To begin with, I want to call out a general concept that applies to a lot of these questions, especially when dealing with nobles as antagonists in an adventure. Eberron is designed with two story poles in mind: pulp adventure and noir intrigue. This is a spectrum, and any adventure will fall somewhere in between the two. Pulp adventure thrives on over the top nefarious villainy, and it’s why we have groups such as the Order of the Emerald Claw. When adventurers encounter the Emerald Claw, they shouldn’t have to stop and think about it; they should KNOW that fighting the Emerald Claw is the right thing to do. If your local noble is a pulp villain, then they SHOULD be clearly terrible. They SHOULD be starving their people, hanging dissenters, holding Human Sacrifice Night on Tuesdays. By contrast, noir intrigue thrives on shades of gray, uncertainty, and on questions that don’t have simple answers. If your noble is a noir villain, perhaps hanging villagers, but it’s because they lost their children to an Aundairian attack in the Last War and now they are convinced that there are Aundairian spies in the village… and they might be right. If the noir lord has Human Sacrifice Night, it’s because the town is on a manifest zone to Thelanis and if they DON’T sacrifice someone, FIVE innocent people will die. The noir lord may be terrible, but are you so sure that if you remove them, the next lord won’t be worse? With that in mind…
To what extent is regional variation tolerated? How much autonomy do counts, viscounts and crown reeves have?I’m asking mainly in the context of converting non-Eberron adventures. For instance, if the local lord in an adventure is imposing arbitrary and extremely un-Galifaran laws, is that best explained because he is acting outside of his authority, or because local variation gives him wide latitude?
Lore should always be a point of inspiration rather than something that concretely prevents you from telling a good story. If you need the local lord to be acting in a manner that seems un-Galifaran, that just means you need to find a way to justify it. With that said, most stories are more entertaining if they feel plausible—if we’re not just handwaving things. So let’s consider a few elements.
The first option is the grand duchy. The whole point of palatinates is that they’re largely independent and can ignore local laws and traditions. There’s not supposed to be very many of them, but if you really need a lord behaving in a way that’s way out of line with the laws of the land, make them a grand duke.
Beyond that, it largely depends on the nation and, specifically, the liege lord. So first of all, Karrnath has harsh laws that do place near-absolute power in the hands of the local noble. Can you put the story in Karrnath? In Breland or Aundair, the main point is that the local lord shouldn’t, for example, be denying the people their right to justice under the Galifar Code. But if the next lord up the ladder is rotten or ineffective, then they can get away with it, at least for now. A few other important questions is how much of a backwater we’re talking about. If the town has an speaking stone station and a lightning rail stop it’s pretty that people should know about Bad Lord Boggle and that people might just choose to leave. On the other hand, if it’s a small town that doesn’t have these things (or the stone station was closed three years ago and never reopened, or the stonespeaker only works for Bad Lord Boggle, etc) then it’s easier to explain how the lord is getting away with their behavior. With that said…
If the local lord does behave badly, why is the intervention of the adventurers necessary, as opposed to just petitioning the duke?
This comes back to don’t let the lore ruin your story. In a perfect system, the adventurers shouldn’t be needed, which means that things aren’t perfect. The people SHOULD be able to go up to the next rung of the ladder to get help; if they can’t, is it because it’s out of reach? Missing? Rotten? Is it something that can be fixed by the adventurers or is it deep and systemic—again, the player characters can solve today’s problem, but they can’t abolish the Code of Kaius in Karrnath.
One of the basic principles of noir is that the system is unreliable—either corrupt, blind, or toothless. With this in mind, the Why Can’t The Duke Help? table provides a few suggestions. Other things to consider are that the locals may be too afraid to take action, or too ground down by systemic oppression. Sure, in THEORY everyone has a right to justice under the Galifar Code, but we ain’t never seen that code in Blackwood, mister. Beyond that, there could be any number of concrete reasons the liege lord won’t listen to the adventurers. Do they have any sort of reputation, or are they just a bunch of armed vigilantes and professional tomb robbers? Are they all from the local nation, or might some of them be enemy spies? Do you have one of those untrustworthy warforged? It’s a well known fact that the Duke HATES warforged because of that incident at Orcbone at the end of the war…
With that said, if the player characters DO have a good reputation, and have for example a noble whose Position of Privilege specifically allows the to request an audience with a noble, you should LET them go petition the duke. There’s no reason that can’t be just as valid a solution to the problem as stabbing the evil count. You just want to make sure it’s a good story and that it’s as interesting for the players as the fight would be. Do they have evidence? Is there a conspiracy or cult manipulating the duke that the adventurers can expose? If the duke is being blackmailed or enchanted, can the adventurers solve the problem? A little court intrigue can be just as much fun as storming the castle…
What age are noble heirs considered to be “of age” for ruling?
It’s not established in canon. I’ll arbitrarily say “Sixteen!” but I’m making that number up right now and at least one leader—Jaela—breaks that rule, though she’s obviously a weird case. There’s also the point that there are non-human nobles, so the age would vary for, say, dwarves. But I think human-sixteen is a good baseline.
How does noble inheritance and succession treat rare resurrections?
It’s an excellent question. Sharn: City of Towers establishes that the Galifar Code doesn’t consider undead to be citizens, and undead nobles can’t hold property. On the one hand, I could see a case being made that death is death, and if you die you lose your rights; on the other hand, especially with lower level spells such as revivify, that seems a little extreme. I think I’d probably institute a two-week grace period, essentially, allowing the soul to pass through Dolurrh. If you’re raised from the dead in that time, you retain your rights and privileges. After two weeks, you are considered dead and all the legal aspects proceed; if you are returned to life after that, you are essentially considered to be a new person with no claim to your old titles or property. There’s likely a legal term for this; if someone brought Queen Wroaan back now, she wouldn’t take over Breland, but they might give her a room at the palace and call her “Queen-Posthumous”.
Sharn:CoT has examples of local laws that are extremely classist. If the adventurers to remove an evil crown reeve with extreme prejudice, instead of going to the count, how is the law likely to view them?
This again comes back to How do you want the story to go? Because for sure, “everyone is entitled to justice under the Galifar Code” includes the evil reeve, and unless your adventurers are appointed justiciars, a bunch of random lowlife vigilantes killing a noble is not something that should end well. The question is what story do you and your players want to experience and how do you point them toward it?
Justice With Murder. If the crimes of the reeve are extreme, the evidence is entirely clear, and the public is on the side of the adventurers, it’s entirely reasonable to say that the locals will cover the adventurers’ tracks and that the law won’t care about hunting them down because it’s clear that they did a good thing.
