IFAQ: Dreamspace and Flumphs

Art by Julio Azevedo

Every month, I ask my Patreon supporters for interesting questions about Eberron. This is the first time I’ve been asked about flumphs! So let’s get to it!

What’s the role of Flumphs in Eberron, especially in Riedra or Adar?

As far as I know, flumphs have never been addressed in canon. I’ve personally never used a flumph in any campaign I’ve run, so I’m primarily familiar with them from their appearances in Order of the Stick. So, the following things are true about flumphs in 5E.

  • Flumphs are small aberrations.
  • Flumphs are telepathic. They feed on telepathic emanations and thus are thus found around other telepathic species. They can eavesdrop on telepathic communication in their vicinity and cannot be perceived by telepathy or divination.
  • Flumphs are wise and benevolent. They dislike holding on to evil thoughts, and thus when they overhear evil thoughts they will try and share them with good people—so they’re ideally suited to spilling the beans on illithid or aboleth schemes.
  • They’re traditionally found in the Underdark, and live in harmonious units known as cloisters.

So with all that in mind, here’s how I’ll use flumphs in Eberron…

Flumphs are natives of Xoriat, where they dwell in the Emocean—a tide of surging thoughts and emotions, deeper and more primal than Dal Quor’s Ocean of Dreams. Flumph cloisters drift along streams of consciousness, drawing sustenance from the pure psychic emanations surrounding them. This is a blissful experience, and most flumphs have no interest in traveling to the material plane. But occasionally manifest zones form maelstroms within the Emocean, especially when people within the manifest zone suffer intense emotions. Flumphs in the material plane are fish out of water, and need to quickly find a source of psychic emanations in order to survive. While flumphs can draw sustenance from any form of telepathic emanation, they are benevolent by nature. While they can survive on a diet of cruelty, it’s distressing and they will seek to expunge the evil thoughts in a psychic exchange with good creatures whenever possible.

Flumphs enter Eberron through manifest zones to Xoriat. Here’s a few places flumphs can be found in Eberron.

  • There are flumphs scattered across Sol Udar beneath the Mror Holds, pulled in by the fear and suffering of the dwarves battling Dyrrn the Corruptor. Most Mror flumphs are isolated and lost, struggling to survive. Sages of Clan Narathun have established a flumph sanctuary beneath Shadowspire and reunited a flumph cloister. A group of Narathun bards have been working with these flumphs to develop their thoughtsinging techniques, and flumphs are helping Narathun watch for Dyrrn’s forces.
  • Flumphs can be found in the swamps of the Shadow Marches. Some linger in the periphery of dangerous telepathic entities. Others have formed a symbiotic relationship with a sect known as the Uul’gaanu, the “Daughters of the Dream.” A benevolent variation of Kyrzin’s Whisperers, the Uul’gaanu build their communities around hidden flumphs. The flumphs help the Uul’gaanu develop basic telepathic abilities; an Uul’gaanu community has a very simple hive mind, with members of the community casually sharing emotions and thoughts. Community members gather together for psychic metaconcerts, generating shared emotions that feed their flumphs. Dealing with the Uul’gaanu can be unsettling for outsiders, as the Uul’gaanu respond to the thoughts and emotions of their companions without need for speech; while for their part, the peaceful Uul’gaanu are often distressed by the cruel or selfish thoughts of outsiders. As a result, the Uul’gaanu tend to remain isolated from other Marcher communities.
  • Flumphs have emerged in wild zones of Sarlona over the years. Because of their ability to eavesdrop on psychic communication, the Inspired consider them a security risk and exterminate them whenever they are found. However, a number of flumphs have found safe havens in the fortress monasteries of Adar. Adaran flumphs are valued members of their communities, engaging in thoughtsinging and presenting young Adarans with philosophical challenges. Some flumphs choose to work with Adaran security forces, watching for Inspired infiltrators and influences.

As denizens of Xoriat, flumphs perceive reality in very different ways from creatures of the material plane, and have different outlooks on the nature of time, space, matter, and individual identity. Those who can bend their brains to encompass these concepts can learn a great deal from flumphs, as shown by the nascent group mind of the Uul’gaanu and the thoughtsinging techniques of the Narathun. However, these concepts can be difficult to reconcile with everyday life in the material plane, and this can make conversations with flumphs confusing for people fully grounded in reality.

What is the Dreamspace, and how would you use it?

The Dreamspace is a concept introduced in Secrets of Sarlona, which has this to say:

Planar gateways that once linked Eberron and Dal Quor, the Region of Dreams, were sundered during the cataclysmic wars that destroyed Xen’drik and shattered the giant civilization. Since then, Dal Quor has been forever distant, and no stable manifest zones to Dal Quor exist anywhere on Eberron.

However, Dal Quor and Eberron remained inextricably linked by the state of dreaming—the process by which mortal minds travel to the Region of Dreams, and the subtle gateway through which the quori first began their conquest of Sarlona some fifteen centuries past. 

Discovered short years ago and still known only to a few, the dreamspace is an effect that appears related to this spiritual connection between planes, but one that as yet has no explanation. It appears as a kind of ripple of arcane and psionic energy—a border of sorts between the mortal world and the world of dreams… Regardless of its origin, different factions among both the kalashtar and Inspired distrust—some even say fear—the dreamspace. In particular, a good number of Inspired are said to be disturbed by the existence of a power connected to Dal Quor that they neither control nor understand.

Secrets of Sarlona, Page 18

Secrets of Sarlona includes a set of “Dreamtouched Feats” that allow people to attune themselves to the Dreamspace. Specific uses include the Dream of Contact, which allows long-distance telepathic communication (not unlike Sending) and Dream of Insight, which allows the dreamer to make a Intelligence-based skill check with a substantial bonus to the role—essentially, drawing knowledge from the collective unconscious. These techniques are crucial tools for the Unchained, a resistance movement within Riedra whose members engage un unsanctioned free dreaming.

That’s the extent of canon information. The Dreamspace was “discovered a few short years ago” and both the Inspired and kalashtar distrust it. So what IS it? A few possibilities that come to mind…

  • The Dreamspace is just part of the natural infrastructure of the planes. Think of it as the phone lines that connect mortal dreamers to Dal Quor. There’s nothing sinister about it; it’s just a (super)natural part of the world.
  • The Dreamspace is an artifact created by the quori of a previous age when they interacted with Eberron. Rather than tying this to the Giant-Quori conflict in Xen’drik, I’d tie this to an even older age of Dal Quor, potentially associated with long-forgotten civilizations in either Khorvaire or Sarlona… civilizations destroyed by the rising of the Daughter of Khyber or another Overlord. This allows for the discovery of ancient rituals or artifacts designed to manipulate the Dreamspace, and leaves the question open as to whether the quori of that past age were benevolent or if the Dreamspace itself was designed as some sort of weapon or tool of oppression.
  • People have only discovered the Dreamspace recently because it’s only recently come into existence. It’s the side effect of unforeseen damage the Inspired are inflicting on the psychosphere of Eberron through their use of the hanbalani monoliths. At the moment it’s a useful tool, but as the damage becomes more extensive it could connect unwilling minds, cause dreaming spirits to be lost in the Dreamspace instead of reaching Dal Quor, or far worse things.
  • The Dreamspace is a hoax. It’s a creation of the Dreaming Dark, a lure that’s being used to draw out rebels like the Unchained. Attuning the the Dreamspace and developing Dreamtouched techniques actually makes the user more vulnerable to quori possession.

These are all interesting possibilities. The point is that, like the Mourning, I wouldn’t WANT to present a single kanon or canon answer, because a central point of the Dreamspace is that the people using it don’t know what it is. It is a new tool that’s being latched onto by a desperate resistance—is it a blessing, or could it be a trap? Is it secretly a tool of the Dreaming Dark, or is it a the horrifying result of their messing with powers beyond even their control? Each of the four options above would form the foundation of very different stories. Using the first option, it could be a simple, reliable tool that has no other significant impact on the story. Using the second option could unveil a quori scheme from a previous age that dwarfs the ambitions of the Dreaming Dark—while the third option could end with the Dreaming Dark and the player characters working together to disassemble the hanbalani system before it tears reality apart.

So, the Dreamspace was always intended to be an idea that each DM could use in different ways; perhaps one of these ideas will inspire you!

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

Dragonmarks: Night Hags and Nightmares

The night hags of Eberron are mysterious and enigmatic. The Princess Aundair asserted that night hags were fallen fey cast out of Thelanis; it was likewise Aundair who popularized the idea that night hags created nightmares by ripping the wings off of pegasi. The scholars of Galifar debunked both of these ideas, and established that night hags are native fiends of Eberron that have existed since the Age of Demons. But many questions remain unanswered. If night hags are fiends, why do they seem to have no sympathy for raksashas or other native fiends? How is it that on the one hand you have Sora Kell, who’s described as tearing apart armies with her talons and laying waste to a city with a single spell… and on the other, you have stories describing night hags who seem little more powerful than a typical troll? And if the night hags are native fiends, why do they have such an affinity for dreams and a talent for traveling to other planes?

The most reliable source on the topic is the Codex of All Mysteries, written by Dorius Alyre ir’Korran. The Codex makes the following observations.

Thirteen hags emerged in the First Night, old on their first day; they were called grandmothers even before the first mortal was born. Twelve of these night hags were bound in covens of three; even then, Sora Kell made her own path. Most fiends are tied to one of the dread overlords, and it would be easy to think that the first hags were children of Sul Khatesh, given their affinity for both secrets and magic. But there is no overlord in the First Night. Rather, it seems that the twelve and one collectively embody an idea. Many fiends embody concepts that mortals fear, and the simplest answer is that the night hags embody mortal fears of the night—both specifically of nightmares, but also of the unknown forces lurking in the darkness. The accounts of Jhazaal Dhakaan add a twist to this, suggesting that the night hags embody the curiosity of Khyber itself. Jhazaal observes that the night hags should be considered evil, as they will lead mortals into despair and doom without remorse. But she notes that the hags lack the greater malevolence of the overlords, that they have no desire to dominate mortals or the world; instead, they love to watch stories unfold, especially stories that end in tragedy. In the first days to the world, the night hags served as intermediaries between mortals, fiends, and the other great powers of reality. They took no sides in the many wars of that time, finding joy in moving stories along and watching the horrors that unfolded; they had no agenda, for this story needed no finger on the scales to tilt it toward disaster. The hags simply loved being in the midst of the chaos, and reveled in turning the pages of history.

Should we accept these stories, a night hag is many things at once. She is a shaper of nightmares, who takes joy in hand-crafting nocturnal visions so terrifying that a mortal might fear to ever sleep again. She is an ancient being who may have spoken with dragons, demons, and even overlords. And above all, she is a creature who delights in watching stories unfold and in seeing what happens next—especially when those tales end in tragedy.

What of the curious spectrum between night hags? How can we reconcile the legend of Sora Kell shattering an army with the tale of Sola the Smith outwrestling Sora Tenya? How can we account for the fact that a catalogue of night hags produces more than thirteen names? The answer may be found in another Dhakaani account. The dirge singer Uula Korkala blamed the hag Sora Ghazra for the tragedy that befell her city, and rallied the greatest champions of the age to her pursuit of vengeance. She worked with the legendary hunter Ur’taarka to track the hag and to create snares that could bind even the greatest of fiends. She worked with the daashors to enchant the chain of the mighty Guul’daask, creating a weapon that would shatter the hag’s spirit even as it crushed her bones. Korkala took her vengeance, and Sora Ghazra was defeated. But it is no simple thing to kill an immortal. The shards of Ghazra’s shattered spirit embedded themselves in her killers. Ur’taarka, Guul’daask, even Korkala herself—all were haunted by nightmares. Unable to sleep, they wasted away in body and mind. Eventually the magic of this curse reshaped them into hags—lesser versions of the primal crone they’d destroyed. This created a line of night hags, each bearing this curse. When any one of them dies, the killers will be consumed by nightmares. The curse grows weaker with each generation, and there are heroes who have survived this gauntlet of nightmares; but any who are broken by these terrors will become a weaker hag. Thus, should you encounter a night hag who seems not to live up to the terrifying legend of Sora Kell, she is likely one of Ghazra’s line; the threat she poses will depend on how far removed she is from her ancestor.

