sovereigns are credited with creating the demiplane of Baator.
But at the time they did these things, these beings were still less than the Sovereigns that are worshipped today. The people of the Five Nations don’t worship dragons (mostly), they worship omnipresent forces that shape reality. The question is HOW Ourelonastrix went from being an epic dragon to a divine force, and if someone else could… which is, again, the basis of the draconic religion of Thir.
Would Rak Tulkhesh be empowered by what philosophers call “just war” e.g. Self-defence. Would it empower an overlord, or only -as I think- aggressive conflicts or those in which atrocities as torture or attacks against civilians are committed no matter the justification?
Rak Tulkhesh doesn’t care about goals. He doesn’t care about the overall cause: what you’re fighting for, what you’re trying to accomplish, what you do or don’t do to civilians. He cares about whether you HATE the person you are fighting, whether you hunger for vengeance, whether you yearn to hurt your opponents. He doesn’t care about Queen Aurala’s justification for war; he cares about what’s in the heart of the individual soldier when he drives his spear into the chest of an enemy. The EOE article says “He draws strength from every blow struck in anger, and his will drives the peaceful to hate. He is Rak Tulkhesh, the Rage of War.”
So one of the Shadowsword’s favorite things is to encourage people to start such “just wars”, because once blood is spilled it’s so much easier to fan the flames of hatred. The Lycanthropic Purge is a perfect example of this: the CAUSE was entirely just, but along the way hatred, fear, and the thirst for vengeance turned it into a bloody witch hunt.
Perhaps “just war” is embodied by the tenets of Dol Arrah and Dol Dorn and so they prevent it from empowering an overlord if no abuses are perpetrated?
Again, it’s not about the cause or the action: it’s about what’s in the heart of the soldier. If you can fight without feeling hate; if you can truly feel compassion and fight solely for justice, then your actions don’t strengthen Rak Tulkhesh, even if your cause is TERRIBLE. But if you are filled with hatred and bloodlust, the righteousness of your cause is meaningless.
Beyond that, Dol Arrah encourages just war and the Mockery supports treachery in the pursuit of victory, but Dol Dorn is simply about strength, courage and skill; he doesn’t particularly care if the war is just or not, he’s just about supporting the soldier.
How much do the Silver Flame church knows about the Lord of Dust and the Overlords? Do they know the organization, the names of the Overlords, that every demon is immortal, that every overlord can be set free following the path of the prophecy?
Good question. The foundation of the modern church is Tira’s struggle with an Overlord. From that, it’s logical to conclude that anyone who knows the story of Tira knows the following things.
- There are ancient and powerful demons bound by the Silver Flame.
- It is possible for them to escape, and they have demonic minions working to help free them.
- These arch-fiends cannot be destroyed, only bound; this is why Tira’s sacrifice was necessary.
- We must all be vigilant and prepared to make our own heroic sacrifices to protect the innocent from these forces of evil.
That much is common knowledge; it’s the basis of the faith. The greatest evil cannot be permanently destroyed; it can only be held at bay by the courage and sacrifice of good people. There are dangerous supernatural forces in the world scheming to do terrible things – fiends, undead, lycanthropes – and we need those with courage to take on the mantle of the templar and defend us from them.
Beyond that things get murkier. Bel Shalor is absolutely known and well documented, because he was freed and active in Khorvaire for a period of time… so there are records and accounts from people with first hand experience. Beyond that, it’s going to be much like the accounts of demons in OUR major religions. No human on Khorvaire has ever directly encountered Rak Tulkhesh. So what we have are accounts from sages who have spoken with Couatl, communed with the Flame, or encountered the influence of the Overlord or their minions. So while Rak Tulkhesh hasn’t been freed since the Church began, there have been Templars who have studied his influence, and surely at least one account claiming that one reason things went so wrong with the Lycanthropic Purge was because Rak Tulkhesh led the righteous astray. Meanwhile, looking to Draal Khatuur: no human has EVER encountered her or seen her influence at work. She might be included on a list of names of the Overlords – an scribe’s account of the words Tira relayed while in a trance speaking to her couatl guide, along with the name “The Heart of Winter” – but she’s been locked away in an almost entirely unexplored continent since before human civilization existed, so we don’t know much.
To further complicate matters: The Lords of Dust have been part of human civilization since the beginning. They are master manipulators who don’t WANT humanity to tell the truth. They even have agents in the Church of the Silver Flame. So for every true account that comes from some hero’s personal encounter with the Lords of Dust or a priest communing with a couatl or speaking with a dragon, you probably have two intentionally misleading accounts by rakshasa or sages duped by rakshasa that present misleading information: Rak Tulkhesh is only empowered by blood sacrifice, he can only influence deminhumans, he will be released from bondage when all the moons are full at the same time and Shavarath is coterminous. The forces of the Church have no way to perfectly verify these, and again, some Church historians surely are rakshasa or their agents.