Justice Without Murder. The reeve has committed crimes. There’s tons of evidence. But she should be brought to justice, not killed. Player characters get to DECIDE what happens to a creature they reduce to zero hit points. As DM, you can make clear “If you kill her, the rest of the campaign will be about all of you being on the run from Sentinel Marshals until you’re hauled in front of Brelish justice… is that really what you want?”
No Justice, No Murder. If you’re going full noir, it’s entirely possible that the adventurers CAN’T bring the noble to justice. If they kill the noble, they’ll be hunted down as murderers. Or perhaps if they kill the noble, the Mabaran manifest zone adjacent to town will expand and kill everyone. Or perhaps the noble has blast disks on a deadman trigger. If they don’t kill the noble, there’s no evidence and no justice will be done. This can be a very interesting story, but as a DM building such a scenario you have to consider how is there a satisfying conclusion for the adventurers—even if they can’t get the answer that they WANT, can they get an answer that they can live with and take some pride in having done the best they possibly could? And also, because adventurers have free will, if you set up a scenario like this you have to be ready for them to kill the reeve anyway. This isn’t YOUR story, it’s EVERYONE’S story; and if they players say “We don’t care about the blast disks, we’re killing the damn reeve” are you actually prepared to go through with it? Or was it, in fact, a bluff?
Forget it, Jake. It’s Callestan. Depending where you are, it’s entirely possible to say that the law simply doesn’t apply here. This isn’t to say that actions won’t have consequences, but that it may be that the corrupt count and the local watch won’t give a damn whether you kill the crown reeve… but the Boromar Clan, who she was working for, might.
Basically, this is a stylistic question that you should work out with your adventurers in advance. Is this a world in which the player characters can get away with murder, or is this a world where killing a noble in cold blood will ultimately destroy the campaign? The goal of all of this is for people to have fun, and while I’d like to believe that people can have fun without murder, the DM and the players need to be on the same page.
For Breland, it canonically has a house of nobles as a bicameral parliament. It’s also the largest of the five nations by far. Would seats in the House of Nobles be limited to Dukes, or would counts be included as well?
The 3.5 Eberron Campaign Setting has this to say about the Brelish Parliament.
Breland’s parliament consists of both elected legislators and hereditary noble legislators. The citizens of Breland elect legislators every two years. These elected lawmakers, selected by popular vote (one from each village or town, two from each city, and three each from the metropolises of Sharn and Wroat), are sent to the capital to participate in all parliamentary proceedings. The noble legislators gain their seats in the parliament based on the status of their families; each noble family holds one seat in the parliament. Each year, the recognized head of the family appoints a family member to parliamentary duty. In many cases, the yearly appointment is symbolic, and each family has one representative who serves year in and year out. Twenty-seven noble families serve the crown of Breland.
There’s a number of ways to interpret this, but how *I* read it is that of the many noble families of Breland, 27 have the right to appoint a member to parliament. Personally, I’d consider this to be a royal appointment, acknowledging a family as part of the Lords Parliament; so like being Minister of Magic, this is an office and honor that exists separately from a title. In my opinion, there’s only ten dukes in Breland; it’s likely that all of the ducal families would be Lords Parliament, which leaves 17 seats for lesser lords. I think these are largely static appointments, and that they are hereditary until a sovereign revokes that status—and that this would be a dramatic action for a sovereign to take, especially if they removed one of the ducal families. Take note that the FAMILY holds the office and chooses the representative; this is an office that would typically be held by an heir of the house, not the head of it.
In Breland, and specifically in Sharn, are the nobles there typically true nobles with the same requirements in taking care of counties and land? If so, how is that broken up within Sharn, or Breland as a whole?
While Sharn is within a duchy (which I’m arbitrarily naming The Hilt, referring to the cross-section of the Dagger river), the city is governed by the Lord Mayor, who’s appointed by the elected city council. So the nobles within Sharn don’t govern Sharn itself; it’s not like the city is broken into counties, and the actual leaders you’ll encounter there are city councilors and Watch captains. With that said, there are 25 noble families represented in Sharn, along with the 35 other powerful families that make up the Sixty, the social nobility of Sharn. Some of those families are true nobles who maintain estates in Sharn; even if the actual lord isn’t in residence, their heirs might be in Sharn to enjoy the season. Others are indeed courtesy nobles. Notably, the ir’Tain family—generally seen as the crown jewel of the social scene—draw their influence from vast wealth and have ir’Tains have served as Lord Mayor, but we’ve never actually said what rank they hold and if they have domains elsewhere in Breland. So if you assume that 12-15 of those noble families are “true” nobles, they’re likely from across Breland, and the title holders are probably only in Sharn occasionally.
Regarding “the inherent belief that the Wynarn bloodline is blessed by Aureon,” Galifar had 5 kids a thousand years ago. There’s many scholarly organizations on Eberron, and at least one group (Vadalis) that actively studies geneology. Is the simple math that a substanial chunk of Khorvaire’s humans should be of the Wynarn bloodline at this point general knowledge among the educated?
Possibly, but the key point is that this “blessing” isn’t something that’s based on science or, for that matter, widely believed. It’s something that Galifar I believed a thousand years ago and because of that, it’s baked into the systems he created. But as noted in the article, it’s not something people tend to talk about in the present day. The Daskarans took it seriously, and some of the nobles of Thrane still do, but largely it’s just understood to be a faerie tale that justifies the customs of the monarchy. Beyond that, the “blessing” is really only something that’s supposed to apply to the active rulers—”Aureon smiles on a Wynarn king”—not a mutation that is passed down the line to anyone with a drop of Wynarn blood.
If an Aundarian noble can only cast 0-level spells, is there an “of the Xth Circle” title for that?
No. Including “I have the ability to cast cantrips” as part of your title in Aundair would be like saying “I graduated kindergarten” or “I have a learner’s permit”—it’s not something to brag about. Even most magewrights and wandslingers can cast at least one 1st level spell. With that said, this does bring up an important secondary point. I talk about the idea that everyday magic is more common in Aundair than elsewhere in Khorvaire, that nobles are expected to have some mystical talent. Yet by the 3.5 books they don’t; in Five Nations, Queen Aurala isn’t a spellcaster. Is this intentional? No. This is a point where both the concept of the nation evolved and where the SYSTEM now supports new ideas. 3.5 didn’t have ritual magic or wide cantrips, and NPCs in 3.5 used the same general rules as PCs. We didn’t have a good way to represent wandslingers in 3.5, but now we’re saying that wandslingers are a major part of Aundair’s forces. So with that in mind I would update Aurala’s statistics for 5th edition. I wouldn’t make her a mighty wizard; she’s not supposed to be the most powerful spellcaster in the land. But I’d definitely give her a few cantrips and a few one-use spells or rituals… essentially, on par with a gifted magewright.
