The Dark Six: The Devourer

This image by Vincentius Matthews doesn’t actually depict the Devourer, but hey, oceans.

In the dawn times, the Sovereigns of the natural world chose to share their gifts with mortals. Arawai taught the first farmers, but she also showed us how to work with wood and heal with herbs. Balinor taught us both how to hunt game, and how to work with the horse and hound. Together these Sovereigns showed us how to harness these gifts of the natural world. Arawai and Balinor sought to lift us up, but there was another who sought to tear us down. The Devourer despised the first people and their civilization, seeing them only as prey. This struggle continues to this day. Arawai showed us how to harness the wind for sail and mill, but the Devourer sends winds that snap masts shatter buildings. Kol Korran taught us to build ships, and the Devourer delights in sinking them. Onatar showed us how to harness fire, but it’s the Devourer who smiles when the uncontrolled flame engulfs a city. The Sovereigns guide us when we work with nature—but we must always be careful and cautious, for the Devourer is ever ready to bring the power of the wilds down upon us.

Phthaso Mogan, High Priest of Sharn

You humans see the wilds as a thing that must be tamed. You fight it, caging it in your fields and binding it with leash and chain. We embrace the storm, running with the wind and dancing through the fire. We know that flame paves the way for new growth, that culling the weak strengthens the pack. You fear the Devourer; we ARE the Devourer.

Khaar’kala of the Great Pack

Arawai and Balinor embody mortal dominion over the natural world. Arawai grants power over flora, while Balinor grants power over fauna—guiding both the hunter and those who domesticate animals. But the Devourer is there to remind us that the wild can never be truly bound. We must never grow too arrogant or complacent; we must never forget to respect the power of nature. Because when we do, the Devourer will be there with wind, with flame, with tooth and with claw.

More than any other Sovereign, the interpretation of the Devourer varies dramatically from culture to culture, driven by the relationship of culture and species to the natural world. The Pyrinean interpretation of the Devourer reflects a fundamental fear of the untamed wild, while the sahuagin Sha’argon is the paragon of a species of carnivores who believe the strong should consume the weak. The Church of the Wyrm Ascendant depicts the Devourer as a dragon turtle while Arawai and Boldrei are traditional dragons; this reflects the fact that the Sovereigns walk among humanoids and guide them, while the Devourer lurks in bitter isolation in the deepest water, sinking ships and lashing the land with hurricanes. Ultimately, it’s a question of whether a civilization fears nature’s wrath, or whether it seeks to embrace primal power.

NATURE’S WRATH: The Pyrinean Creed

As described in the quote from Phthaso Mogan, the Pyrinean Creed asserts that the Sovereigns showed their vassals how to control the natural world. Arawai guides those who harvest, while Balinor guides those who hunt. Both reflect our power to impose our will on nature. In this vision of the world, the Devourer reflects the fact that we can’t ever fully control nature. The Devourer is the explanation for natural disasters and tragedies. It is the Devourer who sink ships and levels villages with wildfires and hurricanes. It’s the Devourer who guides the wolves who prey upon our sheep. The important thing to understand is that under the Pyrinean Creed, there is no benevolent aspect to the Devourer. The Devourer, Arawai, and Balinor are differentiated by the outcome, not by the tool that produces that outcome. It’s common for vassals to associate Arawai with gentle rains and the Devourer with scouring storms. But if gentle rains come in sufficient quantities to cause devastating floods, they are a tool of the Devourer; while if a region relies on monsoons to irrigate land, vassals will see those nuturing storms as gifts of Arawai. A shepherd curses predatory wolves as teeth of the Devourer, but might well have a magebreed wolf that’s been domesticated by House Vadalis guarding their flock; whether a wolf is associated with Balinor or the Devourer is determined by the outcome of interacting with it.

So under this view, there is nothing benevolent about the Devourer… and yet, he is part of everyday life. The farmer thanks Arawai for her guidance but is ever fearful of the Devourer’s wrath. Because of this, Vassals who regularly deal with dangerous natural forces often make placatory offerings to the Devourer. The principle is that the Devourer will have his due. If you benefit from working with the natural world, the Devourer will eventually come to even the scales; but if you make an offer willingly, he may accept it and pass you by. Among Vassals, it’s common to burn a fraction of the yield after a harvest; skeptics simply burn the dross, while devout Vassals base the burn on their own prosperity and what they have to lose. Vassal sailors trust Kol Korran to guide them, but many also cultivate a relationship with the Devourer and make an offering when their vessel reaches deep water. This could be anything from a single crown to a lock of hair, a poem, or something more precious; it depends on the perceived danger of the voyage and where they feel they stand with the Lord of the Depths. Again, there is no thought of benevolence here; it’s much like playing poker with a very dangerous opponent, with the question being how well you know your enemy and what you can get away with on this voyage. While common, this is still a superstition and there are some captains who won’t abide it on their ships, whether they assert that it’s a foolish waste of resources or that making offerings to the Devourer is more likely to draw his attention than to placate him.

The Three Faces of the Wild

The Three Faces of the Wild is a mystery cult within the Five Nations. Much like its counterparts, it honors members of both Sovereigns and Six: in this case, Arawai, Balinor, and Shargon. The Three Faces of the Wild acknowledge Shargon—the Devourer—as the primal force of untamed nature, but don’t depict him as inherently malevolent. Shargon demands people respect nature and maintain the balance between nature and civilization… and should they forget, or disrupt the balance due to greed or ignorance, he will remind them of nature’s might. Followers of the Three Faces of the Wild recognize that many disasters can be avoided—not by making a sacrifice or burning a field, but by understanding the interactions between civilization and nature. When a village suffers severe floods, rather than cursing the Devourer, perhaps don’t build your village in a flood plain. Followers of the Three Faces practice free range grazing and low-impact farming, and oppose techniques that they see as causing lasting harm to the world. This often leads them to oppose industrial advances that they see as threatening the natural world, and there have been clashes between Three Faces sects and House Vadalis or House Cannith enclaves, not to mention mundane damming and logging operations. Outright violence is rare; the sect prefers to solve problems with social engineering. However, this is still a potential source of environmental conflict in the heart of the Five Nations—and dangerous zealots can take root in an otherwise benevolent branch of this sect.