Dorius Alyre ir’Korran is a legendary scholar and diviner, known for his ambition to supplant Aureon himself; the Codex is the most trusted source of information on the hags. The actual entry includes far more information than just this, providing further details on many of the original thirteen hags and their covens. However, it is as always up to the DM to decide if any of this is true, or if it is still speculation or even misinformation spread by the hags themselves.

If you trust the Codex, there are a few things to keep in mind.

  • Night hags can have a vast range of power. The Challenge 5 night hag presented in fifth edition is likely a weak descendent of Sora Ghazra. Sora Kell was the most powerful of the primal night hags—the one who always stood alone—and likely has a Challenge rating over 20. Other hags—between the other primal hags and the greater descendants of Sora Ghazra—would fall somewhere within that spectrum. Because of Ghazra’s story, there’s no absolute limit on the number of night hags in the world. There may have only been thirteen primal night hags, but the extent of Ghazra’s brood is entirely up to the DM. The lesser hags of Ghazra’s brood DO NOT retain many memories of the hag that spawned them; they have a basic foundation, but a CR 5 hag doesn’t have memories of the Age of Demons and doesn’t retain all the contacts and connections of their parent hag.
  • Night hags largely view mortals as a form of entertainment. They typically have a cruel sense of humor, and they take joy in hand-crafting nightmares for people who catch their interest. Many of them do enjoy testing virtuous heroes and seeing if they can hold to their ideals. But at the end of the day, most are driven by cruel curiosity; if a hero DOES persevere and overcome adversity, they’ll chuckle and move on, making a note to check back in a few decades. They don’t CARE about the goals of the overlords or the Chamber; they just love good stories. The night hag Jabra sells goods in both Droaam and the Immeasurable Market of Syrania. Her goods won’t necessarily bring misfortune to the buyer; among other things, she sells dreams she’s collected over the centuries. But SOME of her goods are certainly bound to bring tragedy to someone, if not necessarily the person who purchases them. And more than anything, her work as a merchant is a way to while away the immortal hours while she waits for someone interesting to cross her path—a story she can delight in following to its end.
  • Night hags wield power in Dal Quor, as measured by their ability to manipulate dreams. They have an understanding with the quori; remember, the primal night hags once served as ambassadors to all the great powers, and they can be persuasive when they choose. Night hags can smell the touch of a quori on a mortal’s dream, and they will thus avoid interfering with dreamers who play critical roles in the plans of the Dreaming Dark. Beyond this, Dal Quor is vast; night hags and quori generally do their best to stay out of each others’ way. With that said, there have been stories of friendships, rivalries, and feuds between specific quori and night hags; a particular tsucora and a child of Ghazra might take turns tormenting a particular mortal, each trying to craft the most terrifying dream.
  • Night hags have a particular affinity for dreams and Dal Quor. For a night hag, shaping a dream is like playing an instrument; it’s both art and a satisfying hobby. A night hag doesn’t HAVE to have some grand agenda in deciding to haunt a particular mortal, any more than a writer has some specific vendetta against the sheet of paper they select on which to write a story. On the other hand, they may well focus on people who draw their attention. In Droaam, Jabra has been known to buy peoples’ dreams. The simple fact is that she can haunt someone’s dreams whether they agree to it or not; but Jabra enjoys convincing a victim to agree to their torment.
  • Primal night hags are immortal and have existed since the dawn of time. If slain, they will reform in the demiplane known as the First Night. Ghazra’s brood can be killed, at which point they infect their killers with their nightmare curse. Each such generation grows weaker, and it’s possible that the CR 5 night hag of the Monster Manual is simply too far removed from the source to curse its killers… or it might be that they have only to enduring a single nightmare or a few nights to overcome the curse.
  • Primal night hags don’t require a heartstone to become ethereal. A heartstone is a focusing item that allows one of Ghazra’s brood to tap into this power, concentrating their weaker spirit.

With all that in mind, let’s consider a few specific questions.

The ECS says that Night Hags are neutral, but here you say they’re evil. Which is it?

Many ideas in the ECS have evolved over time. When I wrote that original section in the ECS, the intent was to emphasize that the night hags aren’t allied with the Lords of Dust and the overlords—that they are, ultimately, neutral. However, in retrospect, I feel that they should both be fiends and should have an evil alignment. They were born in Khyber, and on a personal level, they delight in tragedies and will unleash nightmares without remorse. We’ve called out that good people can do evil things and that evil people can do good; in the case of the night hags, they are evil beings who choose not to serve a greater good or greater evil.

The immortals of Eberron draw from a finite pool of energy and don’t reproduce. But Sora Kell has daughters, and there’s also hagblood characters. How’s this work?

Night hags can reproduce, but this doesn’t follow normal biological science and most never do. Essentially, what a night hag does in creating a child is much like how they create a nightmare; each of the Daughters of Sora Kell are, essentially, nightmares made real. It’s quite likely that the hag has to invest a certain amount of her own essence in her children, not unlike the story of Sora Ghazra. If so, Sora Kell is likely no longer as powerful as she once was, and this could explain why she’s been missing for so long.

Sora Ghazra’s children are created when a sliver of her spirit reshapes a mortal body. The weaker the are, the more mortal they are; the least of these hags might be able to have children in the normal way, though these children wouldn’t be night hags.

Night hags can trap mortal souls in soul bags. Why do they want mortal souls?

Trapping souls is hardly unheard of in Eberron. Sora Maenya isn’t a night hag, but she’s known for trapping the souls of her victims in their skulls and keeping them. She doesn’t DO anything with them; she just likes collecting them. Sora Teraza traps souls in books, cataloguing the life of the subject. This is the model for night hags. Some may bind captured souls into objects, keeping a collection of soul-bound dolls, for example. Others may weave the souls into acts of magic. For example…

What’s the origin of nightmares (the monsters) in Eberron? Do they have a connection to night hags?

Nightmares are fiends that protect their riders from fire and allow them to travel between the planes. The first nightmares were created by Sora Azhara, a primal night hag with a particular love of Fernia. She crafted the first nightmares by fusing literal nightmares with the ashes of the Demon Wastes and mortal souls. A few of her sisters admired her creations, delighting in their ability to carry mortals into dangerous places, and created nightmares of their own. Any creature capable of casting nightmare could potentially learn the ritual for creating a nightmare. This requires a bound mortal soul slain by nightmares; ashes from the Demon Waste; and a living equine creature, which serves as the physical framework. This is the origin of the tortured pegasus story—but the victim doesn’t have to be a pegasus. A creature who’s soul is bound into a nightmare can’t be raised from the dead by any means until the nightmare is destroyed; the soul is however preserved from Dolurrh while bound. Typically, the mortal spirit is unconscious and oblivious to the passage of time during this binding.

What does it mean that the primal night hags serve as ambassadors? If there were thirteen of them, did they have ties to specific planes?

“Ambassador” isn’t an official title. Night hags are capable of moving across planes, something that’s uncomfortable for most native immortals. Essentially, they spend a lot of time traveling—they are in part driven by curiosity—and they know people. The dragons and fiends of the Age of Demons found it useful to have a recognized neutral force, and the night hags enjoyed being a part of the story. This continues today. The night hag Jabra knows thousands of immortals through the time she’s spent at the Immeasurable Market. A random lesser night hag may know a number of quori—some friends, some rivals. Sora Azhara has a love of Fernia and is a regular guest at the parties of the efreet. But this is ultimately an informal role, more “I know a hag who knows a guy” than being officially appointed by the Progenitors or anything like that.

That’s all for now! Thank you to my Patreon supporters both for making these articles possible and for suggesting the topic; in my monthly call for questions, someone asked “Night Hags! Just Night Hags!… So here we are! If you want to have a chance to shape future topics and help insure that there are more articles, pitch in at my Patreon.

Also: I am continuing to work on Frontiers of Eberron: Threshold, and TONIGHT (Wednesday September 8th) I’m kicking off a new stream to playtest the material. It’s part of the Fugue State stream, which I play in with Colin Meloy and Chris Funk of the Decemberists, Charlie Chu of Oni Press, Han Duong, and Jennifer Kretchmer. It’s going to run for about six weeks and the first episode is TONIGHT, so if you want to see it kick off, drop by the Twogether Studios Twitch channel at 7:30 PM Pacific Time! This is a very casual stream—basically just our home game in action—but I’m sure it will be fun!

IFAQ: Bagmon and Conqueror

As time permits, I like to address the INfrequently asked questions of Eberron—interesting questions posed by my Patreon supporters. Here’s a few you may not have heard before! As always, these are MY opinions and may contradict canon sources.

How would a trading/collectible card game (like Pokémon TCG, Magic the Gathering) manifest in Khorvaire? What Dragonmarked house (or other) would develop and manufacture these games?

Why make a TCG when you could make actual Pokemon? A Bag of Tricks is an uncommon magic item that lets you summon a random beast from a specific list. I could easily see the Twelve—specifically Vadalis, Orien, and Cannith—working together to produce a variant Bag of Tricks. Rather than summoning a beast with a random roll on a table, it starts containing only one special Vadalis-bred beast and you expand your list by finding and collecting other monsters. Aside from that limitation/advantage, it would work exactly like a Bag of Tricks—it’s an action to summon a beast, you can use it three times a day, beast disappears when reduced to 0 HP. Perhaps, with work, you can evolve your creatures into more powerful forms. BAGMON, it’s the new big thing!

When I initially answered this question, I’d forgotten that my Manifest Zone co-host Imogen Gingell has in fact already created a host of Eberron-themed Pokemon that you could use with as Bagmon creatures. Her Five Nations set is pictured above, but you can find more here! In addition, she’s actually developed a full bestiary with stats for these creatures, which is available on the DM’s guild. She ties them to Thelanis rather than my Cannith/Vadalis Bagmon idea, but the creatures can work with any of these ideas.

If I was going to make a card game like Magic, I’d want it to still be magical—to have the cards produce Prestidigitation-level sounds and illusions as you play it. With this in mind, I could see three paths. It could be Aundairian; we’ve always called out Aundair as having the most use of casual magic. It could be created as a joint product by Sivis and Phiarlan, blending Scribing with the illusory elements of Shadow, and being both a printing thing and a form of entertainment. But I could also see it as being a Fey artifact from Thelanis—something that came to Eberron through a manifest zone and is now spreading rapidly, like a weed or a predator introduced into an environment that’s not prepared to deal with it.

Did you ever think up rules, terminology, and/or a simple general description of how the game of Conqueror is played? Is there a word to announce your victory, kinda like “checkmate”?

Conqueror was introduced in Five Nations, a book I didn’t work on. It runs into a tricky question of worldbuilding. The idea is that the Karrns are a people with a deep love of competition and strategy; the game is described as “Chesslike.” The problem with creating new rules and terms for the game is that YOUR PLAYERS WON’T KNOW THESE RULES AND TERMS. The SIMPLE approach is to say that Conqueror uses the basic rules and terms of Chess. It is less deeply satisfying because why would this alien world have a game we play—but the point is that if a villain says “Checkmate” the players understand the reference whereas if a villain says “No more conquests” you’re going to have to explain to the players “That’s a term from the game Conqueror which is used when the opponent is out of moves, sort of like saying ‘checkmate.'” Essentially, is it worth the effort involved on all sides to create an entirely new game, or is it simpler to just have the Karrnathi warlord say “Checkmate”?