What does knighthood mean in Galifar? You suggest that it’s typically not a landed title, but in medieval Europe it was typically the grant of land that allowed a knight to afford the equipment required to meet their obligations to their lord. Without that income, how would knights maintain their equipment?
Knighthood in present-day Khorvaire is NOT a feudal exchange of land for military service. It is an HONOR—often granted to someone who is already performing military service, but not necessarily. If you’re looking to emulate the medieval arrangement, you’d have a crown reeve tasked with military service who is also granted a knighthood.
In Eberron, knights are typically part of an ORDER. You’re not simply a knight, you’re a Knight of the Order of the Emerald Claw, or a Knight of the Order of the Inviolate Way. Knightly orders serve three functions. A knighthood is an honor reflecting the favor of a duke or sovereign. Knightly orders are fraternal orders and members are expected to support one another in both war and peace. And knightly orders are also elite military units. However, that last part is essentially split in the same way as a courtesy title versus a substantive title. You may be appointed a Knight of the Order of the Blackened Sky because you’re an exceptional combat alchemist whose skills will serve Karrnath well on the battlefield. Or you might be appointed a Knight of the Order of the Blackened Sky because you’re one of the first citizens of Karrlakton and the Duchess of Karrlakton wants both to honor your service and to connect you to other members of the order—even though it is understood that you are not a soldier and will never serve the order on the battlefield. Sometimes a knighthood comes with an annuity, making it a concrete reward that will help support a non-noble knight. But also, this is where support the order both in peace and war comes in. In the example given above, the combat alchemist may not be a noble and may not have great funds. But the non-martial knight IS a wealthy man, and he may serve as a patron to the alchemist. The orders are ways to bring the finest citizens together, people who might normally be split by class lines; it is a way to elevate gifted commoners without actually raising them to the nobility, and to forge connections between nobles and exceptional commoners.
The most detailed description of knightly orders that we have in canon is on page 54 of Forge of War, which describes six Karrnathi orders. As I mentioned before, the Order of the Inviolate Way ONLY accepts those of noble blood—which highlights the fact that most of the orders are not so restricted.
What is the path to citizenship in the Five Nations?
Galifar is based on feudal principles, and most nations retain that basic foundation. To become a citizen of such a nation requires an audience with a local noble. The applicant swears fealty to the nation and its ruler, and also direct allegiance to that local noble; the noble in turn formally accepts them as a subject. This means that the noble is accepting responsibility for that individual, and the individual is promising to obey that noble, pay taxes, and answer any call for conscription, as well as to respect the laws of the land. The noble doesn’t HAVE to accept an offer of fealty, and most won’t unless the potential subject intends to reside within their domain. So it’s entirely valid for a Brelish noble to refuse to accept the fealty of an ogre from Droaam because either they don’t believe the ogre will uphold the laws or they don’t believe that the ogre intends to remain within their domain. Likewise, back before Droaam, the Barrens were considered to be part of Breland but the inhabitants of the region weren’t Brelish citizens, because they’d never sworn fealty to any Brelish lord; legally (from the perspective of Galifar) they were outlaws squatting in Brelish land.
In the modern age, much of this process is handled by bureaucracy, especially in the case of children of existing citizens. In some regions there are annual ceremonies where each child swears an oath to the local lord before being recognized as an adult. But in a populous region like Sharn, the parents will file paperwork when the child is born, and when the child becomes an adult they’ll file their own statement. But the underlying principle remains the same: someone needs to make a decision on behalf of the local lord as to whether to accept the offer of fealty, and this will be based on the applicant’s residence, reputation, family, and other factors.
That’s all for now! Thanks again to my Patreon supporters, and I expect to be posting the Patreon-exclusive article tomorrow.
So you’re making a character, and you take the Noble background. What does that actually mean? What are the titles commonly used within the Five Nations? Is a noble title purely hereditary, or can it be purchased? Do nobles have duties, or is it largely symbolic? This article answers these questions and more, exploring the practical impact of noble birth along with the role and form of the nobility in the nations of Khorvaire. Thanks to my Patreon supporters for choosing this topic; I’ll be posting a bonus “deleted scene” to the Inner Circle on Patreon, describing a few notable past rulers of Galifar and the Five Nations. Because of the scope of the topic, this article primarily deals with the Five Nations and other nations that have inherited the traditions of Galifar. If there is interest, a follow-up article could explore those nations of Khorvaire that have quite different approaches to nobility, such as Darguun and the Lhazaar Principalities.
PREFACE: DESIGN INTENT
From the very beginning, one of the goals of Eberron was to make sure that the experience of adventuring in the world still felt like D&D. This is why people still fight using swords and crossbows, why you still have knights in plate armor, and why you have nations ruled by kings and queens. We knew from the start that an important theme of the setting would be the steady rise of industrial power and the shifting balance of power between the dragonmarked houses and the established aristocracy. We knew that Breland in particular would be shifting away from the medieval vision of monarchy. But we wanted both of those things to be relevant in the campaign, in 998 YK. D&D is stereotypically medieval. Our goal was never to completely abandon that flavor, but rather to present a vision of a world that’s actively evolving and straining against it. As I discussed in my previous post, when making history you always want to know why it matters. In creating the setting we wanted adventurers to be caught in the middle of these changes, to have to deal with the Sword of Liberty and overreaching houses, to have to decide whether to challenge tradition or defend it. So while it may seem strange that the Five Nations still have as many medieval trappings as they do, that was always the intent—that Eberron would be a world actively caught between the traditional medievalism associated with D&D and the active pull of social and industrial evolution.
With that said, both Exploring Eberron and my previous article discuss the idea of Untold History. No one’s saying that the semi-feudal status quo of Galifar remained unchallenged for nearly a thousand years. In my opinion, there were many uprisings and social experiments. It’s entirely possible that there was a thirty year period in which Aundair broke away and existed as the Republic of Thaliost before being pulled back into Galifar; this early rebellion might have laid the foundation for the more successful secession of the Eldeen Reaches in the tenth century. So it was always the intent that as of 998 YK there are still traces of medieval flavor to the culture of Galifar; but you can always explore untold moments of history if it makes your campaign more interesting.