Champions of the Devourer

Beyond the Three Faces and placatory offerings, there’s little worship of the Devourer within the Five Nations; he’s a force to be feared and placated, not idolized. As a result, champions of the Devourer are rare and remarkable—and often dangerous.

  • The Storm Herald is a wandering priest who travels through agricultural regions. When a Storm Herald comes to a community, they will call together the Vassals and have them organize a communal feast. At this feast the Herald calls on people to discuss their profit and loss, the blessings they’ve received from the Sovereigns and what is owed to the Devourer. Sacrifices are made both through the feast itself and through additional burnt offerings at the feast. The principle is that the Storm Herald helps the community buy a period of prosperity, carrying disaster away when they leave. Storm heralds are extremely rare, mainly known through stories; in these stories, some are good people who are truly trying to help the innocents avoid disaster while others are extortionists running supernatural protection rackets—unless I am satisfied, there WILL be a disaster.
  • The Lightning Rod is another figure typically only encountered in stories or plays—someone blessed or cursed by the Devourer, who draws disaster wherever they go. Wherever they go, they are plagued by predators, bad weather, spontaneous fires, and other minor phenomena. The longer they stay in one place, the worse these manifestations will get. In stories, some lightning rods manage to weaponize this effect, becoming storm sorcerers or Ancients paladins—but even these champions need to keep moving, lest the disasters that dog their heels destroy the people they care about.
  • The Zealot is an extremist who despises civilization and industry. A typical zealot becomes infuriated by a particular manifestation of civilization—a new Tharahsk mine, a Vadalis ranch, a lightning rail line driving across their field, or even just a group of local farmers cutting down a tranquil grove—and their intense devotion to its destruction unlocks divine power. Devourer zealots generally have more in common with cults of the Dragon Below than with druidic sects. They typically lack organization or deep tradition—often involving a single divinely inspired individual—and are usually driven by an ever-growing obsession with the destruction of their target. Should a zealot achieve their goal, they could snap out of that obsession and return to normal life, or they could latch on to a new and even greater obsession; having destroyed the Orien ranch near their village, they’re now determined to destroy the house enclave in the nearby city, continually escalating until their finally fall in battle. While zealots can be tied to the Three Faces of the Wild, what characterizes the zealot is their obsession with destroying their target and the degree of supernatural power they wield; a Three Faces sect might try to negotiate with an environmental offender or to otherwise find a peaceful solution, while a zealot sees themselves as the vengeful hand of the wild.

House Lyrandar: The Kraken’s Brood

The basic doctrine of House Lyrandar maintains that the Mark of Storms is a blessing granted by Arawai and Kol Korran, a gift to help the Khoravar prosper. However, these is a sect within the house that claims that holds more sinister beliefs. These cultists say that their mark is a gift of the Devourer, and that it is intended to be used as a weapon—that the Khoravar are meant to assert their dominion over Khorvaire with hurricanes and lightning. This sect maintains that their greatest visionaries have become krakens who dwell in the deepest waters and guide their followers through visions; as such they call themselves the Kraekovar or “Kraken’s Brood.” Kraekovar heirs learn to use their dragonmarks in unusual and destructive ways, specializing in lightning. Other Lyrandar heirs say that this represents a fundamental corruption of the dragonmark—that the mark isn’t meant to be used as a weapon—and that this in turn causes the Kraekovar to become unstable and sociopathic. While the Kraekovar claim that their power ultimately flows from the Devourer, they don’t share any common cause with the Three Faces of the Wild or with zealots; they are loyal to their own elders—whom they believe to be immortal krakens—and to their vision of a nation ruled by Khoravar storm kings.

Nature and Tempest, Druid and Paladin

Champions of the Devourer can take many forms. One zealot might have the gift of wild shape and run with a pack of wolvesdrawing on the Moon druid for inspiration—while another might be more like a Storm sorcerer, wielding shocking grasp and lightning bolts. One of the main potential points of confusion is the difference between a cleric or paladin of the Devourer, and one devoted to Arawai or Balinor. Can a priest of Arawai use the tempest domain? Can a champion of the Devourer have the Oath of the Open Sea? In short, yes. The Nature domain, Tempest Domain, Oath of the Ancients, Oath of the Open Sea—all of these could be suitable for Arawai or the Devourer. Remember that the Devourer isn’t the Sovereign of Storms; he’s the Sovereign of the destructive power of nature, while Arawai is nature harnessed in the service of civilization. So, a few points to keep in mind…

  • A servant of Arawai could be a Tempest cleric or a Storm sorcerer. Their devotion allows them to smite an enemy with lightning, but for them this is no different than the ability to plant a seed or to harness an oxen to a plow; they have been granted dominion over nature as a tool to serve the greater good. An Arawai Storm sorcerer will typically be calm—even serene—when using their powers, and will strive to minimize collateral damage. The same goes for a Paladin of the Open Sea; they may call lightning or unleash a tidal wave, but they will control these forces and seek to use them with precision, avoiding harm to innocents.
  • Where the priest of Arawai harnesses the power of nature for the greater good, the champion of the Devourer teaches us that nature cannot be controlled. They revel in the wild and primal nature of the powers that flow through them and make no effort to avoid collateral damage; they have been granted these powers to make people fear the power of nature.

The point is that even if two clerics are casting the exact same spell, it should feel different if it’s tied to Arawai or to the Devourer. Arawai’s lightning bolt will be focused and precise, while the Devourer’s should feel more wild and intimidating, as if the caster is barely in control of the bolt. Beyond this, especially when dealing with NPCs, keep in mind that the spells wielded by player characters don’t have to reflect the absolute limits of mystical power. It may be that a Storm Herald can curse a community with a promise of a devastating hurricane, or that the death of a champion of the Devourer will trigger a flash flood. Neither of these effects have the precision or speed of control weather or tidal wave… but that very unpredictability is what should make them interesting. This ties to the general ideas present in this article. With this in mind, even a player character who’s tied to the Devourer could be a lightning rod, drawing disasters wherever they go unless they ensure that the people around them make sufficient sacrifices.