With this in mind, when I had people playing Thrones a recent Threshold game, I essentially said “It’s like poker, but it uses a five-suited deck with a suit for each of the Five Nations.” While it would make more sense for it to have entirely unique rules, for SPEED OF PLAY it was easier to have it use basic Poker rules, because the players KNOW those. The five suited deck changes the odds a bit and added a unique twist (and I came up with the face cards based on notable figures from each nation), but I didn’t have to make up an entirely new game and the players could make some quick decisions based on their pre-existing knowledge of Poker.

The main thing is that if I was going to make rules for Conqueror, I’d want to go all in and MAKE A SET THE PLAYERS CAN PLAY, and play it with them a bunch of times, so they KNOW the terms when I drop them into the world. And like Thrones and Poker, I’d probably use Chess as a foundation (IE, 8×8 grid board, pieces with specific movement patterns, win by capturing an opponent’s Sovereign) rather than making something completely unique, because again, ultimately I WANT THE PLAYERS TO UNDERSTAND THE GAME. Creating an entirely unique game that only I really understand is a cool thing, but the question is whether the experience at the TABLE will be satisfying for the players or if it’s going to be more fun all around if I just said “Checkmate.”

Are there Khorvaire (or Karrnath) parallels to our chess champions?

Five Nations calls out Conqueror as the national pastime of Karrnath. With that in mind you can be certain that there are competitions and champions, and I’d expect Rekkenmark to make use of a form of Kriegsspiel. And I do expect that there are players across the Five Nations, it’s just that Karrns dominate the game. So I could definitely imagine running a Queen’s Gambit style campaign in which a young warlock is a Conqueror prodigy and they go to competitions across Khorvaire—possibly being pushed by Kaius as a peace initiative and way to bring the nations back together. But I’d be fairly likely to lean heavily on Chess terms unless I had time to create something entirely new—just as I use the foundation of Poker for Thrones in Threshold.

That’s all for now! Thanks as always to my Patreon supporters, both for asking interesting questions and making it possible for me to spend time on these articles. If you have an infrequently asked question of your own, you can ask me on Patreon!

Dragonmarks: Sphinxes of Eberron

She had the body of a great black cat, with the neck and head of a beautiful elf-maiden – though if that head was on a humanoid body, she’d have to be nine feet tall to match the scale. Her skin was flawless cream, her eyes glittering gold. Her long hair was midnight black, dropping down and mingling with the vast raven’s wings folded on her back. The black of her fur and hair was striped with bands of brilliant orange, and these seemed to glow in the dim light; when she shifted these stripes rippled like flames.

“Why are you doing this?” Daine said. “If you know so much about our destinies, why the riddles? Why not just tell us what you know?”

The sphinx smiled. “What answer do you wish to hear, Daine with no family name? That I am bound by divine and arcane laws, and have told you all that I can? That I have told you what you need to know to fulfill your purpose in this world? Or that I have my own plans, and I am shaping your destiny as much as any of the others who watch?”

“Which is true?”

“Which will you believe?”

City of Towers

Sphinxes are enigmatic and inscrutable. For all their cryptic insights and challenges, in some ways the greatest riddle of the sphinx is the sphinx itself. Where do they come from? What is the source of their knowledge, and most of all, what is their motivation? In most tales a sphinx is found guarding some arcane site or artifact, only sharing its treasure or its knowledge to those who can pass its test. Why does it do this?

No sphinx will answer these questions. No power on Eberron can read the mind of a sphinx, and divinations shatter against their inscrutable nature. And so the sages of Eberron are left to ponder the riddle, studying the clues that are available. The first and most popular theory about sphinxes was presented by the loremaster Dorius Alyre ir’Korran. In his Codex of All Mysteries, ir’Korran asserted that sphinxes are living embodiments of the Draconic Prophecy. Their oracular abilities are tied to the fact that they are manifestations of the Prophecy and innately know the paths of the future. They are bound to their duties and found in portentous locations because they are literally instruments of destiny, positioned to guide and challenge the people who will in turn shape history. They slip through time and space because they exist beyond it. Ir’Korran suggested that although they appear to be individuals, sphinxes are in fact all part of a greater entity, fingers on a hand too vast for mortals to see.

For centuries most scholars have supported ir’Korran’s theory. Magister Mara ir’Lain observed that sphinxes often appear to be guarding tombs, temples, or treasures, but there are no reliable accounts of a sphinx being assigned such a task. An androsphinx that identified itself as Silverstorm challenged Harryn Stormblade in the ancient Dhakaani citadel below Cazhaak Draal, but the only Dhakaani account that mentions sphinxes is the story of Jhazaal Dhakaan outwitting a sphinx to obtain its secret knowledge. Ir’Lain believed that this supported the Codex: that as Silverstorm wasn’t posted by the Dhakaani, its stewardship of Cazhaak Draal must be tied to the Prophecy.

However, over the centuries, scholars have learned more about sphinxes. In his paper “The Sphinx in the Library”, Professor Cord Ennis of Morgrave University made the following observations (summarized for the terrestrial reader; Ennis doesn’t mention the Monster Manual):

  • Sphinxes are powerful and varied spellcasters. The androsphinx in the Monster Manual is a divine spellcaster, using Wisdom to cast cleric spells. the gynosphinx is an arcane spellcaster, using Intelligence to cast wizard spells. While it’s possible that this is tied to the species of sphinx, it’s equally plausible that these are learned skills—that an androsphinx could master arcane magic, or a gynosphinx could channel magic through faith.
  • While they often appear to be bound to some sort of duty, sphinxes seem to have personalities and even a desire to learn. The most well-documented sphinx of the modern age, Flamewind, resides at Morgrave University and often spends her time reading; she has been known to attend parties and theatrical events.
  • Sphinxes are monstrosities, not celestials, fiends, or fey. This suggests that they are creatures of flesh and blood, rather than immortal incarnations.

Ennis challenges the Codex on multiple points. If sphinxes are extensions of the Prophecy, are they monstrosities rather than some form of celestial or fiend? Why do we see what appear to be both wizards and clerics among them, rather than a single path reflecting the channeled power of the Prophecy? Why did Flamewind attend the premiere of Five Lives, and even shed a tear in the final act? There are certainly reports of Flamewind assuming the role of the imperious oracle—as she did when first encountered, and as in the account quoted at the start of the article—and yet, she also seems to be capable of more casual interactions.

Cord Ennis believed this proved that sphinxes could have a more mundane origin: that they are mortal creatures, that they can study and learn, that they have more personality than the typical celestial. But as critics were quick to point out, no one has ever discovered any evidence of a civilization of sphinxes. There’s only a single account (discovered in Cul’sir ruins) of multiple sphinxes being encountered at the same time. All of this supports the Codex. There’s no signs of a sphinx civilization because sphinxes are tools of the Prophecy.

A team of researchers in the Arcane Congress presented a new theory, seeking to bridge the two: that sphinxes are creatures of Thelanis. The premise is that sphinxes aren’t instruments of destiny, but rather that they exist to drive the plot. Thelanis is the plane of stories, and its archfey often seem to enjoy seeing echoes of their stories in the world. Under this theory, the reason sphinxes show up at such dramatic times and locations is because the story needs them to—that they are some form of servants to the archfey, helping to guide the world in ways that echo the story of their masters. This ties to the fact that Thelanian creatures often show more personality and quixotic behavior than many other creatures, and that lesser fey aren’t immortal. While a compelling theory, opponents countered with the point that sphinxes don’t share the typical traits of Thelanian entities—which is to say, they are monstrosities rather than fey.

Most recently, Cord Ennis returned with a refinement of his thesis. Ennis suggests that sphinxes are mortal, civilized creatures, but that the reason there’s no evidence of any sphinx civilization is because they aren’t from this time. There are a number of accounts in which people facing sphinxes in their lairs are shifted through time—the apocryphal tale that Breggor Firstking was a beggar who was given a chance to relive his life and used his knowledge to become a king, or the story of the man who sleeps in a sphinx’s lair without permission and awakes a hundred years later. According to Ennis’s theory, the idea that sphinxes can move through time helps to explain both their seemingly oracular abilities and their interest in seeming cryptic actions; that their enigmatic behavior shapes future events in ways we don’t see, but they do. The lack of any signs of sphinx civilization is because it doesn’t exist in the scope of history as we know it. And further, the fact that sphinxes only manipulate time in their lairs suggests the use of some form of eldritch machine as opposed to the innate powers one would expect in a living manifestation of the Prophecy—that they accomplish time travel using a tool, rather than personal power alone. Ennis asserted that this could explain Flamewind’s observed behavior—at times the cryptic oracle, and at other times almost more of a curious tourist.

While intriguing, Ennis admitted that there was one piece of the puzzle that still escaped him. When do these time-traveling sphinxes come from? His first thought was the distant future—that they could even be some sort of mystically evolved descendants of the modern races. Yet if that were the case, is there no risk of their meddling changing their own future? Given this, he ultimately favors the idea that the sphinxes are from the very distant past—that they could potentially be the citizens of the FIRST civilization of Eberron, a society that predates the Age of Demons and whose existence was wiped from history by the dominion of the overlords. With this as a foundation, Ennis suggests that the actions of the sphinxes might not be the absolute demands of destiny one would expect from embodiments of the Prophecy, but rather a grand game. As their time is long past, the sphinxes don’t actually care what about the ultimate outcome; whether the overlords rise again or the daelkyr are unleashed doesn’t actually hurt them. Ennis further suggests that this could reflect the different techniques seen among sphinxes. The “divine” sphinxes—those wielding clerical abilities—could see their actions as being a divine mission, potentially even one mandated by the Progenitors (because what other gods were there at the dawn of time?) while the “arcane” sphinxes could be the scientists of their time. Thus, Flamewind could be in Sharn because she knows it is a nexus of elements she wants to deal with—events or people she wants to observe or influence—but that between those key events she is simply enjoying studying this time and place, so alien to her native time.

While these are all intriguing possibilities, as long as sphinxes remain inscrutable they will remain a mystery. Servants of the Prophecy? Agents of the archfey? Travelers from the dawn of time? All three are possible, and the only way to learn the truth is through adventure. Within their lairs, sphinxes have the ability to manipulate time and travel the planes.

Why Does This Matter?

The mystery of the sphinx is an important part of the creature, and something I want to maintain rather than simply providing an absolute answer. Are sphinxes time travelers? Agents of Prophecy? Shapers of story? All three are possible—but each has a different impact on both the role a sphinx may play in a campaign and on the mechanics of the sphinxes themselves. Most critically, the rules of the sphinx’s lair action state that the sphinx can shift itself and others to “another plane of existence.” It doesn’t specify which plane of existence or that the sphinx has multiple options. This answer—along with the circumstances under which the sphinx would USE its lair actions—likely depends on its origins. Because again, always remember that just because a sphinx CAN do something doesn’t mean it WILL. A Prophecy sphinx my have the POWER to shift people through time, but it may never use it if it isn’t required. So, let’s briefly consider the theories presented above and the ways these would impact a story.

Time Travelers. One of the core elements of sphinxes as time travelers is the idea that they are a mortal civilization. They are advanced beyond any civilization that exists today, but they are individuals using magical tools to accomplish these things—they are arcane scientists and divine spellcasters, capable of observing the tapestry of time and playing a great game they are playing with it. If this is the case, Flamewind in Sharn may indeed have very specific events she wants to observe and people she wishes to drive down specific paths, but at the end of the day she is a mortal wizard. She may play the role of being enigmatic and all-knowing, but there’s a touch of the Wizard of Oz; she DOES have knowledge of the future and of the potential destiny of the characters, but she’s not in fact infallible, she is playing her own game, and she also enjoys being a little bit of a tourist between those critical events. Should you follow this path, there’s a few points I’d consider.