And as always: this article is my vision of the setting. While I’ve tried to remain consistent with canon where possible, canon sources aren’t always consistent and there are certain sourcebooks I disagree with. So make of this what you will, and as always, do what’s best for your story.
THE FOUNDATION: POSITION OF PRIVILEGE
What does it mean to be a noble? In most of the nations of Khorvaire, nobles are actively involved in the governance of a region, whether large or small. They collect taxes, maintain lands, manage tenants. Nobles may not administer justice directly within the Five Nations, but they are responsible for ensuring that there is justice within their domains, maintaining the courts and sustaining the forces of the law. In the wake of the Last War, nobles are working to repair the damage to their domains, to reintegrate soldiers into civilian life and deal with the impact of casualties, and to address the needs of refugees seeking shelter in their lands. The short form is that with great power comes great responsibility… and that as such, few landed nobles have the time to go on adventures. It’s not impossible to make the story work, if you and the DM are determined; perhaps you have a younger sibling who’s doing all the work, or a truly remarkable steward. But it’s more likely that a “noble” adventurer will be the scion of a powerful family—the heir, not the holder of the title. Your blood grants you prestige, but you don’t carry the responsibilities of your rank and you don’t have access to the full resources of your domain.
This is reflected by the benefits granted by the noble background. As a noble, you have proficiency with History and Persuasion. You have a set of fine clothes and 25 gp in your pocket. But you don’t have an army at your beck and call. You don’t have a treasury filled with coffers of coin… just as you don’t actually have to do the work of collecting taxes. What you do have is a benefit called Position of Privilege.
Thanks to your noble birth, people are inclined to think the best of you. You are welcome in high society, and people assume you have the right to be wherever you are. The common folk make every effort to accommodate you and avoid your displeasure, and other people of high birth treat you as a member of the same social sphere. You can secure an audience with a local noble if you need to.
So: the precise duties and powers of nobles vary by nation. But the defining, practical benefit of being a noble is respect. Note that this says nothing about “While in your home nation.” The principle is that as a noble—or even as a significant heir of a noble family—you will be recognized as a peer by local aristocrats and generally accommodated by “the common folk.” You’re not above the law. You can’t get away with murder. But people “are inclined to think the best of you,” believing that you are someone who will uphold the honor and dignity of your noble position. Just as in wartime, an enemy might be more inclined to ransom you than to simply kill you; your rank will be recognized even when you hold no actual authority in a region. Within the Five Nations, this is tied to the romantic notion that Galifar may someday be restored; all nobles are treated with respected because someday we’ll all be one kingdom again. Even in Darguun or the Mror Holds, you’re likely to be treated with respect because of your connections.
Having said that: Position of Privilege represents the respect and recognition that come from your position and title. But not all nobles receive that recognition. If you’re a noble from Cyre with this background benefit, it means that people DO still afford you the respect due your title, even though you no longer have your estate or your fortune; presumably your family was so beloved or well-connected that the respect lingers. But most Cyran nobles don’t receive this recognition. If you’re playing such a noble, you could take the variant Retainers benefit instead of Position of Privilege; your estates were lost to the Mourning, but you still have three loyal servants who are sworn to follow you to the bitter end. You could also say that you were an earl of Cyre, but having lost your fortune you were forced to turn to crime, and thus take the criminal background (or anything else) instead of the noble background; from a STORY perspective you were once a noble, but you don’t receive any practical BENEFITS from your lineage. The advantage is that this allows you to actually have BEEN the landed title-holder, as opposed to an heir; you HAD many duties and responsibilities in the past, but they were stripped away with your fortune, and now you are merely an adventurer.
This same principle can apply to a noble who’s lost their lands for any reason. Maybe you were a Lhazaar prince driven from your throne by a treacherous sibling. Perhaps your were the Lord of Stubborn, the Brelish settlement in Droaam now known as Stonejaw. Whatever the circumstances, the impact is the same. If you take the noble background and the Position of Privilege benefit, people still treat you with the respect due your rank. If you take the Retainers benefit, you no longer wield any authority but you still have an entourage sworn to serve you. And if you take any other background, it means that your nobility may be a plot point, but it will rarely have any direct impact in an adventure.
When is a Noble not a Noble?
Just as you can be a noble without the noble background, you can also take the noble background even if you’re not part of the nobility. The Position of Privilege benefit means that you are treated as an equal by nobles, that you can request an audience with local authorities, and that common folk are generally impressed by you. This is often the case with especially wealthy or influential members of dragonmarked houses. As a dragonmarked “noble” you are either close to house leadership or part of an especially wealthy or powerful branch of the family, and critically, people know it; being this sort of “noble” means that you are a recognized celebrity. With that said, your Position of Privilege is a courtesy, not a right… it reflects the fact that people recognize the power of your family and show you respect because of it.
Noble may be a background, but just as adventurers can become soldiers or criminals during a campaign, it’s possible to be raised to the nobility. The traditions associated with this are described in later sections, but a greater question is the practical impact of this elevation. Does a new noble gain the benefits of Position of Privilege? What are their duties and responsibilities?
An adventurer could gain a noble title as a reward for service, or depending on nation, they might win their title through battle. A critical question is whether it is a substantive title—one that is associated with land and subjects, which can be passed down to heirs—or whether the title is simply a courtesy that doesn’t carry lands or duties. Being granted a knighthood may not confer the benefits of Position of Privilege, but it alway won’t get in the way of adventuring. Becoming a Lhazaar Prince might grant that privilege, but it also means that you need to manage your principality… or employ people to do it for you (the Valenar method) and hope they do a good job. Personally, if I grant player characters substantive titles in a campaign I’m running, I’m going to make the management and defense of their domain an integral part of the campaign moving forward. On the other hand, if Boranel grants someone the title of Shield of the East, it’s a symbolic courtesy that will carry significant weight with Brelish nobles (as it reflects the favor of the king) but carries no actual responsibilities and doesn’t have the impact of Position of Privilege in other nations.