PRIMAL POWER: The Cazhaak Faith

In Droaam nature has a single face, and it’s both beautiful and cruel. Ghaal’gantii—the Devourer—speaks through the storms that lash the land, through the fangs of the worg, through the stone beneath the hands of the medusa. This isn’t a tradition of shepherds; it’s the faith of the wolves. There’s no need to split the roles of hunter and predator, and no interest in a deity to bless the harvest; outside of the Gaa’ran, widespread agriculture is all but unknown. The Devourer embodies a view of a world that’s red in tooth and claw. He is the hunger that drives us to survive, but he places deadly obstacles in our way; those that can overcome the challenges of the Devourer grow strong and prosper, while the weak are swept away to make room for the strong.

For most who follow the faith, the Devourer is a force to be endured rather than celebrated. He will test you with a hurricane or a wildfire. He’ll lash you with thorns, and his hand is in the deadly currents of the rapids. You can certainly offer a prayer or a sacrifice, but what he wants is your strength. Survival isn’t something he will give you in exchange for a gift; he has given you tooth and claw, and he wants to see you use them. Because of this, many of the peoples of Droaam rarely invoke the Devourer; they acknowledge him, but they don’t make offerings to him as the Vassals do. The most notable exception to this are the purest predators of the region—the worgs and the lycanthropes of the Great Pack—who call on him to sharpen their senses and their fangs. This isn’t a petition, it’s an offer—join me in my hunt, that you may share my joy in victory. The Cazhaak Devourer has no need of weaklings who require his aid to survive; but a worthy hunter can draw his eye, and his favor with it. The only sacrifice that need be made is the kill itself. The Fury is often closely connected for such devotees. The Devourer is a source of physical strength, while the Fury is the source of instinct; both are important to the hunting worg.

Beyond the predators, the Devourer also draws the prayers of those who work with natural resources. Largescale agriculture may be uncommon, but Medusa stoneworkers and kobold apothecaries thank the Devourer for nature’s bounty. Even here, though, the tone is different than the thanks offered by the Vassal priests of Arawai. The Cazhaak faithful know that the Devourer gives nothing; he only offers you the chance to take it. Essentially, the Devourer puts the “hunt” in “hunter-gatherer.” Whether you’re an apothecary looking for bloodroot or a sculptor seeking the perfect place to strike the stone, you face a challenge; the Devourer will sharpen your eyes and give you the hunger to succeed, but you must still fight for your victory. The people of Droaam don’t sail, but if they did they would scoff at the placatory offerings of Vassal sailors. If the Devourer chooses to challenge you with a storm, he will; you honor him and earn his favor by facing that challenge without fear and surviving it. What the Devourer wants from you is strength and skill, not trinkets tossed in the water.

Cazhaak Champions of the Devourer

Just as Vassal priests can perform services of all of the Sovereigns, a Cazhaak priestess of the Shadow will offer thanks to the Devourer. However, it’s rare to find a singularly devoted priest of the Devourer in a temple in Droaam, because the Devourer has little interest in cities and buildings. His most devoted priests are the worgs running with their pack and the harpies singing high on storm-wreathed peaks. Here’s a few examples of devoted champions of the Devourer.

  • The Huntmaster. The Great Pack is an alliance of worgs, lycanthropes, and other predators. Huntmasters are equal parts bard and priest, inspiring their comrades with wolfsong and guiding them on the hunter’s path.
  • The Stormsinger. While Huntmasters focus on the hunt, the Stormsinger embraces the furious power of hurricane and storm. Most Stormsingers are harpies, devoted equally to the Fury and to the Devourer. They dance through the winds, delighting in the deadly play of lightning. Largely Stormsingers are ecstatic mystics who praise the Six through song and flight, but they can also call down lightning on enemies in battle. If there is reason, they can draw away storms, luring the storm itself with their songs.
  • The Stoneshaper. Medusa architects invoke the Shadow and the Devourer. The Shadow wove stone into the medusa’s blood and shows them the secrets of working it, while they thank the Devourer for the raw gift of stone. Stoneshapers are specialized adepts capable of producing effects like stone shape, mold earth, and meld into stone.
  • The Wolfchild. Goblins and kobolds have long been oppressed in the Barrens of Droaam, being dismissed as small and weak by the ogres, trolls, and their kin. But there have always been those whose fury and determination to bring down their enemies—no matter their size—has drawn the favor of the Devourer and unlocked the predator within them. Known as the Gaa’taarka, these champions develop the gift of wild shape. While they are most often associated with wolf form, they aren’t limited to it; there are Gaa’taarka who can scout as hawks or fight as bears. The Gaa’taarka are broadly similar to Moon druids (and this would be a way to play a Wolfchild as a character) but most don’t possess the full spellcasting abilities of a druid. Those that can cast spells typically possess magic tied to working with beasts—beast sense, speak with animals, and similar spells. In the past, Wolfchildren have often served as champions defending their kin from would-be oppressors. In the present, a number of Gaa’taarka have joined the Great Pack, while others are serving with Maenya’s Fist. Technically, any devoted creature could become a Gaa’taarka; however, it’s still primarily associated with goblins and kobolds, hence their being described as “children.”

This is by no means a complete list—just a handful of examples of Droaamites touched by the Devourer.

OTHER VIEWS OF THE DEVOURER

As with all of the Sovereign and Six, many different interpretations of the Devourer can be found across the world.