  • The spellcasting abilities of a sphinx reflect whether they are a divine or arcane spellcaster—essentially, a wizard or a cleric. Under this approach, gynosphinxes and androsphinxes are simply male and female sphinxes, and it should be possible to encounter an androsphinx wizard or a gynosphinx priestess. A key question is what divine power sphinxes serve; personally, I like the idea that they might have a different sort of relationship with the Progenitors than people of the present day.
  • In shifting themselves or others to another plane, I would specifically use XORIAT. We’ve established that Xoriat is the key to time travel, and I’d assert that the time travel techniques being used by the sphinxes are based in this. The sphinxes aren’t creatures OF Xoriat and have no love for the daelkyr; they are scientists who are USING Xoriat. But they can also toss you into it for kicks.
  • The lair abilities of a sphinx are tied to a form of eldritch machine. Most likely this is specifically linked to the sphinx and cannot be used or even understood by any other creature… But it’s POSSIBLE that someone who’s figured out the mystery of the sphinx and has access to their lair could find a way to hack their time machine. A second specific question is where Flamewind has her lair. If the lair is a machine, it’s not likely to be something she could build in Morgrave University. In the novel City of Towers, this is why she deals with the protagonists in the abandoned temple in Malleon’s Gate; she hangs out at Morgrave, but her LAIR is in Malleon’s.
  • The final point is that time-traveling sphinxes are manipulating events, but they don’t have the same sort of agenda as heralds of Prophecy or Archfey emissaries. They aren’t invested in the outcome in the same way as, say, the Lords of Dust or the Chamber. Ultimately, this isn’t their time and the outcome won’t actually AFFECT them; it’s more intriguing than vital. However, divine sphinxes are more likely to be driven by a divine mission, while arcane sphinxes are more likely to be scientists and researchers.

Agents of the Archfey. If Sphinxes are tied to Thelanis, they are a form of fey; it’s up to the DM to decide whether to add the fey subtype or simply to say that you don’t HAVE to be fey to be from Thelanis. Sphinxes would effectively be Greater Fey—not truly immortal, but with a loose relationship to time and reality. A few thoughts about Thelanian sphinxes…

  • The plane they can travel to is Thelanis. Their ability to manipulate time is something that they don’t use with great precision and essentially only use when it serves the story; they aren’t truly time travelers, but they can throw Rip Van Winkle ahead a century when it fits the story.
  • A sphinx will be tied to a specific archfey, and its goals and the role it plays—guarding a location, posing a riddle—are tied to the story of that archfey. A Thelanian sphinx will be bound by fey logic: if it eats anyone who fails to answer its riddle, that’s not a CHOICE, it’s what it HAS TO DO. It MUST follow its role in the story.
  • While they draw on wizard or cleric spell lists, sphinxes aren’t actually clerics or wizards; their spellcasting reflects innate fey powers rather than arcane science.

Incarnations of Prophecy. If they are incarnations of the Prophecy, sphinxes stand sideways to the conflicts of the Lords of Dust and the Chamber. They don’t seek to manipulate the Prophecy: they ARE the Prophecy. While they may not be celestials or fiends, neither are they mortal creatures: they appear when and where they are needed, and likely disappear back into the Prophecy once their purpose has been fulfilled. If you want to explain the curious behavior of Flamewind, one possibility is to say that while a Prophetic sphinx has a limited existence, during the time it does exist it is a conscious entity; that Flamewind has spent eons as a disembodied thread of the Prophecy and is enjoying this incarnate period while she waits for the purpose that has caused her to be made manifest comes to a point. Key points about Prophetic sphinxes…

  • A Prophetic sphinx has no tied to any specific plane; as such, the planes it can access are likely tied to its specific Prophetic role.
  • This likewise ties to its ability to time travel. Essentially, a Prophetic sphinx has no free will. It exists for an absolute purpose. It CAN manipulate time or transport people to the planes, but it won’t and can’t use this power unless it is necessary for the purpose it’s manifested to fulfill. If adventurers must travel to Shavarath, it will transport them to Shavarath. If they must go forward ten years, it will take them forward ten years. But it can’t just decide that it would be INTERESTING to take them forward ten years to see what happens, as a time-traveling sphinx might.
  • The spellcasting abilities of a Prophetic sphinx are an innate part of its purpose and not skills it has learned.
  • The sphinx only exists to fulfill a purpose, guiding or guarding a particular node of the Prophecy. It is quite possible that part of its purpose is to prevent the Lords of Dust, Dragons, or other forces from interfering with that Prophetic lynchpin. But it has no wider goals, and it will discorporate once its purpose is fulfilled.

Essentially, time traveling sphinxes are the most free-spirited and are essentially playing a game with their riddles and challenges, while Prophetic sphinxes are the least free-willed and most bound to an absolute agenda, with Thelanian sphinxes falling in between.

Don’t Time Travelers Break The Game?

The fifth edition sphinx has the ability to travel in time, and to take others with it. From a purely abstract perspective, this throws all sorts of wrenches into a campaign. If adventurers fight a sphinx, why doesn’t it just go back in time and kill their grandparents? If the daelkyr rise, why don’t the adventurers get a sphinx to take them back in time and undo everything?

First of all, that last point is an excellent argument for having that power: it IS an ultimate escape hatch. It means that you CAN put failure on the table. You CAN have have Rak Tulkhesh break its chains and drown the Five Nations in blood, and the only hope is for the adventurers to fight their way to Sharn and convince Flamewind to give them a second chance. From a narrative perspective, that option is a great thing to have. The trick is that it shouldn’t be something that trivializes every defeat… “Oh, Flamewind, I lost at cards last night. Can we redo that?” Which brings up a number of points: when they can travel in time, and when they will travel in time.

First of all: time travel is a LAIR ACTION for a sphinx. You may not meet a sphinx in its lair… and a particularly sphinx might not even HAVE a lair. In Sharn, Flamewind definitely can’t call Morgrave University “her lair.” Presumably, her lair was in the Xen’drik ruins where she was first found. I’ve suggested that she might have built a NEW lair in some abandoned part of Sharn, but it’s equally plausible to say that she just doesn’t have a lair in Sharn; if she wants to help you time travel, you’ll all have to make a trip to Xen’drik (and hope nothing else has taken over her lair!). So keep in mind that when you meet a sphinx guarding a tomb, there’s no rule saying that the tomb is actually its LAIR.

Second: Even if a sphinx COULD solve all your problems with time travel, why would it? The Thelanian sphinx is there to nudge the story in a particular direction, not to completely rewrite it; as said earlier, it’s likely doesn’t have full free access to time travel, and can only actually use the power when it fits the narrative (IE: it can toss Rip Van Winkle forward a hundred years, but it can’t take you back in time to murder King Jarot). The Prophecy sphinx is even more limited, bound by unbreakable bonds of fate to only do the things it’s supposed to do, and taking you back in time isn’t an option. The wild card is the time traveling sphinx, but here’s the catch: it doesn’t care about your problems. From the perspective of the time traveler, it sees the full scope of history, filled with uncountable deaths and tragedies. From your perspective, the release of Rak Tulkhesh is a horrible tragedy that could be stopped and hundreds of thousands of people could be saved. From the time traveler’s perspective, the rise of Rak Tulkhesh and those tragic deaths are just one page in the book of all history, one filled with countless tragedies and countless deaths; what the time traveler knows is that HISTORY GOES ON, and that in three thousand years these events will only be a memory. The time traveler’s job isn’t to defeat Bel Shalor for Tira Miron; it’s to challenge Tira Miron to realize that she has the power to do it herself. Or they might even just be here to watch! The release of Rak Tulkhesh in 998 YK is a fascinating moment in history and they’re just here to watch it unfold.

The short answer I’d give is that when dealing with a time traveling sphinx, decide EXACTLY WHY IT’S HERE. If it’s a divine sphinx it may have what it believes to be a divine mission. If it’s an arcane sphinx, it may be a tourist here to observe history or it might be playing a game, seeing if it can engineer a very specific outcome. Whatever the goal, nothing else matters to it. Everyone around it is simultaneously already dead and haven’t yet been born. You may want it to solve your problems, but your problems are no more important to it than the problems of every single other tragic person in history, and if it’s not helping them it won’t help you. It’s not here to beat Rak Tulkhesh for you—it’s here to give you the clue or the challenge, and then see if you do succeed… or take notes on exactly how things play out when you fail and then go home to the dawn of time, where that failure is just an entertaining anecdote.

Of course, there’s a third even zanier option to consider, following the model of The Magicians: How do you know that sphinxes HAVEN’T been resetting the timeline? Is it in fact possible that Flamewind is in Sharn to engineer a very specific outcome—and if it somehow fails, she will take the entire city back in time and replay the entire scenario until you dummies get it right? It could be that the adventurers somehow realize that Flamewind has prevented Rak Tulkhesh from being released thirty times already—but again, she can’t solve the problem, she can only pull everyone back a year and hope that this time you’ll figure it out. Or, on a smaller scale, you could have a Groundhog Adventure where each day ends with a second Mourning and the adventurers starting over again… Once again, Flamewind is reseting Sharn each time they fail, but she can’t actually solve the problem for them, because it’s their history. But again, it’s easy enough to say that this is the single reason she’s in Sharn… and once you to get it right, she’ll return to her own time for good.

Essentially, yes, unlimited time travel would cause all sorts of problems. So limit it. Limit what they can do (no lair, no travel; no violating the laws of the Prophecy; etc) and limit what they are willing to do. Your horrific apocalypse is just one page in a very big history book, and for the time tourist it’s a cool event to observe happen, not something they need to fix.

Looking the time travelers from the past, How do they handle and reconcile the fall of their civilization? They can go back to their home at the dawn of time, but eventually that time runs out on their civilization?

Certainly. It’s something we see in various versions of Atlantis. Imagine that they know that their civilization will end in one year. The overlords are going to rise and that is absolutely, 100% inevitable: Krypton WILL explode. They don’t have the resources to project their entire civilization beyond the Age of Demons; they can only support, say, one hundred time travelers. And it may even be that they can only support them for a certain amount of time, that they will eventually be pulled back to the doomed dawn. So those one hundred time travelers are essentially stretching that final year out for as long as possible by dwelling in other times — seeing as much as they can of a future their people will never know, cataloguing the wonders of eternity and doing what they can to be a part of legend—to create stories that WILL be remembered—before they are gone.

On the other hand, if you want a more activist story, consider this: what if the reason the sphinxes are tweaking history and shaping stories is because they are creating a point in the distant future that they CAN move their civilization to? Essentially, it’s an even longer game than the Lords of Dust. Each shift—each hero tested—is shifting the number of a combination lock. At some point they will create the future they are looking for, five thousand years from now, when Sphinx Atlantis can leap forward in time and be saved. So they could, essentially, be from both the past AND the future.

But What About Zenobaal?

Dragons of Eberron presents the idea of Zenobaal, a rogue dragon who refers to itself as “The Prophecy Incarnate”. One aspect of Zenobaal is that he has an alliance with a gynosphinx named Maris-Kossja, and that they have a brood of half-dragon gynosphinx offspring. How does that fit with this idea?

There’s a few factors: first and foremost, this article is based on the fifth edition interpretation of sphinxes, which positions them as being more rare and unique — as opposed to the default 3.5 approach, by which sphinxes are just part of the world. This article notably doesn’t address hieracosphinxes, for example. The second point is that I didn’t create Maris-Kossja or Zenobaal, and this article is based on how *I* use sphinxes — which is more reflected by Flamewind. With that said, I have no issues with Zenobaal, and I think it can work in this interpretation. The simplest approach is to use the time travel idea, because under that concept sphinxes ARE mortal and could have offspring; Maris-Kossja has come from the past or future, is fascinated with Zenobaal, and has chosen to produce offspring with him… creating that rare time when you could encounter multiple sphinxes. That’s pretty straightforward. The more exotic option is to go with the Prophetic Sphinx and say that this is evidence of Zenobaal’s deep ties to the Prophecy. Zenobaal is so bound to the Prophecy that it has literally manifested a mate for him—and that his half-dragon offspring are flesh-and-blood manifestations of the Prophecy.