… And Losing It
Just as a lowborn adventurer can gain a noble title, a highborn character can lose it. The simplest path to being stripped of a title is to be convicted of treason. However, in the Five Nations nobles have duties, and if the family fails in those duties the sovereign can strip them of their title and property. In the Lhazaar Principalities, a character could lose their title because someone else takes it by force. And, of course, countless Cyran nobles lost their holdings in the Mourning, and the Treaty of Thronehold effectively stripped them of their privileges. Should a player character be stripped of their title, it’s up to the player and DM to decide how this affects their Position of Privilege. If the character is widely known and beloved, it’s possible to say that the benefit lingers based solely on that goodwill, as with a PC Cyran noble who takes the benefit. As a DM, if I was to remove the benefits of Position of Privilege, I would grant a new benefit to replace it, based on the circumstances of its loss. Was the noble convicted of treason because they opposed a tyrant? They might lose Position of Privilege but gain the Rustic Hospitality of a folk hero… or perhaps the infamy of their deeds will earn them the Bad Reputation of a pirate, or a Criminal Contact. Shifting benefits can be an interesting way to have the character’s capabilities reflect the story; the shift from Position of Privilege of Bad Reputation gives real weight to events that may have taken place off-screen. This sort of shift can also be a great way to drive a new arc of the campaign: if their family was unjustly convicted of treason, can the adventurer redeem their honor and restore their title?
THE TRADITIONS OF GALIFAR
The culture of the Five Nation is a blend of the united traditions of Galifar and the preserved traditions of each nation. There are two vital things to bear in mind. The first is that the Last War was fought in an attempt to reunite Galifar; it wasn’t a war of independence, it was a war fought to determine who would rule the united kingdom. With a few notable exceptions (Thranish theocracy, the Code of Kaius) the Five Nations intentionally preserved the traditions of Galifar, because they always hoped that within another year or so their ruler would be the sovereign of the reunited Galifar.
A second important point is that Galifar was a united kingdom, but not a single monolithic culture; the idea of “the Five Nations” was a constant throughout its history, and people thought of themselves as Thranes and Aundairians even while they also considered themselves to be citizens of Galifar. Galifar I began by conquering the neighboring kingdom of Metrol, and Metrol was almost entirely transformed in its transition to Cyre. Galifar displaced existing nobles and instituted new systems, making Cyre the heart of Galifar. But the other three nations were ultimately brought into Galifar by diplomacy, not by absolute conquest (though Galifar’s clear military superiority was the iron fist that drove these negotiations). Galifar instituted changes at the highest levels of society, appointing his children as the rulers of each nation; but he largely did this by marrying them into the families of the existing rulers, building upon the existing structures of authority. So Galifar redirected the existing feudal structures of the Five Nations, making clear that all power ultimately flowed from the sovereign of Galifar. Over time, he streamlined systems and added new universal concepts—the Galifar Code of Justice, expanded education—while also nationalizing and expanding the role of institutions such as the Arcane Congress, the King’s Citadel, and Rekkenmark. He instituted a standardized currency—the crown-sovereign-galifar-dragon values still used today—and established the Karrnathi dialect as the Common tongue used today. So all the nations of Galifar were united by a vital set of shared customs and laws, but they also still maintained their own unique traditions and quirks, some of which will be discussed later in this article.
Sovereigns and Sovereigns
The faith of the Sovereign Host played a crucial role in the foundation of the united kingdom. Galifar I believed that he was guided by Aureon, and was fulfilling a destiny laid out by the Sovereign; given his remarkable successes, it’s entirely possible that Galifar I was a paladin of host, possibly even a subtle aasimar. This is a vital cornerstone of the Galifar monarchy: the inherent belief that the Wynarn bloodline is blessed by Aureon. It’s this bedrock principle that prevents a consort from claiming the crown and that has stood against uprisings and would-be usurpers. This is not something that’s called out often in the present day, and the modern monarchs vary in their piety, but the belief underlies the traditions of Galifar. The Galifar Code of Justice invokes Aureon, and there are other aspects of law where a casual faith in the Sovereigns is assumed. The faith of the Sovereign Host has never been a monolithic or powerful institution in the same way as the Church of the Silver Flame, but just as nobles are required to maintain courts, collect taxes, and levy troops within their domains, they’re required to sustain the Vassal faith. Based on the size of a community, this could involve maintaining a grand temple; a small temple with a single priest; or just a small shrine. For most nobles of Galifar this wasn’t seen as a hardship, but rather as an opportunity to display piety; especially zealous nobles would lavish resources on their favored temples, or raise monuments or shrines to a particular Sovereign. Vassal dukes often competed to lure the most accomplished scholars to their seminaries. Within the Sovereign faith anyone seen as guided by the Nine can fill the role of priest, and there are have been a number of renowned nobles who have also acted as priests of the Sovereign Host.
Despite his deep faith, Galifar never sought to FORCE his beliefs on others. The principles of Galifar presume simple faith in the Sovereigns, and nobles must support the faith, but they aren’t actually required to practice it and Galifar never sought to stamp out divergent sects. Throughout the untold history of Galifar, there have been pious nobles who have gone further—hunting down and publicly executing followers of the Dark Six (real or imagined), or persecuting “heretical” sects; historically this has included the Three Faces sects, which are why these tend to operate as mystery cults. So today the Five Nations are largely tolerant and many of the monarchs aren’t especially devout, but the principle of Aureon’s Blessing remains at the heart of the myth of Galifar.
The Role of the Nobility
When Galifar was founded, the Five Nations all employed forms of medieval feudalism. Nobles governed lands tended by tenant farmers in exchange for providing taxes and military service to the leader of the nation. In many nations, the nobility was also responsible for the administration of justice. Galifar was built on this framework. It was acknowledged that all power and authority flowed from the sovereign, through the princes and princesses that governed the land, and then down through local nobles and administrators. Throughout Galifar, the nobility remained the foundation of the united kingdom. Nobles were responsible for maintaining their territory, including collecting taxes and raising levies for military and national service. Under the Galifar Code of Justice, the nobles didn’t administer justice, but it was their duty to maintain the system, appointing justices and maintaining the local courts. As the kingdom expanded and as life became increasingly more complicated, this produced a class of dedicated civil servants and landowners—initially ennobled viscounts and crown reeves, but ultimately expanding into gentry and merchant classes. But at the start of the Last War, it remained the case that the majority of property was associated with a noble’s domain, and that it was the local lord who appointed justices, mayors, and other officials. A crown reeve was responsible to the count, the count to their duke, the duke to the prince, the prince to the king.
As noted earlier, there has always been a distinction between courtesy titles—titles that carry respect and prestige, but nothing more—and substantive titles, which are associated with land and the duties of maintaining it. The eldest child of a duke or duchess is allowed to use the title of count or countess, the second heir has the title of viscount, and other children are lords or ladies… but these titles are merely courtesies, and the heir has no actual authority over the domain. Likewise, an important administrator might be granted a courtesy title to reflect their service, but no land would be tied to that title. Typically courtesy titles are tied to the holder and cannot be transferred to heirs. Courtesy titles allow an adventurer to be a count or shield of the realm without having to make sure that roads are being maintained and taxes collected in their domain.