  • In Xen’drik, the giants of Rusheme revere the goddess Rowa of the Jungle Leaves, who incorporates aspects of both Arawai, the Fury, and the Devourer; according to City of Stormreach, Rowa is “the goddess of life and nature. Rowa is much beloved, but she is given to fits of passion that can drive her into a rage. As a result, storms, wildfires, and other natural disasters are attributed to ‘Rowa’s wrath.’
  • As mentioned earlier, the Three Faces of the Wild respect Shargon as the untamed power of the wild, but don’t see him as malevolent; they seek to find the balance between Arawai and Shargon.
  • The sahuagin of the Eternal Dominion honor Sha’argon, saying that he began as a mortal hunter who stalked, killed, and devoured their interpretations of Arawai and Balinor, thus claiming dominion over nature. This vision of the Devourer is even more ruthless than their Cazhaak counterpart. The sahuagin razh’ash teach that Sha’argon “sets the laws of the world, and they are cruel. Life is an endless struggle. The weak will perish in the storm or be consumed by the mighty. Those with cunning and courage can conquer the world itself, and the victor has the right to devour their vanquished foe.”  

These are just a few examples; there’s no limit to the number of sects that might be out there, each with their own unique interpretation of the Devourer. This also relates to the relationship between the Devourer, Arawai, and the Fury. There is a Pyrinean myth that suggests that the Fury is the child of Arawai and the Devourer—a metaphorical representation of the concept that a storm destroying a farm causes anguish to the farmer. On the other hand, Rusheme conflates the three into a single deity, while a Droaamite myth asserts that the Fury was born of Eberron’s cry of pain when she brought life into being. Priests create myths about the Sovereigns as a way to teach lessons, and those myths vary based on the culture that creates them and the lessons they’re passing on.

USING THE DEVOURER

One of the simplest ways to bring the Devourer into your campaign is to talk about the weather. It’s an important part of everyday life, but it’s something we often ignore in adventures—and it doesn’t help that the sourcebooks don’t go into much detail about what to expect in different parts of Khorvaire. So to some degree you’re on your own here. But if time after time you mention the gloomy rains of Sharn, you lay the groundwork for the slowly-building threat of a hurricane that somehow resists the power of the Raincaller’s Guild. Is a group of Devourer zealots responsible for this threat? Is it the work of the Kraken’s Brood (in which case the Raincaller’s Guild may have been sabotaged from within)? Can the adventurers find a Storm Herald, and if they do, what will the herald want in return? A storm at sea, a wildfire threatening to sweep over an adventurer’s home village… when these moments come, will the adventurers embrace the superstition and make an offering to the Devourer, or will they spit in the eye of the storm?

Followers of the Devourer can be an easy source of villains. Zealots can always turn up to shatter cities or strike at the Dragonmarked Houses. The Kraken’s Brood uses primal force in their pursuit of power. A Droaamite worg may honor the Devourer by hunting the most dangerous prey—and they’ve set their sights on one of the player characters. On the other hand, champions of the Devourer don’t have to be enemies. A medusa stoneshaper could prove an invaluable ally when adventurers are trying to get into a collapsed mine. The Three Faces of the Wild could draw attention to industrial activities that do threaten a local community. A Droaamite huntmaster could adopt the adventurers as their temporary pack and guide them through a dangerous region. They could also just be mysterious. If the adventurers have business in a small community, a Storm Herald could arrive and call for the Devourer’s Feast. They say that this is an innocent action which will help to protect the village from disaster. Will the adventurers help organize the feast, or will they oppose the Herald—and if so, will disaster indeed strike?

Player characters could follow any of the paths described above. An urban druid could be devoted to the Three Faces of the Wild. A goblin or kobold could play a Moon druid as one of the Gaa’taarka—have they been sent out on a mission from the Daughters of Sora Kell, or are they just following their instincts? A Lyrandar Fathomless warlock could have been raised in the Kraekovar cult… have they turned against the Kraken’s Brood, or are they trying to oppose its corruption from within the system? A Storm sorcerer could be a lightning rod, both cursed and blessed by the Devourer; they have also power over lightning and wind, but if they stay in one place for too long disaster will follow. Can they find a way to lift this curse… and if they do, will they lose their gifts as well?

That’s all for now. Note that this article reflects how I use the Devourer in my campaign and may contradict canon sources! Thanks to my Patreon supporters for choosing this topic and for making these articles possible; follow the link if you want to have a voice in future topics! Because of serious IRL events I will not be able to answer many questions on this topic, but feel free to discuss your experiences and thoughts on the Devourer and to praise his Watery Deepness in the comments.

IFAQ: Airships and Arcanix

I’m currently traveling across the country for the first time since March. I’ve got a few hours to kill and I’m camped out in an abandoned food court in the Detroit Airport, so before I start my Gamma World kingdom, I thought I’d answer a few questions from my Patreon supporters tied to things that float—airships and Arcanix!

What do the of crew an airship and a train of lightning cars do to assist their respective pilots? More specifically, what are the most interesting things you have the respective crews do in your games?

In my opinion, an airship is just as complicated to run as a sailing vessel. You have to maintain the windwards (which are what keep people from getting blown off the upper deck). There are a host of lesser focusing crystals that maintain the ring and that have to be adjusted if conditions change dramatically. Refined dragonshards need to be fed to the heart to maintain the binding, especially when the elemental is operating at full capacity. The same basic principles apply to the lightning rail, though like comparing a train to a masted galleon, I think the lightning rail doesn’t require a large crew; you’ve got a pair of engineers maintaining the binding and ensuring all other systems are running, a few assistants, and conductors or staff to deal with the passengers.

As for MY games? I largely have the crew stay out to the way and do their jobs, because they’re too busy to chat with adventurers. I’ve run a one-shot set on an airship a number of times over the past year, and the main NPC the adventurers encounter is the steward, because it’s his job to deal with them. When there’s a dramatic combat scene, I may call out a number of NPC crew members in the scene who are doing their jobs and note that if these innocents die bad things could happen; if a fireball takes out the guy maintaining the windwards, things could get very unstable!

What are some amenities you could find at a House Lyrandar docking tower?