In general, however, this article is based on the 5E interpretation of sphinxes and will not necessarily apply to all 3.5 uses of sphinxes. You’ll have to decide how to address other contradictions. If you go with time travel sphinxes, and interesting option is to say that criosphinxes and hieracosphinxes are MODERN sphinxes — that they are either the primitive ancestors of or devolved descendants of the time traveling sphinxes.

A warning: I am working on multiple deadlines at this point in time, and will not be answering as many questions on this topic as I often do. Feel free to post questions and thoughts below and to comment on other peoples’ questions; just keep in mind that I may not have time to answer them.

Thanks as always to my Patreon supporters, who chose this topic and the next one in the queue: Avassh, the Twister of Roots!

IFAQ: Swearing, Djinn, and Genasi

Every month I ask my Patreon supporters to pose interesting questions about Eberron. Here’s a few lingering questions from October!

Any swear words specific to Khorvaire?

The humans of Khorvaire excrete and reproduce much as we do – so swear words related to those functions are just as applicable on Eberron as Earth. Setting-specifice swears generally invoke things that are unique to the world, whether that’s deities or planes. Looking to my novels, a few examples…

  • Dolurrh! is much like saying Hell! With this in mind, we’ve also seen Damn you to Dolurrh!
  • Thrice-damned invokes the Progenitors, essentially Damned by Eberron, Khyber, and Siberys. So, that thrice-damned dwarf!
  • You can always invoke the Sovereigns. Sovereigns above! is a general invocation, a sort of give me strength! In The Queen of Stone, the Brelish ambassador swears by Boldrei’s bloody feet! — essentially a variant of God’s blood! Any Sovereign could be used in this way. Aureon’s eyes, Kel, what made you think you could get away with that?
  • Olladra is the Sovereign of fortune, and often invoked to acknowledge good or bad luck. Olladra smiles is a polite way to say That was lucky, while Olladra scowls is essentially that didn’t turn out the way I wanted it to.
  • Flame! is often used even by people who aren’t devoted to the Silver Flame. Depending on the context and the faith of the speaker, Flame! can be an earnest invocation as opposed to an expression of frustration.

These are curses of the Five Nations, and in the Common tongue. I don’t have time to comb through all the curses we’ve created in other languages, but Maabet is a Dhakaani curse that a city goblin might still use.

Do you have a vision for how Djinni and Marids fit in the planes?

Syrania embodies peace, and all that flourishes in times of peace. Knowledge, commerce, and contemplation are all elements of Syrania. Angels perform the tasks necessary to maintain the Immeasurable Market while Dominions contemplate the concept of commerce, but angels don’t enjoy the luxuries that commerce provides. This is the role of the djinn. The floating towers of the Dominions are serene and often austere; above them are the cloud-palaces of the djinn, wondrous spectacles of crystal and stone. Within, the djinn dwell amid glorious opulence, their needs tended by unseen servants. In this, they reflect the efreet of Fernia—but the efreet are defined by the hunger of the consuming flame, the endless desire for more, while the djinn are more comfortable in their luxury. A djinni may find joy in contemplating a fine work of art, while the efreeti is always concerned that their neighbor has something finer. Essentially, the djinn are more peaceful that the efreet. Rather than representing air itself, think of the djinn as embodying the wonder of the clouds, the idea that there could be castles in the sky. While they lack the fiery temper of the efreet, djinn can be as capricious as the wind; intrigue is also a thing that flourishes in times of peace, and they can take joy in matching wits with clever mortals.

So, the djinn celebrate the fruits of peace—including celebration itself. Djinn regularly hold grand galas in their floating manors; but these focus on the joy of good times with good company as opposed to the ostentatious and competitive displays of the efreet. Nonetheless, a mortal who earns a reputation as an amazing entertainer or artist could potentially be invited to a djinni’s ball. Thus, a warlock with the Genie patron can be seen as an agent for their patron in the material plane, searching for tings that will delight their benefactor. A dao patron may be eager to obtain exotic materials and rare components to use in their works. An efreeti may task their warlock to find the treasures or wonders they need to outshine their rivals. While a djinn patron may want the warlock to find beautiful things, works of art for their mansion or delightful companions for their next feast.

Marids are harder, but I’d personally place them in Thelanis, in a layer that embodies wondrous tales of the seas. This ties to the 5E lore that marids are master storytellers, and consider it a crime for a lesser being to interrupt one of their tales. I could imagine a grand marid who’s both elemental and archfey, who styles themselves as “The Ocean King” and claims dominion over all shipwrecks and things lost in the water (not that they actually ENFORCE this claim, it’s just part of their story…).

Now: having said this, I could imagine placing the djinn in Thelanis as well, in a layer of clouds that incorporates a range of stories about giants in the sky and other cloud palaces. I personally like them in Syrania because it allows them to embody the joys that commerce and peace bring in ways the angels don’t, but I could also see djinn as being primarily tied to stories of wonders in the sky.

Is there a place for genie nobles who can grant wishes?

That’s part of the point to placing djinn on Syrania; they are, on one level, spirits of commerce. Some love to bargain and have the power to grant wonders if their terms are upheld (but can be capricious about terms). Even lesser djinn who don’t have the actual power of wish could still make such bargains, granting things that are within their power. It can also fit with marids on Thelanis, with that idea that it’s fueled by the stories of mighty genies granting wishes (and the often negative consequences of foolish wishes).

How do genasi fit into Eberron? And how would a fire genasi influenced by Lamannia differ from one influenced by Fernia?

Exploring Eberron has this to say about genasi…

Genasi aren’t innately fiendish or celestial; they’re purely elemental. While quite rare, when recognized, a genasi is generally understood to be neutral in nature —a remarkable mutation, but not something to be feared or celebrated.

Following this principle, genasi aren’t true-breeding and don’t have a recognized culture in Eberron; each genasi is a unique manifestation. As for the difference between the Lamannian genasi and the Fernian genasi, it’s not dramatic; they do both represent the neutral fore of fire. However, I could see saying that the Fernian genasi is inspired by the industrial fires of Fernia, and has a natural instinct for industry and artifce, while the Lamannian genasi is more inspired by the pure elemental force.

For other ways to use genasi in a campaign, consider the options in this article. Previously we suggested that another source of genasi (water or earth) could be Lorghalen gnomes bound to elemental forces.

To which degree are people aware of planar manifest zones and their influence on daily life?

People are very aware of manifest zones and their effects. They don’t know the locations of every zone — it’s not always easy to spot a zone at a glance — but it’s common knowledge that it’s a manifest zone that allows Sharn’s towers to rise so high, and why you don’t have skycoaches everywhere. People know that a blighted region might be a Mabaran manifest zone, and that a fertile one could be tied to Lamannia or Irian. Dragonmarked houses actively search for manifest zones that are beneficial to their operations, and I’d expect that there’s an occupation not unlike feng shui consultants, who evaluate the planar balances of a particular region.

With that said, most common people can’t tell you the PRECISE effects of each type of manifest zone; that’s the sort of thing that requires an Arcana check. But the common people are very much aware of the existence of manifest zones and their importance, and if something strange happens someone can reasonable say “Could this be a manifest zone?

If a Brelish war criminal escapes to Graywall, how likely are the Daughters or Xor’chylic to agree to a Brelish request for extradition? In general, how do extradition requests function with non-Treaty nations?

Generally, not at all. Given that Breland refuses to recognize Droaam as a nation, it’s hard for them to make a request based on international law. Beyond that, what’s more interesting for story purposes—that Droaam just turns over the criminal because Breland asks, or that Breland needs to turn to Sentinel Marshals, bounty hunters, or PLAYER CHARACTERS to apprehend the war criminal? Part of the point of having non-Treaty nations is to create situations like this.

It’s been stated that dragons became expansionist and begun colonizing eberron until this expansion brought about the release (or partial release) of the overlord tiamat, and subsequent retreat to Argonessen. What was the nature of this expansion? Empire or rival fiefdoms, did it expand to the planes of the cosmos? What were the buildings, technology and treasures like? Do remnants remain would some dragons seek to restore this age?

First of all, if you haven’t read the 3.5 sourcebook Dragons of Eberron, that’s the primary source on draconic culture, architecture, and history. The Thousand, the Tapestry, and the Vast aren’t the civilizations that drove that expansion, but they are what they became, and it also discusses the impact of the Daughter of Khyber.

With that in mind, consider that you’re talking about events that occurred eighty thousand years ago. Even among the long-lived dragons, you’re talking about dozens of generations ago. It’s likely that very few remnants of that expansion have survived the passage of time—and those that did may have been repurposed and reused by multiple civilizations since then. Perhaps Stormreach or Sharn are built on ancient draconic foundations, whose origins were long forgotten even before the Cul’sir Dominion or Dhakaani Empire came to power. There may well have been competing draconic fiefdoms or even warring empires; but whatever these civilizations were, they were forgotten tens of thousands of years ago, in part because the dragons had to banish imperialistic urges from their hearts to resist the Daughter of Khyber. There could possibly be some dragons who yearn to restore draconic dominion over the world—and it would be such dragons who would fall prey to the influence of the Daughter of Khyber and become her cultists.

I wish I had time to develop some examples of long-forgotten draconic civilizations and to chart the evolution of their arcane science, but I’m afraid that’s beyond the scope of an IFAQ. But if you aren’t familiar with Dragons of Eberron, that’s the deepest canon source on this.

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

Yuan-Ti 2: How would *I* use them?

I’m getting ready for GenCon and working on Project Raptor and other things. But the other day I posted an article in response to a question from a Patreon supportersWhat’s the role of the yuan-ti in Eberron? In this article, I focused on the CANON role of the yuan-ti in the setting… yuan-ti civilization began in Sarlona; they were driven first to Argonnessen and then to Xen’drik, where they scheme and hunger for revenge. Which is fine. But I’ve never actually used any of that in a campaign I’ve run. In writing the article and addressing follow-up questions, I started thinking about how I would actually use them… and I thought I’d share that here.

It’s proverbial that If it exists in D&D, there’s a place for it in Eberron. But as I’ve said before, this was never meant to mean that everything in D&D IS in Eberron; it’s that it COULD be, if you want it to be a part of your campaign. I’ve always preferred to focus on fewer elements but to add more depth to them. I’ve never used the yuan-ti in a campaign because I’ve never had a need for them, when I’ve had the daelkyr, the Dreaming Dark, the Gatekeepers, the Dhakaani. But in adding anything, the question to me is what it brings—what’s unique about it. For me, the things that are compelling about the yuan-ti are…

  • Their variable phenotypes: from the purebloods who can blend in among humanity to the inhuman abominations and anathema.
  • The idea that they were once human but were corrupted by their dark devotions.
  • The principle that as a group they are up to no good… something that is rare in Eberron, where evil generally isn’t genetic. The yuan-ti are sly schemers, hungry for power and dominion over others.
  • The question of their connection to the shulassakar… who I”ll note I originally created as an alternative to the yuan-ti, a way to use the mechanics of the yuan-ti in a COMPLETELY different way than in other settings.

Now, one option is to try to take the rest of the traditional yuan-ti backstory—the fallen empire of slavers—and to fit that into the setting, and that’s essentially what the canon approach does; creating a yuan-ti nation in Sarlona that was overthrown during the Sundering. However, if I were to use them in my campaign, I wouldn’t do this. I don’t NEED another ancient kingdom, and my players have no reason to care about some nation that fell a thousand years ago on another continent. So I’d rather find a way to add the yuan-ti that makes them integral to the story that I’m telling.

So, if *I* were to use the yuan-ti, I’d turn it around and make their evolution from human to yuan-ti something that’s happening RIGHT NOW—not something that happened a thousand years ago. Q’barra is the prison of the Overlord Masvirik, also known as the Cold Sun: an archfiend embodying the divide between mammal and reptile, lord of scale and venom. Since the Age of Demons, Q’barra has seen conflict between the lizardfolk of the Cold Sun Federation and the corrupted forces of the Poison Dusk. A region of untamed jungle, Q’barra had long been ignored by the people of Galifar… until the Last War, when Ven ir’Kesslan led a flotilla of settlers east. These settlers soon discovered rich deposits of Eberron dragonshards in Q’barra, and this brought a new wave of opportunists and fortune seekers. Today, New Galifar seeks to maintain the values of the fallen kingdom, while Hope is a wild frontier.