Beyond this, remember that the Prophecy is always changing and that it’s almost impossible for a single mortal to see its full scope. So yes, it may be that the Church generally understands that the Overlords can be freed through the Prophecy – but they will be relying on accounts of sages to say what that means, and since one account was written the path of the Prophecy may have changed due to the actions of the LoD and the Chamber.
In part, this ties to What do you need for your story? If you WANT the players to have learned a chunk of the Prophecy that could release an Overlord, make it happen. But as a whole, what the Church has access to is a cauldron filled with a spectrum of good and bad information. This is what is reflected by a player character making a skill check. Someone with a reasonable check might know Tiamat is the name of an Overlord associated with dragons; someone with an exceptional skill check remembers the Codex Argent Draconum, the account of a paladin who spent an extensive amount of time working with a silver dragon who shared information about Tiamat and her legends. That information comes from in-world sources, and the degree of skill reflects both the player’s familiarity with the sources and ability to draw valid conclusions.
So: The Church knows there are demons active within the world. It even knows the names of some of these archfiends and their masters, along with stories about them that may or may not be true. These things are why the templars are always vigilant. We say that the purpose of the church is to defend the innocent from supernatural evil. This is a world where supernatural evil unquestionably exists. The Church trains exorcists because it knows they will be needed. But it doesn’t have perfect information about the enemy… all the more so because a particular cell of the Lords of Dust may literally have been laying dormant for the last thousand years waiting for the right moment to act.
After the Coautls sacrificed themselves and bound the Overlords, the remaining fiends retreated to the Demon Wastes. They plot from the ruins there. Are the cities and temples there ruins because of time, or did the dragons assault the Demon Wastes after they grew in power? Given the magic that they brought to bear against Xen’drik, and the fact that (some) dragons study the prophecy to combat (offensively and defensively) the Lords of Dust, have the dragons ever laid waste to the Demon Wastes throughout the history of Eberron?
The Demon Wastes are on my list of topics for an article when I have time. There’s a number of different factors here. The cities were ruined over the course of the millennia of conflict. But it is on the edge of Khyber, honeycombed with portals to demiplanes within Khyber. The rakshasa largely dwell in these demiplanes. Ashtakala itself exists between planes, draped in its own memories. Setting aside their impressive wards and powers, it’s difficult to spy on the Lords of Dust because much of the time they aren’t entirely on this plane. If they WERE to rebuild cities on the surfaces, the dragons would wipe them out again, and they may well have done so at times in the past. But they can’t be pried out of Khyber.
Did the Silver Flame only bind the Overlords, or were many other lesser fiends caught up in it’s power as well?
While the principle is that the small fish slipped through the net that bound the Overlords, I’ve always assumed that the majority of fiends were trapped in the Flame. During the Age of Demons, there were enough fiends to support cities of fiends, or to field vast armies. Tied to the previous question, there ARE still significant numbers of fiends in the worlds – but significantly fewer that existed in the First Age. So the release of an Overlord could easily include the release of a large force of lesser minions as well.
It’s my impression that the Night Hags made it out of the Age of Demons relatively unscathed, is that the case? And do they have their own imperative or are they also interested in releasing the Overlords?
That is the case. Despite technically being children of Khyber, they were never aligned with the Overlords. They’re neutral and independent; each one pursues their own agenda. Some served as envoys in the ancient conflict; others had no interest in it.
Do you see the Lords of Dust having an advantage over the Chamber in reading the prophecy because they are immortal and have more time, or could the rakshasas be hindered in their efforts because of limited perspective? Maybe both?
Absolutely both. Immortality is an advantage, and sages like the Bloody Sage and the Wyrmbreaker are the greatest individual authorities on the Prophecy. But at the same time, they largely operate in isolation, rarely sharing their secrets with the servants of other Overlords. By contrast, the Chamber has a host of scholars – and while they may not be immortal, they live for thousands of years and can draw on the work of those who have gone before them.
Short form: The rakshasa are the experts at the paths dealing with their specific Overlords, but the Chamber has a far WIDER view of the Prophecy and sees a bigger picture.
So I think the Lords of Dust have the edge on their specific threads – while the Chamber has a far WIDER view and has a greater understanding of the Prophecy as a whole.
Has there been a rakshasa artificer mentioned anywhere? Someone that has, over the many thousands of years, been equipping the Lords of Dust and their innumerable pawns with fiendish items? I wonder if Eberron’s take on low level magic and items applies to the fiends as well, especially given their natural talents with magic.
The rakshasa do produce magic items for their servants and even for themselves; most notably, they have a very high demand for items that can protect deep cover rakshasa from divination magic. I don’t think they are bound to low level magic; on the contrary, I think they can produce artifacts. BUT… I don’t think they’ve ever embraced the industrial approach to magic that differentiates the artificer from the wizard. A rakshasa might be able to make an artifact, but it is a focused piece of work that could take decades… because, of course, the rakshasa HAS decades.
Essentially, the raksahsa have been doing this for a hundred thousand years. If they were innovative, they’d have innovated by now. If they could developed entirely new forms of magic, they would have. So I think that they are still making the same things they would have made in the Age of Demons. In my mind, this is also the slight edge that the mortals have. Rakshasa like the Wyrmbreaker are epic-level magi capable of producing wonders, but new techniques – the artificer, things like incarnum – are beyond them.