As I’m sitting in an airport as I write this, it’s tempting to just start listing off things I see around me. However, it’s important to remember that air travel is a very recent development. Per canon, the first elemental airships went into service in 990 YK — only eight years before the default start date! In my opinion this date refers to the launch of Lyarandar air travel as a commercial service, and is the culminations of decades of experiments and prototypes. But as an INDUSTRY it’s still very young. Likewise, tourism is largely a new development as of the signing of the Treaty of Thronehold; the Brelish weren’t going sightseeing in Thrane while the Last War was underway. So I think most Lyrandar docking towers are simple and functional; they haven’t had TIME to build up the full range of amenities that you see in a large modern airport. With that said, I think that in the largest hubs you could start to see that coming together. I imagine a deal with Ghallanda to have Gold Dragon Inn tavern franchises. You’d certainly have a lavatory equipped with a cleansing sphere. It’s not unreasonable to imagine a souvenir stand—in our world, souvenirs have been around for thousands of years!

Do airships require a constant stream of refined dragonshards to keep the elemental bound? Do they need this when the ship is idle? How expensive is it to continue fueling these ships?

This is called out in Rising From The Last War.

Eberron dragonshards are rosy crystals with crimson swirlds flowing in the depths and are typically refined into a glowing powder… Eberron dragonshard dust is used in the creation of some magic items, and many powerful tools—such as the lightning rail and elemental airships—require an ongoing expenditure of Eberron dragonshards to maintain their enchantments.

Eberron: Rising From The Last War, page 275

The key phrase there is to maintain their enchantments. On an airship, dragonshards aren’t consumed in the same way as gasoline or coal; it’s not that burning dragonshards provides motive power, because the motive power comes from the elemental. But airships have a web of additional secondary enchantments in addition to the binding—the windwards, the control systems—and these have to be maintained. The job of the airship’s engineer is to monitor and maintain those many enchantments. So dragonshards aren’t exactly FUEL, but they’re a vital ongoing expense that ensures that the vessel continues to operate. Another way to look at it would be dilithium crystals in Star Trek; they are vital to the ongoing operations of a starship, but the engineers aren’t constantly dumping dilithium into a warp furnace. The ship needs an ongoing supply of dragonshards, but consumption is a long-term process.

Addressing the specific questions, power isn’t consumed to keep the elemental bound; the elemental is contained within a Khyber shard and is a separate system. But it is the ongoing expenditure of power that keeps the elemental integrated with the ship and produces the elemental ring. And yes, that consumption continues even when the ship is standing still.

Is Arcanix the name of the floating towers or the village?

For anyone who doesn’t recognize the name, Arcanix is one of the prominent institutes of arcane learning in Khorvaire. It’s located in Aundair, and described as floating towers hovering above a village. Earlier canon sources complicated things by suggesting that Arcanix was originally part of Thrane before the war, which seems odd as arcane magic has always been a focus of Aundairian culture, and Arcanix is supposed to be closely tied to the Arcane Congress. So, here’s MY answer.

Arcanix is the village. It has long been contested by Aundair and Thrane, and by Thaliost and Daskara before that; while it was part of Thrane under Galifar, many of the inhabitants were Aundairians who traveled to the village. Because, mysteriously, Arcanix seems to inspire people who seek arcane knowledge. This isn’t always incredibly dramatic; it’s not like everyone who studies magic at Arcanix revolutionizes the field of science as we know it. But if you study the statistics, people are more likely to master the arcane arts if they study in Arcanix. So: while Arcanix was part of Thrane under Galifar, it was largely inhabited by Aundairians and Aundairians CONSIDERED it to be part of Aundair, which is why, when the Last War broke out, they seized it and moved the floating towers there to secure it. Because that’s the thing about FLOATING TOWERS—you can move them! The floating towers were a previous asset of the Arcane Congress and thus have always been a facility for arcane research and learning, as well as being fortified; so the towers were already an established arcane school before being moved, and placing them in Arcanix was just a bonus. Whatever the effect of the region that enhances arcane comprehension works above the village as well as on the ground, so modern students study in the towers. But the village was called Arcanix before the towers were there.

A secondary question, of course, is WHY the region is so conducive to the study of the arcane. This is something that is SUPPOSED be a mystery within the world, and is surely something debated in Arcanix itself. Arcanix is in a Thelanian manifest zone, so that’s surely a factor—it’s up to the DM to decide if this is an active portal, and if so if there’s a particular acrhfey associated with it (The Mother of Invention would be a logical choice) or if it’s a more subtle zone. But there may be a darker power at work beyond this. Some scholars believe that Arcanix is above the soul-prison of the overlord Sul Khatesh. There have been times when cults of the Queen of Shadows have taken root in Arcanix, and there have been a few individuals who have actively bargained with Sul Khatesh or her minons. But even without any active or malefic influence, the mere presence of the Keeper of Secrets may help those seeking arcane knowledge… and this has been sufficient to crush the objections of those who fear the Queen of Shadows. But again, all of these are things that COULD be. As a DM it’s up to you to decide if Arcanix is haunted by Sul Khatesh, blessed by Aureon, watched over by the Mother of Invention, or if there’s an even stranger explanation.

Also on the topic of Arcanix, what is the relationship between the way its towers float, and the way Sharn’s towers float?

The manifest zone of Sharn enhances magic related to flight and levitation. This is why you have flying buttresses and skycoaches in Sharn; those tools don’t work outside the zone. Skyway and the floating towers of Sharn use these same principles, so they aren’t the SAME as Arcanix. But the towers of Sharn inspired Arcanix, driving the Arcane College to find a way to replicate the effects without the zone. Arcanix and the Tower of the Twelve are proof that it can be done, but the fact that we don’t see such towers everywhere—and that both of these two are the seat of arcane research facilities—suggests that the enchantment requires regular maintenance by arcane experts. Which is easy enough when your tower is filled with some of the most gifted arcanists in Khorvaire. So the Sharn towers are stable, drawing on the manifest zone to maintain the effect; other floating towers require expert maintenance.

Is there any correlation between Arcanix and, as of Rising from the Last War, the Aundairian attack on Sharn’s Glass Tower? Was Aundair able to achieve such an attack precisely because they Aundair was also intimately familiar with floating towers?