In running a Q’barra campaign, one of the primary themes is the interaction between the settlers and the lizardfolk, tied to the idea that the settlers don’t understand the ancient dangers that linger in this land. But what if there are humans who do understand… warlocks and sages who seek to claim Masvirik’s power as their own? What if there is a conspiracy spread across the land, with agents among the nobles of New Galifar and the shard barons of Hope? What if they’re using their influence to stir up conflict between the humans and the scales… in the process destroying wards and allowing them to seize artifacts and dragonshards tied to Masvirik? And, of course, what if in doing this—in seeking to harness the power of the Cold Sun—these people are becoming something less than human?

In part, this could seem like any cult of the Dragon Below. Here’s the things I’ll call out to separate it.

  • It’s always been a theme of the yuan-ti that they aren’t devoted to their gods; they want their power. I’d highlight that here. The Poison Dusk are fanatically devoted to Masvirik. The yuan-ti have absolutely no love for the Cold Sun: they are opportunists who want to steal his power.
  • Q’barra includes dusk shards: dragonshards imbued with the power of Masvirik. The yuan-ti would be amassing these shards and using this dark power—to create eldritch machines, to create magic items, or as focus items. Some might grind up the shards and drink them. Acquiring dusk shards would be a common, basic goal of the yuan-ti… and something that would place them at odds with the Cold Sun Federation.
  • Rather than priests, I’d likely focus on these yuan-ti as sorcerers and warlocks; they are stealing the power rather than having it granted to them. A yuan-ti warlock could be tricking Masvirik into granting power, but more likely the Cold Sun isn’t an ACTIVE patron; rather, the warlock has just found a way to tap into its power. For NPCs, the point would be that these abilities are sustained and enhanced by dusk shards.
  • The mutation is caused by long term exposure to dusk shards and dramatically enhanced by channeling Masvirik’s power, and it’s something that’s happening right now. These yuan-ti have only been active for a few decades, and they’re still learning about their true nature. The abominations were born human and were once important members of their community; other members of their families have to hide the abominations, and cover for their inability to conduct business face to face. At this moment in time, there may not BE any anathema; one or more abominations will BECOME anathema over the course of the campaign.

Among other things, this allows a recurring NPC to mutate over the course of the story. The PCs deal with a villain; when they finally capture him, they discover that he’s a pureblood with serpentine characteristics. He escapes, causes more trouble, and eventually appears to be killed… only to return later as a malison or anathema, explaining how the Cold Sun revived him, and changed him in the process. Essentially, I don’t just want them to be snake people; I want to highlight that they are BECOMING snake people because of what they’re doing. I also wouldn’t limit them to humanity; there will be dwarves, elves, and orcs who are becoming yuan-ti.

What I like about this is that it makes the yuan-ti an unpredictable wild card. The Poison Dusk serve Masvirik. The Cold Sun Federation opposes him. They’ve been fighting this war for thousands of years. But the yuan-ti are new and are here for POWER. They are tied into the power structures of the settlers, and have allies at all levels of society.

Meanwhile, the shulassakar have been servants of the Silver Flame for thousands of years, transformed by their tie to the couatl. Shulassakar agents may show up mid-arc, sensing the disruption being caused by the actions of yuan-ti and Poison Dusk alike… just in time to confuse the PCs, who by now will have learned to distrust serpentine humans. Will they sort it out?

So, that’s what I would do with the yuan-ti. If you’ve done something else with them in your campaign, post it in the comments!

Yuan-ti have a strong connection to psionics, and in 3.5 they have natural psionic powers. However, in Eberron they have a strong arcane or even divine influence by being connected to the overlords. What would be the most common yuan-ti spellcaster? A psionic, a mage a priest or another one?

I don’t feel a need to add psionics to 5E yuan-ti just because they had them in 3.5. As noted above, I would focus on sorcerers and warlocks. The sorcerer would channel powers largely through supernatural mutation, while the warlock would be using arcane knowledge to essentially steal power from Masvirik.

Traditionally physical mutation is more associated with the daelkyr than with the Overlords. Are there other examples of Overlords causing physical mutations? How would you distinguish it from the daelkyr? 

It’s always been called out that agents of the Poison Dusk may be physically corrupted; 4E suggested that the Blackscale Lizardfolk weren’t actually a separate species, but were simply mutated champions of Masvirik. Beyond this, another Overlord noted for physical corruption is Katashka the Gatekeeper, who transforms followers (and others) into undead. The main question is whether the Overlord’s domain has an obvious physical aspect. Masvirik is associated with reptiles, and it’s reasonable that mammals who channel his power could develop reptilian traits. While Sul Khatesh embodies dangerous and arcane knowledge, and the manifestation of her corruption is that knowledge.

One way I’d highlight the difference between such Overlord corruption and the work of the daelkyr is that the corruption isn’t directed. Goblins didn’t spontaneously become dolgrims; Dyrrn took goblin prisoners and MADE dolgrims from them. By contrast, it’s not that Masvirik is intentionally turning these people into yuan-ti, and it’s not something they have control over; it’s a consequence of channeling his power.

This isn’t ENTIRELY dissimilar from some daelkyr; we’ve called out that followers of Belashyrra may start growing new eyes. However, that corruption doesn’t go very far; we’ve never suggested that they become beholders, for example. The key point I’d call out here is that the yuan-ti aren’t cultists, and the transformation isn’t a gift; it’s a consequence of their hunger for power.

Sidebar: The Yuan-Ti

As we lead up to GenCon, there’s a lot going on.

  • Here’s my GenCon Plans. If you’re going to be there, drop by the Twogether Studios Booth or come to my Eberron talk!
  • I’ve just announced “Project Raptor“, a new sourcebook I’ll be releasing on the DM’s Guild later this year.
  • There’s a new episode of Manifest Zone talking about it!

However, until GenCon I’m working through the big pile of questions submitted by my Patreon supporters. One asks “Could you expand on the yuan-ti in Eberron?” So, let’s talk about the serpentfolk.

Yuan-Ti in Eberron

The origin of the yuan-ti is shrouded in mystery. Here are the absolute facts.

  • The yuan-ti first appeared on the continent of Sarlona, in the early stages of the Sundering—the conflict that paved the way for the rise of Riedra and the Inspired. When the human nation of Khunan was devastated by a mystic conflict, the yuan-ti rose up in the ruins and established a new nation, which they called Syrkarn.
  • The early Inspired set their allied forces to the task of erradicating the yuan-ti. However, even in victory, the Inspired order all humans in Syrkarn and the surrounding regions to abandon the land. The Inspired have shunned the region ever since. A handful of yuan-ti survived and remain hidden within the ruins.
  • When they were persecuted by the Inspired, a number of yuan-ti fled Sarlona and sought refuge on Argonnessen. At first they were granted sanctuary, and the best of them were welcomed into the city of Io’vakas, a haven where humanoids lived in harmony with the dragons. However, some of the yuan-ti sought forbidden power, mastering dangerous arcane secrets; the dragons responded by leveling Io’vakas and exterminating the yuan-ti. A handful remain, but they continue to be eliminated when they are found.
  • A few yuan-ti escaped persecution in Xen’drik—perhaps with the help of sympathetic dragons—and reached Xen’drik. Now they lurk in the shadows of Stormreach and beyond, plotting vengeance against both humanity and the dragons.

These are the facts: they began in Sarlona, fled to Argonnessen, and fled once more to Xen’drik. But there are crucial questions. Where did they come from, when they first appeared in Sarlona? Why did the Inspired order the mass exodus of Syrkarn? Why, in a world where few creatures are bound to the alignment, do the yuan-ti of Xen’drik and Argonnessen seem entirely evil?

The scholar Abel Varmanc proposed an answer to these questions. The Overlords of the first age are bound across Eberron, and it is certain that one is imprisoned beneath Syrkarn; Abel believes that “Syrkarn” is in fact the name of this archfiend. Varmanc asserts that during the epic magewars that destroy Khunan, the seals of Syrkarn were weakened… and that the first yuan-ti were humans corrupted by Syrkarn’s power. Varmanc further believes that the Inspired couldn’t find a way to fully rebind the Overlord, which is why they evacuated the region; if they couldn’t completely defeat the fiend, they could at least deny it subjects and victims. The final piece of the Varmanc’s theory is this: the yuan-ti are uniquely vulnerable to the influence of the Overlords. As they traveled from continent to continent, they were further touched and corrupted by the influence of others—by the Daughter of Khyber in Argonnessen, who fanned the flames of yuan-ti ambition and set the destruction in of Io’vakas in motion; and by the Scar that Abides in Xen’drik, further fueling their hatred and hunger for vengeance.

Of course, this is just a theory. Perhaps the yuan-ti are the product of evil and have only grown crueler and more dangerous over time; or perhaps they have always been innocent. Perhaps Io’kovas is an example of draconic tyranny as opposed to yuan-ti ambition. Perhaps all the stories of Syrkarn were just one more way for the Inspired to use fear to control the people, and to continue to manipulate them today. So in using the yuan-ti in your campaign, you have a choice. Are they…

  • Malevolent Masterminds. Varmanc’s theory is absolutely correct. The yuan-ti don’t serve the Lords of Dust, but they are vessels of immortal evil. Just as they did in Io’vakas, they seek arcane power that will allow them to dominate or destroy all other creatures. They are few in number, so they must use cunning and deception. Wherever they are found, they are either seeking power or sowing discord. In this case, the physical form of the yuan-ti is a reflection of their corruption, with the abominations being the closest to the overlords and most innately vile.
  • Consumed by Revenge. The yuan-ti aren’t inherently evil or corrupted by Overlords. But they are driven by the desire for revenge on humanity and the dragons—revenge they believe is absolutely justified. They aren’t unnecessarily cruel, but their ancestors have been betrayed by all they have trusted and they are hunted on two continents. In this case, the physical forms of the yuan-ti could have been created through Khunan magebreeding; there’s nothing evil about it, they simply sought to transcend their humanity.
  • Maligned Innocents. Another option is to say that the stories are entirely untrue, and that the yuan-ti are neither innately evil nor hungry for vengeance; they are simply persecuted refugees, afraid of both the Chamber and Inspired, trying to find a place where they can prosper. As above, the physical form of the yuan-ti could be the result of active magebreeding.

There’s another option to consider that could expand any of these: that the yuan-ti don’t serve the Overlords, but rather believe that they have been abused by the archfiends and seek their power too. It could well be that the yuan-ti have an innate connection to the Overlords, and that they believe they can use this to harness the power for themselves: not releasing the Overlords, but using their might for their own purposes. In this case, whatever path you choose, the physical form of the yuan-ti could be the product of the Overlords’ power and reflect their desire to transcend their human origins.

While the yuan-ti are primarily found in Sarlona, Argonnessen, and Xen’drik, depending on the path you take they could be found anywhere. There could be yuan-ti in Q’barra tapping into the power of the Cold Sun, or yuan-ti lurking in the sewers of Sharn. The question is whether they are simply hiding and trying to survive, or whether they are pursuing power and sowing discord.

Do the yuan-ti have any relation to the shulassakar?

Not directly. The shulassakar first appeared within Khalesh, a nation dedicated to the Silver Flame; the yuan-ti appeared later and to the west, in Khunan. However, as with all things yuan-ti, there’s a few possibilities. The simple one is that they are spiritual cousins. The shulassakar are humans transformed by the power of the Silver Flame; it’s thus reasonable to say that the yuan-ti are humans transformed in a similar manner but by a darker power, the Overlord Syrkarn. However, if you WANT them to be related, you could say that the yuan-ti are specifically shulassakar corrupted by Syrkarn… that a group of shulassakar embraced the darkness and went west in pursuit of power, and this dark force physically transformed them.