Noble Ranks and Titles
The following titles were instituted by Galifar I, and remain the common ranks of nobility to this day, listed in descending order of status. This also reflects the practical reality of land ownership and chain of command. A crown reeve holds territory within a county, and is responsible to a count. Counties are tied to duchies, and counts are bound to dukes. Anyone holding one of the ranks given below is allowed to use the ir’ prefix with their surname.
King / Queen. The ruler of the united kingdom of Galifar.
Prince/Princess. A child of the king or queen. As a governor of a nation, uses the title “Prince/ss of (nation).”
Archduke/Archduchess. A duke or duchess married to a prince or princess.
Grand Duke/Duchess. A duke or duchess governing a palatine region.
Duke/Duchess. The ruler of a duchy. Originally synonymous with “Warlord.”
Shield. Ruler of a county seen as a dangerous border. Such a noble typically uses count/ess as a courtesy, but is styled Shield of (county) in formal address.
Count/Countess. Ruler of a county.
Viscount/Viscountess. This is an appointed, nonhereditary title, typically granted by a count or duke to someone performing important administrative duties within their domains.
Crown Reeve. This is the lowest rank of nobility, roughly equivalent to the traditional use of baron. Crown reeves typically administer lands within a county, but this title was also given to members of the gentry who purchased lands from the crown. In common speech, a crown reeve is addressed as “lord” or “lady.” This rank can be hereditary (as in the case of the landed gentry) but is often tied to service.
Knighthood is an honor, not a title of nobility. Traditionally, a duke or higher noble can appoint a knight; this carries status as it reflects service to the nation, but it isn’t hereditary and it isn’t associated with land. So while there were Karrnathi nobles among the original Order of the Emerald Claw, many members of the order came from the gentry; among the Karrnathi chivalric orders, the Order of the Inviolate Way is noted as only accepting members who are also of noble blood. Many other titles fall into the category of honor or office: for example, in Aundair Darro ir’Lain is the Duke of Passage and Second Warlord of the Realm. That second title is an office he holds, not something he carries for life. If he falls out of favor with Queen Aurala, there would soon be a new Second Warlord. Likewise, “Minister of Magic” is an office, not a noble rank.
Princes, Archdukes, and Grand Dukes
The succession traditions of Galifar are a tangled web, and it’s a miracle that the united kingdom endured as long as did. The principle is this.
Each of the Five Nations was divided into duchies.
Each of the Five Nations was governed by one of the five eldest children of the Wynarn ruler of Galifar. When this child came of age, they would be married into one of the duchies of that nation. They would be acknowledged prince/ss of that nation, and the previous prince/ss would become a duke or duchess. If the reigning monarch didn’t produce five heirs, the title would remain with the current prince/ss and their heirs; there were certainly cases where a governing prince survived multiple kings.
The leader of the duchy the prince/ss married into became the archduke of that nation, taking this title from its previous holder. Should death create a vacancy with no Wynarn heir of age to rule as prince/ss, the archduke would reign until a prince/ss came of age.
The net result of this is that the balance of power between duchies would regularly shift, with the rise of a new king or queen ultimately displacing the current prince and often the current archduke or archduchess as well. As we’ve noted, the Last War wasn’t the first time a nation or duchy resisted this change. The current Archdukes are thus those duchies associated with the princes who governed when the Last War begin; there are archdukes of Fairhaven, Korth, Wroat, and Sigilstar.
Grand dukes are rulers of palatinates, more typically referred to as grand duchies. These are regions recognized as holding a degree of independence from the surrounding nation and having a direct relationship with the sovereign, thus having the right to enforce local laws and practice customs that might be at odds with those of the surrounding nation. The first palatinate was the Grand Duchy of Atur in Karrnath, but the most significant palatinate was Zilargo. When the armies of Galifar passed the Howling Peaks, they were met by Zil diplomats. These envoys negotiated the incorporation of the region into the overall mantle of Breland, but as three grand duchies—with the net result that the Zil became part of Galifar while still maintaining nearly complete autonomy. The three grand duchies of Zilargo were Zolanberg, Trolanport, and Korranberg; further impact of this is discussed in the Zilargo section below. It is up to the DM to decide if there are any other grand duchies in Khorvaire.
Gaining a Title: Elevation, Inheritance, and Marriage
Under the traditions of Galifar, a hereditary title passes to the oldest child of the title-holder regardless of gender. If there is no living heir, it passes to the siblings of the noble or their heirs; failing that, it falls to the noble who oversees the domain to reassign it. A number of royal lines were lost in the Last War (or convicted of treason and stripped of rank) so there are dukes with counties to dispense and counts in need of qualified crown reeves. While the local noble has the power to make such appointments, they must always be ratified by the sovereign.
In most of the Five Nations, marriage doesn’t convey title. This stems from the principle that only a Wynarn can rule; when the Wynarn monarch dies, their consort has no claim to the throne. Often, a noble consort is granted a courtesy title, as seen with Queen Etrigani of Karrnath; but if Kaius III were to die, the crown of Karrnath would immediately pass to his eldest heir, not to Etrigani. This principle generally holds throughout the ranks. Someone who marries into a royal family is a consort. They may be granted a courtesy title, but they are not the equal of their noble spouse and it is up to the DM to decide if their status is sufficient to justify gaining Position of Privilege. This would largely depend on public perception: do the nobles and common folk respect the consort? While many nobles limit themselves to a single consort, this isn’t enforced by law. A monarch could have multiple consorts, and the child of any official consort would be considered an heir. There was a lengthy period in which it was accepted tradition for a reigning sovereign to have a consort from each of the Five Nations, in part to spread out the burden of producing five heirs. In the wake of the Last War, some of the nobles have continued this tradition—Kaius III of Karrnath maintains harem, though only Etrigani carries the title of queen. On the other side of things, Queen Aurala of Aurala has a single consort, but has not granted him any title.
In most of the nations of Khorvaire, only the sovereign can create a new title. Lesser nobles can assign vacant titles within their domains, though this requires the approval of the sovereign. Many domains are associated with a specific set of courtesy titles that can be dispensed at the discretion of the local noble. For example, the Count of Threeshadows may have the authority to appoint a Viscount Threeshadows and two knights… though again, these are honors that aren’t passed on to heirs.
In most nations, it is illegal for anyone to sell a title, whether it is their own or a domain within their jurisdiction; Breland is a notable exception to this rule.