Certainly. The Arcane Congress created the towers of Arcanix using information gleaned from studying the floating towers of Sharn, and during the Last War, they explored ways to weaponize that. The main question is why they didn’t target Skyway, which would have devastated a far larger area. It’s possible that they didn’t WANT to—that the Glass Tower was an experiment or a warning, but they didn’t want to cause such extreme destruction. Or it’s possible Skyway is a more powerful and stable effect and that the techniques used on the Glass Tower couldn’t bring it down.

Thanks again to my Patreon supporters for keeping this site going and for posing interesting questions. The Inner Circle supporters are currently voting on the topic for the next major article; the Library of Korranberg is in the lead, but there’s still one day to cast a vote! And check out my latest DM’s Guild PDF: a collaboration with the band Magic Sword!

Lightning Round 2/26/18: Languages, Elementals and Pirates!

I’ve just returned to dry land after organizing gaming on the JoCo Cruise. I’ve got lots of things I need to work on, but I have time to answer a few more questions from the last lightning round. As always, this is what I do in MY Eberron, and may contradict canon material. 

What are your thoughts on extraplanar languages?

The big question I’d start with is how do languages make a game interesting? D&D isn’t a perfect simulation of the real world; it’s a fantasy. We don’t need to have as many languages as we do in our world… just as we have fewer nations that we have in our world. So what is the point of having exotic languages? Do you want PCs to have to hire a local guide or work with a translator? Do you want to have ancient inscriptions that can only be read by a sage? Both of these things are valid, but you can have these with a relatively small number of languages. So I prefer to limit the number of languages I use, but also to play up the idea of regional dialects and slang. Common draws on all of the old languages of pre-Riedran Sarlona, so you can definitely get variation from place to place. When the paladin from Thrane is in a small Karrnathi village, he might have to make an Intelligence check to perfectly understand the conversation of the locals or a Charisma check to communicate clearly… unless, of course, he has a local guide to help out. It allows for the challenge and potential humor of limited communication while still allowing for the possibility of communication with no help. If a character has the Linguist feat or is from the region, I’d allow them to act as that local guide — so we’ve got a little fun flavor because the Karrn PC can joke with the locals at the expense of the Thrane.

With that said… per page 46-47 of the Eberron Campaign Setting, each plane has its own language. There’s Infernal, Risian, and a language called “Daelkyr.” But that’s not how I do things in my campaign… because again, how is it fun? Are your characters supposed to devote one of their limited language slots to the language of Irian? How often is that actually going to be useful? And if no one takes it, do they make a perilous journey to Irian only to find that they can’t speak to any of the inhabitants? Is that fun?

So personally, I do a few things in my campaign. First, most powerful outsiders can essentially activate a tongues effect. If an angel of Syrania wishes to be understood, you simply understand what it is saying. Lesser inhabitants of the plane likely won’t have this ability and will speak the planar language. With that said, I reduce the number of languages in existence, planar and otherwise. In my campaign, I use the following major languages.

  • Common is the shared language of the humans of Khorvaire. Originally people spoke a number of regional languages from Sarlona, but when Galifar was established a single language was set as the Common tongue and use of the others was discouraged; traces of these linger in regional dialects and slang. 
  • Riedran is the dominant language of Sarlona. It was established by the Inspired after they unified Riedra. It is sometimes called Old Common, because there’s a few places in Khorvaire (notably Valenar) where people speak it; but it’s simply a different regional language from the old kingdoms of Sarlona. 
  • Goblin can be considered Dhakaani Common. It spread across Khorvaire during the long reign of the Dhakaani Empire and smothered most existing languages, and it remains the dominant language of the pre-human “monstrous” inhabitants of Khorvaire — goblins, orcs, ogres, gnolls, etc. Many of the inhabitants of Droaam and Darguun don’t speak Common, but they all know Goblin. 
  • Giant can be seen as Xen’drik Common and is understood by most of the civilized peoples of the Shattered Land. This isn’t to say that the bee-people won’t have their own language, but Giant is the recognized trade language. 
  • Draconic is — surprise! — Celestial Common. While it is spoken by dragons, it is also spoken by a majority of celestials (including denizens of Syrania, Irian and Shavarath); most likely the dragons learned it from the couatl. Some scholars call it the language of Siberys, and it also forms the foundation of many systems of arcane incantation;  as a result, many wizards and artificers understand Draconic but never actually speak it.
  • Abyssal can be considered Fiendish Common and is sometimes considered the language of Khyber. It’s spoken by most fiends, including both the rakshasa and the fiends of Mabar and Shavarath. Native aberrations could also speak Abyssal.
  • Undercommon is the language of Xoriat, and is spoken by the Daelkyr and most aberrations that have a connection to Xoriat. Undercommon seems to constantly evolve, but anyone who understands it understands the current form of it. Curiously, this means that ancient inscriptions in Undercommon can actually take on new meanings because of this linguistic evolution.
  • Elven is the language of Thelanis, and in my Eberron it essentially combines traditional Elven and Sylvan; it’s the language of Aerenal, but also spoken by most Fey.

I call these major languages because pretty much anything you meet will speak one of them. In Khorvaire, you can talk to almost anyone using either Common or Goblin. The other languages are regional — and members of those communities will generally either speak Common or Goblin. Such regional languages include Dwarven in the Mror Holds, Halfling in the Talenta Plains, Gnomish in Zilargo, and the tongue of the Gnolls. Speaking one of these languages essentially allows you to have private conversations with a member of that community and can win you some social points… but Mror children learn Common as well as Dwarven, and in many holds Common is the first language used. A mechanical side effect of this is that if a player is making a character who’s biologically of one species but raised in a different culture — IE, a dwarf raised in Zilargo or a halfling from Sharn — I may let them drop their “racial” language for something more common to their background. The Zil Dwarf might know Common and Gnomish, while the Sharn halfling might speak Common and Goblin. As it stands I’ve had the Ghaash’kala orcs speak Goblin… but on consideration, it might make more sense for them to speak Draconic or Abyssal, as they had very little contact with the Dhakaani.