Are there any groups hunting the shulassakar? Inspired, the Lords of Dust, etc? Did they remain in Sarlona or make the exodus with the humans, changelings and ogres to Khorvaire?

While there’s conflicting statements about the shulassakar, the intent was that there was never a shulassakar NATION and they didn’t begin with a unique culture. Khalesh was a nation devoted to the Silver Flame, though with a far stronger focus on the couatl than the modern church or the Ghaash’kala. The shulassakar arose within Khalesh, and were the secret leaders of the land; they were seen as being blessed by the Flame. During the Sundering, the Inspired specifcally exposed and targeted the shulassakar, aligning them with the yuan-ti and depciting them as touched by evil; this turned Nulakhesh and Corvagura against Khalesh, and the shulassakar were relentlessly hounded. Some escaped to Khorvaire , others fled to Adar, others managed to hide within Riedra. But there were never many of them to begin with and their still aren’t. In Riedra, they are absolutely hunted by the Thousand Eyes and the Edgewalkers. They aren’t really common enough in Khorvaire to REQUIRE that they be hunted by the Lords of Dust, but yes, a shulassakar that is too open in its actions would attract the same sort of enemies as any dangerous champion of the Silver Flame.

If you have questions or thoughts about the yuan-ti in Eberron, post them below!

Dragonmark 9/26: What Makes A Monster?

There’s lots of good questions in the queue, but this one demands a response, so let’s get to it!

How do you interpret the motivations/background of monsters or aberrations as predisposing them to evil, given that they’re free-willed, and therefore should be good as often as evil, civilized as often as barbarous, given an normal statistical spread?

Before I go farther, if you haven’t read this post on Alignment in Eberron, I suggest you start there. Because it’s good to get on the same page as to what I mean when I say “evil.”

Back? OK. The answer is easy: I don’t interpret the motivations or backgrounds of monsters as predisposing them to evil or savagery. One of the phrases I use to describe Eberron is that it’s a place where “the bad guys aren’t always monsters, and the monsters aren’t always bad guys.” I want my fantasy worlds to feel logical… and as such I believe that for the most part, any creature that possesses free will and human-par intelligence should have the same diversity you find in humans and should be affected by the same factors – culture, history, environment, and so on. I say “for the most part”, because in a magical world a non-human species could have any number of abilities that should have an effect on culture; a telepathic race in which each city has a gestalt personality might have diversity between its city-group-minds, while the individuals within a city are virtually identical.

But taking Eberron, let’s look at a few examples:

Humans. Just as a starting point, I’ll note that humans aren’t innately good or civilized. The majority of the barbarians of the Demon Wastes are human. The people of the Lhazaar Principalities come in a wide variety of flavors; many lack “modern amenities” people are used to in Sharn and Fairhaven; and thrive by preying on others. They are generally civilized because they share common cultural roots – so where you have tribal cultures among the orcs and halflings, all the humans of Khorvaire are descended from Sarlonan cultures advanced enough to seek to establish colonies in distant lands (the Demon Wastes being a special case).

Orcs. The orcs of Khorvaire began as a tribal/primal culture and had no interest in abandoning their traditions for a more industrial culture. The Daelkyr incursion and the arrival of Sarlonan refugees both changed things and created new cultural groups. Looking at the orcs today, you can see…

The Gatekeepers: The first druids of Khorvaire. It was the orcs who awakened the greatpine we now know as Oalian, and orcs who trapped the daelkyr in the depths.

-The Ghaash’kala:The orcs of the Demon Wastes worshipped the Silver Flame long before Tira Miron was ever born. They hold the Labyrinth against the Carrion Tribes; they are unknown to the people of the Five Nations, but they have helped safeguard the lowlands for thousands of years.

– The Marcher Clans and House Tharashk: A blended culture formed from the bond between humans and orcs. House Tharashk is a thriving and ambitious house, with both humans and orcs among its leaders.

The Marcher Tribes maintain a simpler way of life, because they see no need to change it. They are divided among those influenced by the Gatekeepers (more “good”) and the Daelkyr (more “evil”).

-The Jhorash’tar are descended from similar roots as the Marcher Tribes. I don’t consider their conflict with the dwarves as something that makes them “evil”; it’s the same sort of struggle over contested territory humans have had time and again in our world.

Goblins. I don’t have time to go into paragraph overviews, but the spectrum is clear enough. The Dhakaani are a sophisticated civilization that once dominated Khorvaire, and which is more advanced in certain areas than humanity (though weaker in others, in part due to the lack of dragonmarked houses). The Ghaal’dar are a developing nation, on par with many of the Lhazaar Principalities. There are isolated savage tribes – just as with humans. And then you have the city goblins you can find in Sharn, who aren’t that different from humans. Their behavior is partially dictated by poverty, partially dictated by prejudice (which in turn helps create the poverty). Their biology affects certain things: races with darkvision have an easier time living underground. Both the Ghaal’dar and Dhakaani are very militant cultures, which can create a more ruthless environment in which lawful evil individuals have an easier time than, say, chaotic good; but that’s a cultural thing, and a chaotic evil goblin is going to have just as difficult a time in a Dhakaani clan.

Medusas. Read this article. A key quote: “Despite their worship of the Shadow, medusas are no more inherently evil than humans or elves. Some are arrogant and proud, believing that their deadly gaze places them above mundane creatures. Others respond to the fear they encounter every day by despising those who fear them, a path that often leads to evil alignments. But many enjoy the same pleasures that humans do, and seek out song, good company, and the satisfaction of hard work.” Cazhaak Draal is a small kingdom, due to the low fertility of the medusa race, but it is as sophisticated as any nation in the Five Nations; Councilor Kilk of Sharn has petitioned the city council to employ medusa architects and stonemasons.

Droaam Overall. So if monsters aren’t all savages, why was Droaam a savage land before the hags came to power? First, it wasn’t entirely a savage land. Cazhaak Draal has been around for centuries. The gnolls of the Znir Pact have a history stretching back to Dhakaan; they’ve just held to their ancestral lands and traditions. The tielflings of the Venomous Demesne trace their roots to Ohr Kaluun. It’s simply the case that these cultures were small, isolated, and surrounded by savagery. That savagery comes in the form of creatures like ogres and trolls, who are a) carnivorous and b) not as intelligent as humans (or orcs, or goblins). They aren’t genetically disposed towards EVIL as such… but lower intelligence means they are less likely to develop tools of civilization, and when you have incredibly strength you might as well use it. An ogre’s gotta eat, and if he can intimidate a bunch of kobolds into making sure he gets his food, great. Meanwhile, it’s difficult for a carnivorous species to support the large population base of a city – which leads to small tribes and villages. The Daughters solved this problem by introducing grist. Otherwise, you simply couldn’t maintain the troll/worg/etc population you currently see in the Great Crag or Graywall.

So: if monsters aren’t monsters, why are they monsters? If you haven’t already read it, you might want to check out The Queen of Stone, which is set in Droaam and features a number of monstrous characters. Sheshka – the queen of stone herself – addresses this very point. Consider: Humans do a great job of fearing and hating humans for relatively minor things – differences in skin color, religion, language, political views, or simply because you’re on the land I want to have. And fundamentally, as two humans, we have a lot in common. Now, let’s expand those difference. You’re a mammal and I’m a reptile. I have living hair which serves both as a sensory organ, a natural weapon, and a form of body language – when I talk to you, it’s really disturbing and alien to me, because your hair just sits there; it’s not expressing emotion or anything. And where you say “Wouldn’t someone with a petrifying gaze be a great ally?” I’ll counter with “If you’re sitting in a room with this creature who has different religious views, a completely different form of body language, unknown customs, and who can kill you by looking at you, are you going to feel completely at ease?” Fear is a major wedge; the difficulty in common cultural ground is another. We have first contact sometime. We don’t speak the same language. You look like a scary thing, someone panics and gets petrified, we all panic and now you’re a monster of legend. Even looking just to humans and goblins: you look alien; you smell alien; you have sharp teeth; you can see in the dark and I can’t. All that is creepy on a gut level even we aren’t divided by class struggle, religion, or geopolitical differences.

So TODAY there are people trying to bridge that gap. The Queen of Stone is about exactly that. And in The Shadow Marches you’ve had humans and orcs living side by side for ages. But why do humans and monsters not get along? The same reasons humans and humans don’t get along, magnified by vast biological differences.

Of course, that’s “monsters.” You also mentioned aberrations. These are a specific and very different case. A good first step here is to look at this Eberron Expanded article. The short form is that with a medusa you can say “What would it be like if I could petrify people and had living hair?” With a troll, you can get the basics – tremendous strength, low intellect, regenerates, carnivorous – and try to put yourself in its big shoes. Aberrations, on the other hand, are entirely alien in both biology and outlook. Mind and body are twisted, either by Khyber or Xoriat. They aren’t incarnate ideas as immortals are, and they DO have free will; Xorchyllic is a mind flayer pursuing his own agenda, while the 3.5 ECS notes “A few (beholders) have abandoned the path of aggression for philosophy and reflection.” Nonetheless, whenever I deal with aberrations – from dolgaunts to gibbering mouthers – I try to emphasize that they don’t think like us. Their logic appears to be madness. It may be a structured, ordered madness that can produce amazing things; mind flayers and beholders are far more intelligent than most humans. But nothing about them is human, physically or mentally. Add to this the fact that a great many aberrations were specifically designed either to be living weapons or as bizarre works of art. Why is a dolgaunt innately aggressive? Because it was genetically engineered to be a soldier. A medusa’s gaze is an amazing thing, but it is ultimately a product of natural evolution in Eberron – a biological means of harnessing the ambient magical energy of the world. While the powers of a mind flayer were engineered by the daelkyr; it was designed to dominate and destroy minds.

That’s my rant. I’d love to hear your thoughts and stories. What have you done with monsters in Eberron (or anywhere else)?

ADDENDUM: New questions!
If sharp teeth and dark vision are enough to disturb humans, what about half-elves, elves, gnomes and dwarves? There is hardly any canon prejudice against them and they are treated as full citizens of the nations they are part of… Granted, they have Dragonmarked houses backing them, but still…

If you look through the setting, there are a number of places where humans do discriminate against “demihumans”. Riedrans consider most demihumans to be inferior creatures. The Valenar are widely distrusted and disliked since they betrayed Cyre, while changelings face ongoing prejudice in most nations. Shifters suffered during the Purge because of their race and still have issues with Aundairians and the Church of the Silver Flame. Warforged face many challenges. One of the points of the Shadow Marches is that it’s a place where orcs and half-orcs mingle with humans without prejudice. House Lyrandar is called out as providing the Khoravar with a bastion in world where they are often outsiders.

With that said, let’s compare some elves from the dragonmarked houses to a city goblin and a hobgoblin from Darguun.

• The elves are, for all intents and purposes, humans with pointed ears. Their eyes are slightly larger than ours, their features slightly more angular. But their teeth are the same as ours. Their skin comes in the same tones as ours. They have noses. Overall, they generally behave in a manner similar to humans when it comes to dress and hairstyles.
• By contrast, the goblinoids have skin tones that are never found on humans. They have sharp, protruding teeth, virtually no noses, and entirely different body posture and proportions. Put that goblin next to a halfling or gnome; which of the three could you possibly mistake for a human child? And note that the snouty noses and protruding teeth are also going to mean that their facial expressions will be very different from those of humans. Elves, gnomes, dwarves, and halflings should all have similar expressions and thus be easy for you to subliminally pick up on moods; goblins will be innately alien. And the same will be true in reverse for the goblin.
• Working off 3.5, elves have low-light vision while goblins have darkvision. My point isn’t that you look at a goblin and you’re afraid because he can see in the dark; he’s not wearing a sign that says “I have darkvision.” But his darkvision is going to affect the way in which he interacts with his environment – notably where he lives. A goblin can live in a pitch-black cave; even an elf needs light down there. So the environment of the goblin feels alien. Though over the course of time, it also plays to the bogeyman element and a child’s fears: goblins could come in the night and you’d never see them. Which ties to…
• With the exception of the Valenar’s recent and swift annexing of Cyre, humans have never fought a war with elves. On the other hand, Khorvaire was the land of the goblins until humans drove them into the dark places and enslaved them. It’s been quite some time since goblins were slaves, thanks to Galifar; but their original relationship with humanity was an antagonistic one. Combine this with the fact that most city goblins still live in poverty, and you have fuel for people to fear that goblins hate them or want their things. Now again, layer on top of this their fundamentally inhuman appearance (big teeth!) and their ability to creep around in the dark. In recent years, add in the whole Darguun-seized-from-Cyre thing and you’re sure to get fallout there, even on city goblins whose families have been part of Galifar for centuries.