What About Dragonmarks?
The Korth Edicts prevent members of dragonmarked houses from owning land or holding titles. A noble can marry a dragonmarked heir, but one of them must completely sever all legal ties to their family. A noble who marries into House Deneith must renounce their title and rights, while for a Deneith heir to marry into a noble family they must cut all ties to their house, including their family name. Of course, this doesn’t prevent such a union from having important diplomatic implications. The 3.5 Eberron Campaign Setting observes…
Some tension exists between the houses and the crown since the marriage of Queen Aurala to Sasik of House Vadalis. Traditionally, the dragonmarked houses and the royal families have avoided mixing to maintain a division between rulership and commerce. Even though Sasik, as the royal consort, has severed his claims to the House Vadalis fortune, he nevertheless maintains ties that make the other houses nervous about what advantages Vadalis might be gaining in its dealings with Aundair.
It’s also the case that not all nations care about the Korth Edicts. The elves of Valenar are effectively appointing Lyrandar viscounts, though they aren’t using that title; these Lyrandar administrators don’t severe ties to their houses. To date this has gone unchallenged, in part because it’s not entirely clear who would challenge it and in what forum; this is touched on in this article. Even though dragonmarked heirs had to abandon their house ties to marry into noble families, they brought their blood, and this means that there have been nobles who carried dragonmarks. However, the frequency with which dragonmarks appear in the houses reflect the intentional mingling of strong dragonmarked bloodlines. We’ve noted before that foundling marks are quite rare, to the point that someone who develops a mark may not even realize that they had a connection to a house in their history. So the dragonmarked nobles are possible, but by no means common.
The Wynarn Family
Galifar Wynarn believed that he has been blessed by Aureon, and this belief underlies the united kingdom that he built. Only someone of the Wynarn bloodline could hold the throne. An underlying question is what defines the Wynarn bloodline? There are nobles of all races, and there have been a few Khoravar reigns; however, these have often ended poorly, with rival heirs using this as a basis to say that the sovereign isn’t truly of Wynarn blood. Following a short but brutal civil war in the seventh century, all Wynarn sovereigns have been human. Kaius III has declared the elf Etrigani to be his queen, but he has yet to produce an heir with her. Kaius III maintains a harem, and it’s largely assumed that this is to ensure that he has a human heir, though he has yet to either produce an heir or appoint an official consort within this harem.
Under the traditions of Galifar, every duchy was obliged to contribute a certain number of soldiers to the Army of Galifar. Soldiers were paid a wage, and often this quota could be met with volunteer forces. If not, it was the responsibility of the duke/duchess (who might delegate to counts) to make up the shortfall, by whatever methods they deemed necessary. While conscription occurred in the earliest days, in time it became common practice for nobles in peaceful regions to pay for Karrnathi troops to enlist in their name; as Karrnathi had a tradition of mandatory military service, this worked out well for all sides.
With the outbreak of the Last War, sovereigns continued to rely on nobles to levy troops. Thrane and Karrnath had little trouble meeting quotas, but other nations did fall back on conscription when necessary. In the present day, most nations are reducing their current forces. Nobles are responsible for maintaining the local watch in their domains, and are entitled to maintain a household guard, though numbers are limited (with the amount varying by nation).
Why Does This Matter?
As with any element of lore, a key question remains: why does any of this matter? Why should player characters care about the laws of inheritance or the difference between a grand duke and an archduke? Here’s a few possibilities.
If an adventurer is from the Five Nations and isn’t a noble themselves, they grew up in the domain of a noble. Who was their lord? What’s their relationship with them? Were they a fair ruler the adventurer might try to help, or who might serve as a patron for the party? Or does the adventurer want to expose the lord’s cruelties or crimes?
Perhaps an adventurer’s family use to hold title or land within a nation, but lost it due to treason, war, or treachery. The How Did You Lose Your Title table provides ideas. Does the character want to reclaim their title? If so, what would it take?
An adventurer who follows the Blood of Vol could have ties to the Grand Duchy of Atur. The grand duke fears that the warlords are preparing to formally conquer the duchy and assimilate it into Karrnath. Can the adventurers prevent this conflict from occurring?
When a noble character comes into their inheritance, they’re suddenly responsible for the maintenance of the domain. How will they balance this with their adventuring life? Will they find a steward to administer the lands in their name… and if so, can the steward be trusted? Will they abdicate the title in favor of a younger sibling?
For service to the crown, an adventure is granted a title and domain… but the domain is land seized during the war, and the adventurer is expected to quell unrest. How will they handle this? Can they justify and enforce their sovereign’s claim to the region?
The adventurer is involved in a romance or business affair that can’t proceed unless the character acquires a title (even if it’s just a courtesy title). What can they do to gain status?
THE FIVE NATIONS
What’s been described is the standard traditions of Galifar. However, even while Galifar was united the nations had their own unique customs, and there have been further changes over the course of the last century. What’s the different between nobles of Breland and Karrnath? Find out below.
Aundair has held closely to the old traditions of Galifar, and its people have a romantic view of the nobility. Perhaps it’s due the influence of Thelanis; whatever the reason, Aundairians have always entertained the notions of noblesse oblige and chivalry. The common folk value self-reliance and ambition, but most believe that the nobility is noble in all senses of the word, that their leaders will do what’s best for the country and for their people. This idealism doesn’t extend to all nobles; Aundairians have long believed that their people—both nobles and commoners—possess a dignity and decency beyond their neighbors. With that said, over the last two centuries a rift formed between the farmers of the west and the grand cities of the east; this led first to the embrace of the Pure Flame, and eventually culminated in the secession of the Eldeen Reaches. Nonetheless, most remaining Aundairians are proud of their rulers and feel a bond to their local lords.
Noble Ranks. Aundair uses the standard ranks of Galifar. Accomplished arcane spellcasters will also often add a title that describes their primary school of magic, along with a designator indicating the highest level spell they can cast; so a noble might be introduced as Alara ir’Lain, Countess of Askelios, Diviner of the Fourth Circle. Bear in mind that NPC spellcasters may not have the full capabilities of a PC class. Countess Alara is capable of casting at least one 4th level divination spell, but that doesn’t mean she has all the versatility of a 9th level wizard; it’s also possible that she casts her spells as rituals, like a magewright.
Playing an Aundairian Noble. Aundairians have high expectations of their nobles. Aundair is a land that values wit, knowledge, and arcane talent, and a noble is expected to possess all of these. Nobles may not be accomplished spellcasters, but if you can’t at least perform a cantrip your peers will chuckle and your parents will push you to study harder. Likewise, Aundairian nobles have high standards of honor and duty, and crass or selfish behavior will reflect poorly on your family.