While most creatures respond to one of the common languages, the more obscure languages come up in exploration and adventure. Go exploring the ruins beneath the Mror Holds and you’ll only find Dwarvish (or Undercommon!). You could find an isolated tribe of orcs that still speak the long-dead Orcish tongue. Go to Sarlona and you might find old scrolls written in the lost language of Pyrine, requiring magic to decipher. PCs may not encounter dragons or demons often, but any artifacts or ruins from the Age of Demons will use one of their languages.

And as I mentioned above, I do consider the Quori to have their own language… but Quori immortals definitely fall into the category of “If they want you to understand them, you do.” They may be speaking Quori, but you’ll hear it as the language you know best.

Certain languages, such as Draconic, are usually important for magic. Would you say this is an innate property of the language or a result of early users and traditions?

Consider this: mortal languages were created by mortals. Human developed their own languages over time. The languages of immortals — which per my list include Draconic, Abyssal, Undercommon, Elvish and Quori — are part of the fundamental structure of reality. There wasn’t a time when primitive angels slowly developed language; they were created with inherent knowledge of Draconic, hence some calling it “the tongue of Siberys.” With this in mind, yes: I would say that both Draconic, Elvish and Abyssal are mystically relevant languages. They are often found in systems of mystical incantations because they do have more inherent power than mortal languages.

If the former, might there be useful information about magic or psionics in other languages?

Certainly. As I said, Abyssal and Elvish are equally relevant for arcane magic. I could see both Undercommon and Quori being tied to psionics; Psions might use mantras in one of these languages to focus their thoughts, even if they don’t know that’s what they are using. Xoriat is more connected to the tradition of the Wilder — ecstatic psionic power — while Dal Quor is tied to the more typically disciplined approach of the psion. This also ties to the idea of Undercommon constantly changing. There is something inherently unnatural and supernatural about Undercommonand knowing it changes your brain. 

Do you think that some of the more exotic “racial” languages might offer insight into the psychology of their originators? 

Certainly. I think any mortal language will tell you something about the culture that created it.

What are the moral issues with binding elementals into Khyber dragonshards? How sentient are they?

There’s no easy answers in Eberron. The elemental binders of Zilargo claim that bound elementals are perfectly content; that elementals don’t experience the passage of time the way humans do. All they wish is to express their elemental nature, and that’s what they do through the binding. The Zil argue that elementals don’t even understand that they ARE bound, and that binding elementals is in fact MORE humane than using beasts of burden. An elemental doesn’t feel hunger, exhaustion, or pain; all a fire elemental wants to do is BURN, and it’s just as content to do that in a ring of fire as it is in Fernia.

On the other hand, an Ashbound druid will tell you that this is a fundamental disruption of the natural order. And any random person might say “When a bound elemental is released, it usually goes on a rampage. That means it was unhappy, right?”

Maybe… or maybe not. In my opinion, the “raw” elementals — the “fire elemental” as opposed to the more anthropomorphic salamander, efreeti, or azer — are extremely alien. They don’t experience existence in the same way as creatures of the material plane. They are immortals who exist almost entirely in the moment, making no plans for the future or worrying about the past. My views are pretty close to the description from the 5E Monster Manual: “A wild spirit of elemental force has no desire except to course through the element of its native plane… these elemental spirits have no society or culture, and little sense of being.”

When the fire elemental is released, it usually WILL go on a rampage. Because what it wants more than anything is to burn and to be surrounded by fire… so it will attempt to CREATE as much fire as possible. If it burns your house down, there’s no malice involved; it literally doesn’t understand the concept of a house, or for that matter the concept of YOU.  In my short story “Principles of Fire” one of the characters interrogates a bound air elemental; he advises a colleague that the elemental doesn’t really understand its surroundings, and sees humans as, essentially, blobs of water.

So: there’s no absolute answer. Some people are certain that the elementals are entirely happy, and others are certain that it’s a barbaric and inhumane practice. What I can say is that MOST of the people in the Five Nations don’t think about it at all; to them, it’s no different from yoking an ox or using a bonfire to cook dinner. If you want to create a story based on a radical group that has proof that bound elementals are suffering, create that story. But the default is that there are extreme views on both sides, but that the majority of people just ride the airship without giving a thought to whether the ring has been unjustly imprisoned.

Follow-Up: A question was posed about how this relates to the Power of Purity, a group of Zil binders that seek to understand elementals and to work more closely with them. This still works with what I’ve described here. Elementals ARE sentient. It is possible to communicate with them. They simply are sentient in a very alien way. They have language, but that doesn’t mean they think like we do. In my vision, “raw” elementals generally don’t speak with one another; the elemental languages represent the ability to interface with the elemental and to draw its attention in a way that usually doesn’t happen. An airship pilot needs to interface with and guide an elemental, and a Purity binder does this as well. Most binders DISMISS the need to understand the elemental consciousness; Purity binders feel that truly understanding elementals is the secret to vastly better results. And if you want someone to suddenly reveal that elementals are being tortured and to upset the industry, the Power of Purity would be a good place to start.

Are there any people of color in Eberron? Where?

Sure! They’re everywhere. Humans aren’t native to Khorvaire. They came from Sarlona, which is a land with a range of extreme environments. You have tropical Corvagura, the Sykarn deserts, the Tashana Tundra, temperate Nulakhesh, and more. As humans adapted to these environments, they’d logically develop different pigmentation as we see in our world. Beyond this, I’d imagine that people born in manifest zones might develop pigmentations never seen in our world… fiery Fernians, Lamannians with green hair or skin, and so on. The people who settled Khorvaire came from all these regions, and under unified Galifar they blended and merged. So we’ve also embraced the idea that you can find humans of any color across Khorvaire. Given this sort of diversity, not to mention the many different SPECIES people deal with on a daily basis — Gnolls! Lizardfolk! Elves! — we’ve never presented skin color alone as something that is a source of prejudice in Eberron. Like sexual discrimination, this is another place where we prefer to present the world as we’d like it to be as opposed to trying to present all the flaws of our world. If for some reason you’re looking to have a location that has a population of a particular ethnicity, you can either return to Sarlona or simply assert that this particular community traces its roots back to a particular region and hasn’t had the same degree of integration as most of Khorvaire… such as the ethnic Khunan humans of Valenar.