These same principles hold true for most of the demihuman races; they are closer to humanity than the “monstrous humanoids.” With that said, my point is that humans manage to fear and hate humans for things far more trivial than the differences between human and goblin… and I think this holds true both for demihumans and humans themselves in Eberron. A ritually scarred barbarian from the Demon Wastes, an artificially decomposed Aereni, a masked halfling dinosaur rider, a Valenar warrior… all of these will get a different reception from most citizens of the Five Nations than a member of their race who is dressed in national clothing and whose accents and mannerisms conform to cultural norms. Inhuman physicality simply magnifies these things. A wealthy goblin dressed in Davandi fashions who speaks with an impeccable Brelish accent will have an easier time in Sharn than that D-Waste barbarian.

ONE MORE THOUGHT… one of the comments raises the point that existing monsters are good villains in part because they are “mysterious.” For me, there is certainly a place in the a game for evil that is truly alien and unknowable, and for me this is the point of the daelkyr and their closest allies. Their very presence leads to madness and twists us into strange reflections of ourselves. They aren’t trying to kill us because they hate us. They don’t seem to want or need anything that we have. They are simply here to destroy us because, apparently, it’s their nature – or because there is something we don’t understand.

Likewise, there is a place for creatures that are simply and irredeemably malevolent by nature. Take evil lycanthropes as an example. Their aggression is not something they choose. They are driven by a curse that forces them to prey on the weak and innocent, to become the embodiment of all that we fear about wolves lingering in the woods. It’s not a choice. They don’t have the option of showing mercy. The curse drives them to kill, and there is little room for any sort of quarter in such a conflict… hence the attempted purge of lycanthropy.

But while there is a place in stories for both these forces, in general I prefer villains whose motives AREN’T mysterious. I think it’s more interesting when you can understand what’s driving the villain, especially if it’s a reasonable thing. Down below I talk about the Dhakaani warlord who is infuriated by humans robbing the tombs of his ancestors and by the fact that humanity has driven the goblins from their ancestral homelands. YOU may not have done these things (well, unless you robbed a tomb), but can you blame him for being angry about them? He simply wants justice for his people. That places him in opposition to you, and there may not be any way to find a peaceful resolution to the problem. But he’s not fighting you because he’s “evil”; he’s fighting you because of politics, history, and the needs of both your cultures. For me, that makes a more interesting story than fighting the unreasoning creature-made-for-war.

Dragonmarks 5/23: Lightning Round 3!

Hey everyone! It’s been a busy week between work and preparing for Comicpalooza, and so I’ve ended up with another lightning round as opposed to taking on a larger subject. There’s been a lot of interest in the Dwarves and The Daughters of Sora Kell, and I will be giving each of these topics a full post in weeks ahead. With that said, remember that this is specifically a question and answer forum, not an outlet for general lore like you’d get from the Dragonshards or Eye on Eberron. As a result, the more questions you ask, the more answers I can provide. Just saying “Tell me more about dwarves” is too vague. Saying “Do you use any unique religious traditions in the Mror Holds in your game?” is a question I can easily answer. So think about this and post your questions here.

I’ve also added a few new answers to the previous post on the Dragonmarked Houses, notably “Why do the Zil bind elementals instead of Cannith?” and more on Dragonmark focus items.

Now on to this week’s questions!

Will there ever be a followup to Eye of the Wolf? I loved that.

I’m glad you liked it, and I certainly wrote it with a longer story in mind. But I don’t think that’s going to happen. Sorry!

Are there any restricted Races/Classes in your personal games?

As a general rule, it’s all about story. I don’t like subraces (wild elves, chaos gnomes, sherbet dwarves) and in my 3E campaign, these didn’t exist in the world. I don’t like races that exist primarily for the purpose of character optimization. In 4E, the vast majority of exotic races aren’t part of my campaign; you’d never encounter a shardmind or goliath or illumian on the streets of Sharn. However, if a player came up with an excellent story for their use of such a race, I’d probably go for it. For example, I didn’t use genasi in the world overall. But if someone said “I want to be the result of a Zil experiment gone horribly wrong that tried to bind elementals to people!” – well, that sounds like fun and I can see lots of interesting stories that could spin off from that, so I’d allow it. But there wouldn’t be a Genasi nation in the world. Likewise, I once played a deva avenger with the explanation that he was a human infused with the spirits of thousands of people who died in the Mourning; his class abilities and memories of a thousand lives were the result of the thousand souls urging him on, not any personal immortality.

In Argonessen, dragons have a society. What happens when different colors mate?

The role of color in Argonnessen is discussed on pages 15-16 of Dragons of Eberron; beyond this, the flights of the Thousand are segregated by color, so it doesn’t come up often. One of the key points is that different colors of dragons are essentially different species. They have significantly different lifespans, different mental capacity, and their mystical and elemental natures are different. There’s no canon answer, but my personal hunch would be to say that only dragons of matching elemental types can produce offspring, so a red dragon and a brass dragon could successfully mate; the offspring would be a mixed litter, though I’d tend to make the chromatic dominant as the shorter-lived species.

With that said, you could certainly add more colorful possibilities. One that immediately pops into mind: Just as mixing dragonmarks produces new, aberrant dragonmarks, mixing the blood of dragons produces horrifying aberrant dragons. Every aberrant dragon is unique (and like aberrant marks, their true nature might not emerge at birth) and dangerous in its own way; potentially, they are directly bound to Khyber and Tiamat. This is why the Thousand are segregated by color – but there’s always those young and foolish lovers in the Vast who refuse to believe the legends!

What kind of information would have a Seren barbarian about the dragons? And how much of this information would he willing to share with the rest of the world?

Have you read this canon Dragonshard article on the Serens? The short form is the dragons are essentially gods to the Serens; they don’t approach them in an academic fashion, and they certainly aren’t privy to the secrets of the Conclave or the Chamber. A Dragonspeaker knows more, especially about the personal lineage and history of their founder and the founders of opposing lines. But that knowledge is likewise couched in the form of stories and myths. For the most part, I think they’d be willing to share these tales with people they respect.

A key point is that the Serens aren’t allowed in the interior of Argonnessen. So again, they can’t tell you about the kingdoms of the Vast or where to find the Light of Siberys; they don’t know these things themselves. Some exceptional Serens are chosen to serve in more significant ways, but such individuals are unique and it’s up to you to decide what they know.

Are the Knights of Thrane are a secular order? (that is naturally largely made up of Flame adherents?)

You are correct on both counts. The Crown Knights of Thrane were established before the Church of the Silver Flame existed and the order has no connection to the church. However, the knights themselves are largely followers of the Flame – as are most of the people of Thrane – and the order often acts in the service of the church. However, on paper, its first duty is to Queen Diani.

Are monsters seen as unusual and mysterious outside Sharn and Droaam?

It depends on the monster. Goblins are found in most major cities; Khorvaire was their home before humanity even arrived, and many major cities are built on goblin foundations. House Tharashk also sells the services of monstrous mercenaries, but this again is something that’s only going to be a factor in large cities.

So ogres, goblins, bugbears, gnolls – these are species people are familiar with, and even if a farmer doesn’t like dealing with them, he’s probably seen them once or twice during his life.

Next you have magical beasts: basilisks, gorgons, displacer beasts, wyverns, and so on. The relationship between these creatures and a farmer is much like your relationship to, say, a grizzly bear. You know they exist. You’ve seen pictures in the heraldry of the Dragonmarked Houses. You might see one at some sort of menagerie. But you don’t expect to encounter one in daily life, and you’d be frightened if you did. From here you get to exotic creatures like gibbering mouthers and medusas. Someone born in the Shadow Marches likely knows what a gibbering mouther is; someone in Sharn would have no idea and find it horrifying. Living near Droaam, most people in Breland know what a medusa is. But they don’t expect to meet one – even in Sharn, there’s only 2 or 3, and they don’t walk the streets – and they’d be frightened if they did. The dwarves of the Mror Holds sometimes ride manticores – but to someone in Aundair, a manticore is a strange and wondrous thing. It’s all about geography – just as a hippo can be commonplace to someone who grew up in Africa and bizarre to a visitor from Europe.

Finally, you have exotics: aboleths, dracoliches, gray renders, maruts, purple worms. There’s nowhere where a dracolich is just “part of the wildlife”. Scholars may know about these things, but even in Sharn the common folk will run if a marut suddenly smashes through a Jorasco healing house; they won’t say “Oh, look, it’s an inevtiable spirit of some sort.”

So short answer: Consider the following questions:

* Does the creature occur in nature? Or is it only produced by planar convergences/mystic experiments/other unnatural action?

* Is the creature part of the local flora and fauna? Have the people who live there encountered it in the past?

* Is it possible to peacefully coexist with this creature? Can it be domesticated or is there a benefit to working with it?

* Does the creature have a civilization that interacts with the Five Nations?

If the answer to the majority of these questions is “No”, the creature likely qualifies as “mysterious.” If the answer to most of them is “yes,” then it’s simply part of the world – like an elephant, a monkey, or a wolverine, it might be rarely encountered, but it’s out there.

As much as I liked having the tieflings added as a playable race right from the start in Fourth Edition, I do miss the original “planetouched” version from Planescape, which could have any number of indicators of their fiendish heritage. I always thought that there was potential for using these sorts of ideas in combination with manifest zones in Eberron.

Back when 4E first came out, I posted a range of ideas for incorporating tieflings into the game on the WotC boards. Tracing their origin to Ohr Kaluun and placing them in the Demon Wastes and Droaam as a result of the exodus from Ohr Kaluun fits with the established history of Ohr Kaluun as a nation with a strong mystical tradition infamous for trafficking with fiends, and it allows those who wish to do so to preserve some of the “heirs of an ancient empire” aspect of the 4E tiefling flavor. With that said, being from the Venomous Demesne of Droaam is very different from growing up among the Carrion Tribes, so there’s room for variety there.

With that said, one of the other ideas I suggested what exactly what you mention above: Tieflings occasionally result when a child is conceived in a manifest zone during a coterminous period. In this case, there is no such thing as a tiefling culture. Physical appearance would vary based on the plane that influences them, and there’s no reason two tieflings have to have the same appearance in spite of being tied to the same plane. A tiefling tied to Fernia might have iron horns and feverish red skin, while one tied to Risia could have horns and hair formed from ice and lower the local temperature by a few degrees.

With that said, there’s no reason this same concept couldn’t be extended to include other races. I don’t want to have goliaths on Khorvaire. But if you want to say that your goliath character is someone planetouched by Shavarath, I could run with it. Rather than turning to stone, his skin becomes iron temporarily; he is filled with a thirst for battle that cannot be slaked. I’d change his appearance accordingly, but it would be a way to use the mechanics without introducing a new culture. Though if I did this, I’d certainly explore hte story further. What does it mean to be a child of war or fire? How will this affect you over time?

As always, these are just my opinions and aren’t canon unless referencing a canon source. If I didn’t get to your question this week, don’t worry – it’s on the list!