Does anyone in other planes care about Overlords? They’re so powerful that they could easily access dimensional travel and change things there.
Their vast power is precisely why they CAN’T access dimensional travel. The most powerful spirits of planes are tightly bound to their planes; they are literally a PART of that plane, and they can’t separate from it. This is why the Quori can come to Eberron, but il-Lashtavar can’t… and why we have pointed out that the Daelkyr aren’t the most powerful spirits of Xoriat, but simply the most powerful entities that have come from Xoriat.
Is there any reason for you choosing to have “more or less 30 overlords” instead of canonic number of 12+1 (bel shalor maybe)?
Because we concretely didn’t want to have a completely list of Overlords. From the outset, we wanted to leave room for individual DMs to add Overlords to fit the needs of the story… and for us to have room to do the same. This ties to the fact that the Overlords’ powers are limited in scope. Which means that when I wrote an article exploring Q’barra in more depth, I could add a new Overlord – Masvirik, the Cold Sun – without contradicting previous material or having to force an existing Overlord into a slot that doesn’t really fit.
It has been mentioned that in Eberron, Lolth could be one of the Overlords, like Tiamat. What about other famous villains from other settings, such as the other demon lords (Orcus, Demogorgorn, etc), maybe Vecna, or even the Tarrasque? If you wanted to use them, would you cast them as other Overlords, or servants equivalent to rakshasas, or maybe just powerful fiends on par with the Daelkyr?
Per 3.5 rules, Overlords are entities with power on par to divine rank. As a result, they are concretely more powerful than demon princes and archdevils. Here’s a (somewhat lengthy) thing I wrote for the Savage Tide adventure path, which involved Demogorgon.
The influence of Demogorgon raises one of the primary challenges of converting this adventure path to Eberron. The cosmology of Eberron is quite different from that of the Great Wheel… so where does Demogorgon reside in the Eberron Campaign Setting?
Many demons can be found in Shavarath, the eternal battleground. It is certainly possible to place Demogorgon in Shavarath as one of the generals of this endless war. However, the spirits of Shavarath are ultimately spirits of war; the demons of Shavarath may be creatures of chaos and evil, but they are still spirits of battle.
But there is another alternative for the DM who wants demons to be spirits of pure evil, unbound by any ties to Shavarath or the outer planes: Khyber, the Dragon Below. Legends say that in the dawn of time, the vile dragon Khyber spawned fiends in the darkness, monsters that tormented the children of Eberron. The rakshasa are the best-known native fiends, and to this day it is the rakshasa that have the strongest presence in the world above. But Khyber’s children take many forms, and there is nothing preventing the Dragon Below from creating its own variations of the spirits found in Shavarath and Fernia. Balors, Mariliths, and even demon princes; all of these could be children of Khyber. Like the rakshasa, these Khyber-spawned demons are native outsiders, but they possess most traits of true outsiders; they do not need to eat or sleep, they are immune to the ravages of time, and the most powerful among them are truly immortal.
As spawn of Khyber, the demons of Eberron are not tied to any planar agenda. They are not bound to the great war of Shavarath. Instead, they embody Khyber’s wrath and hatred of the world above. They seek to corrupt destroy the children of Eberron. Some may seek to free the Overlords of the Age of Demons, and these fiends will usually join with the Lords of Dust. But many are spirits of pure chaos and evil, and seek only the pleasure of sowing discord and pain across Eberron.
And what of the Abyss? Again, it could be grafted onto Shavarath, with each layer being one more battlefield. But it can also be bound to Khyber. Eberron is a magical world, and it does not have to obey the laws of logic. An adventurer who ventures too far beneath the surface of Eberron will be amazed by the horrors that lurk below. A deep cavern can open into the endless maze of Baphomet. A whirlpool can draw unwary travelers into the abyssal ocean. Many people think Xen’drik is the ultimate destination for the pulp adventurer. But the most exotic and terrifying realms are not across the water; they lie beneath it, in the very heart of the Dragon Below. While these are not outer planes, they exist beyond normal space and cannot be reached by normal forms of teleportation; travelers must either find the proper path between the realms or emply planar magic to step into these demiplanes.
This is the path that these conversions will follow. Demogorgon is one of the lords of the worlds within the world. While he is weaker than the great Overlords of the Age of Demons, he is one of the mightiest spirits that remains unbound. He stands apart from the Lords of Dust; he seeks to claim the power of the rajahs for his own, not to free these ancient spirits. He is a patient being, and his plans take centuries to unfold. Now his latest scheme is coming to fruition, as the savage tide begins to rise.
So: that’s the approach I would take with Orcus and Demogorgon – powerful native fiends, above the rakshasa but below the Overlords. Looking to the Tarrasque, I might similarly make it a Khyber-spawned immortal force – but I wouldn’t consider it an Overlord.
Have you used the Lords of Dust in a campaign? Post your questions and experiences below!