If airships weren’t an option, how would House Lyrandar transport a large amount of cargo from Sharn to Karrnath? Would they go around the Lhazaar Principalities despite the reputation for piracy, or be more likely to risk the Demon Wastes in spite of a lack of friendly ports and crazy monsters? 

There’s a few issues here: rivers, pirates, and cooperation between houses.

First of all: Rivers. I’m not a cartographer, and I didn’t personally draw all the maps for Eberron. Reviewing them today, I’d say that if I did, I’d add more rivers. Notably, I’d extend the Brey River to connect to the Dagger… which is to say, I’d have the Brey run across Breland, and we just call it “The Dagger” around Sharn. So normally there is a river that crosses through, but it does run along the Mournland now which is a little dangerous. But river barges should be a significant thing.

Second, let’s talk about pirates. The Lhazaar are known to engage in piracy, but they ALSO engage in legitimate merchant trade. And Lyrandar, like any Dragonmarked House, isn’t entirely staffed by members of the family. The ECS notes that “many of the dragonmarked houses and other enterprises hire Lhazaar ships and crews to move cargo from one destination to another…” So many Lyrandar vessels traveling along the east coast ARE Lhazaar — either licensed Lhazaar vessels or elemental galleons with Lhazaar crews. Which is mainly just a point that not all Lhazaar sailors are pirates — and that many of the ships targeted BY piracy are themselves Lhazaar vessels. Beyond this, the answer is simple: be prepared for piracy. A typical licensed vessel may be an easy target, but attacking an elemental galleon is no trivial thing for a mundane pirate; not only is the ship faster than yours, the captain can control the wind. It can be done — but it’s no trivial thing! Likewise, Lyrandar employs privateers — many of them Lhazaar! — to protect their ships. Piracy is a threat in Lhazaar waters or the Thunder Sea, but that doesn’t mean it’s a constant or inescapable thing.

Finally, don’t forget cooperation between houses. The whole point of the Twelve is to find ways for houses to work together and accomplish things none of them could do along. Lyrandar and Orien are in competition, but that doesn’t mean that they won’t cooperate in situations where they both can make a profit. So you will definitely have situations where cargo would be taken upriver by a Lyrandar barge, and then transferred to a Orien caravan or lightning rail to cross a stretch of land.

Eberron is a world where changelings and rakshasa exist. What precautions have people developed to deal with imposters? In 3.5 the spell discern shapechanger from Races of Eberron is a third level sell — do you see this spell existing and being implemented?

We’ve presented Eberron as a world in which rakshasa and dragons DO hide unseen and pull strings. While we added magic items like the Mask of the Misplaced Aura precisely to help deep cover agents avoid True Seeing, the fact that such hidden agents are part of the world implies to me that the ability to detect shapechangers IS NOT a trivial, commonplace thing. I think House Medani has produced a dragonshard focus item that duplicates the effect of discern shapechanger, and you can hire a Medani guardian equipped to watch for shapechangers… but it’s not a trivial thing, and you won’t find such agents in small communities.

With that said, Eberron is also a world in which changelings exist, and people know it. So turn it around to OUR world. We have the ability to test DNA and the like, but such technology isn’t available to the average person on the street. So if you knew shapechangers existed, what would YOU do? First of all, changelings can’t duplicate equipment. So, I suspect many people would have some sort of distinctive item that friends would recognize — a ring, a locket, a pin. Their friends would know this totem item, and if someone behaved strangely, the first thing they’d do is say “Is Johnny wearing his totem ring?” Aside from this, paranoid people might also fact check before they engage in risky behavior. “Where did we last meet?” A group of adventurers might establish code phrases that they regularly drop into conversation. This doesn’t have to be full on spy talk; it can be just as simple as friends having a funny call and response or an elaborate handshake. But if Bob suddenly doesn’t remember the handshake, that’s going to raise suspicions.

With that said, changelings are supposed to be able to deceive people. If society has an ironclad way to spot changelings, what’s the point of playing one? People will have customs that tie to this… but this is where changelings need to use Insight to guess the proper response or Deception to shift suspicion. When you’re trying to break into Dreadhold, you can bet they will have True Seeing and many other magical security systems. But in the village grocery, they aren’t equipped to flawlessly spot your changeling.

I’m confused about how the Galifar succession worked… or rather, how it managed to function for nearly nine hundred years before someone’s dispossessed siblings said “Enough!”

There’s two major factors here. First of all, it’s not like it was a surprise when a new ruler took over, with everyone in suspense about who it would be. The eldest heir would be Prince/ss of Cyre, understood to be heir to the throne. Subsequent siblings would be appointed as the Prince/sses of Breland, Karrnath, Thrane and Aundair, and would take over those roles whenever the current governor passed. If the Cyran heir died, the next eldest would shift up to fill the role; if there weren’t enough heirs to fill the governorships, you’d draw on the extended Wynarn family. So each sibling had an important role… and they weren’t raised to think they had a right to the throne. 

Second: who says it DID function for nine hundred years without incident? We’ve never delved deeply into the history of Galifar. Nine hundred years is a tremendously long time. Overlords have nearly broken free. Dragons have ravaged kingdoms. A false Keeper of the Flame split the faithful. Aundair was threatened by a plague of lycanthropy. And I’m SURE there have been attempted secessions, coups, and all many of usurpations. It’s just that the Last War was the one that finally brought the whole thing down. I’d love to delve more deeply into the history of Galifar when there’s an opportunity.

How many Wynarns are there in Khorvaire today, aside from the current royal families?

I can’t give you a count off the top of my head, but there’s certainly a number of Wynarns in all of the Five Nations. I’ll point out that one of the significant characters in The Queen of Stone is Beren ir’Wynarn, one of Boranel’s cousins.

That’s all for now! Feel free to ask questions below, but I am extremely busy this week and new questions may end up being added to the list for the next lightning round. Thanks as always to my Patreon supporters, who make this blog possible.