Noble is a logical background, but if you’re a second child or further down the line, both soldier and sage are good choices for Aundairian nobles; many Aundairian officers were drawn from noble families. You could also be one of the “Lost Lords,” nobles whose domains were lost in the secession of the Eldeen Reaches. While a few of the Lost Lords still have enough influence to justify a Position of Privilege, this is a sound basis for taking the Retainers benefit instead; if your retainers are members of long-lived species, they might have served your family long before the Eldeen rebellion.
Aundair has a significant population of elves and Khoravar, and these are folded into its noble families; there are also a few noble families of comprised of gnomes. A significant number of noble estates are close to manifest zones tied to Thelanis, and many of the oldest families claim to have ancient agreements with fey (which could range from a formal pact with an archfey to a simple understanding with a dryad who dwells in the local wood). It’s also the case that Sul Khatesh is bound beneath Aundair, and some families have secret ties to the Queen of Shadows. In creating an Aundairian noble, consider whether your family has any ancient compacts in their history, and if so if this is a point of public pride or a secret.
The kingdom of Wroat was founded by reavers and bandits, and its rulers held their power through a blend of charisma, cunning, and force. Wroat was a collection of city-states, loosely aligned under Wroat as the greatest power in the region. It was clear from the start that Wroat would ultimately fall to Galifar’s disciplined forces; those leaders who wisely chose to ally with the invader became the nobles of the newly-forged Breland.
While Breland accepted the feudal structure of Galifar, its people never fully embraced the nobility. It’s always been said that a Brelish farmer sees themselves as the equal of any king; they accepted that the nobles had the power, but never bought into romantic ideals of divine bloodlines. This was tied to the fact that Breland was an active frontier. When Galifar was formed, the lands west of the Dagger were still home to ogres and gnolls, and goblins and gnomes held the lands to the east. Zilargo was quickly incorporated into the united kingdom, but it took centuries for Breland to achieve its current borders. The shield lords of the west were far more practical than the grand lords of Aundair. The common folk relied on the nobles to direct military action and to bring the resources of the crown to bear, while the lords relied on the people to be more self-directed than in other nations; Brelish communities chose their own reeves and lesser officials, and even simple matters of justice would be resolved by the people instead of going to the courts.
Throughout the history of Breland it was vital for the nobles to maintain the respect of their subjects, not merely to rely on tradition to keep them in place. As long as they respect their leaders, Brelish are proud and loyal; but Breland has also seen more minor uprisings than any of the other Five Nations. The Brelish Parliament existed before the Last War, and was established as a representative body that advised the Prince of Breland. At the outbreak of the Last War, Princess Wroaan ir’Wynarn promised to make Breland a place where “People would be judged by word and deed instead of social class.” In 895 YK Wroaan granted greater powers to the Brelish Parliament, granting it the authority it has today; the parliament makes the laws, and the crown enforces them—as well as conducting all business related to foreign affairs and national security. As noted throughout the canon sources, King Boranel is an exceptionally popular ruler, but there is a strong movement that believes that the Brelish monarchy should come to an end with Boranel’s reign—or at least be relegated to a purely symbolic position.
The sourcebook Five Nations has this to say about the modern Brelish:
The people of Breland have a strong tradition of independence and free thought. They are fiercely loyal to the kingdom and to the Brelish crown, but at the same time they don’t want the laws interfering with their daily lives. The Brelish always speak their minds, and while they treat aristocrats and officers with the respect due to rank, they still consider themselves to be the equal of any other person. While the Brelish expect their voices to be heard, they also take the time to listen to others, and they are known for their tolerance. There is also a strong strain of skeptical pragmatism in the Brelish character; the Brelish always try to find the catch in every deal, question what others take on faith, and look for a personal advantage in any situation. This attitude has its dark side, and the major cities of Breland have the highest crime rates in Khorvaire.
Noble Ranks. Breland uses the traditional ranks of Galifar, but there are a significant number of shields, especially west of the Dagger. Even though most of these counties have been secure for centuries, the shield lords still take pride in their titles and the deeds of their ancestors. Most cities and large communities have a council that manages local affairs, and in many counties these councils actually appoint viscounts, rather than the noble lord; a canon example of this is the Lord Mayor of Sharn, a viscount appointed by the city council.
Breland is the only one of the Five Nations that allows nobles to sell their titles and domains. Any such transaction must be approved by the sovereign, and the crown takes a cut of the proceedings. The new noble is required to fulfill the duties of their position and it can be stripped away should they fail. Notably, this is how Antus ir’Soldorak of the Aurum obtained his ‘ir’.
Playing a Brelish Noble. Brelish nobles need to be popular with their people to rule effectively. If you’re a noble with Position of Privilege, what’s the foundation of your popularity? Are you charismatic, or have you or your family performed great deeds that ensure the love of your people? Is there a song the local bards sing about you? Are you from a core county that’s always been part of the realm, or are you a shield lord whose ancestors took your lands from the monsters of the west? Is your domain secure now, or are you along the edge of the border with Droaam—in which case, why are you adventuring instead of standing with them? Can your family trace its roots back to the foundation of Galifar, or did they buy their title?
If you don’t want to take the noble background, one possibility is that your lands were west of the Graywall mountains and was lost in the rise of Droaam; perhaps Graywall itself was your family’s domain! As a minor Brelish noble popular with the people, you might take the folk hero background instead of noble; your deeds supporting the common folk are so well known that you’re celebrated even in other nations. Alternatively, if you’re from a small county with relatively little influence, you might take the criminal background instead of noble. Is this because your noble family has deep dealings with the criminal community? Or are your family criminals who’ve bought a minor title?
The conquest of Metrol was Galifar’s first step in establishing his united kingdom. It was his bitterest enemy, and the realm that was most completely transformed in defeat. Hand-picked by Galifar I, the nobles of central Cyre were devoted to the ideals of the united kingdom and believed that they embodied those ideals—and that “What our dreams imagine, our hands create.” While some will argue that these dreamers were decadent and soft, they were devoted to arts, sciences, philosophy—though not to challenging the concept of the monarchy itself. To the Cyrans, the crown was the bedrock foundation of Galifar, and all of their dreams were built on that foundation.
Of course, things were quite different for the nobles of southern and eastern Cyre. To realize his dreams for central Cyre, Galifar claimed the lands to the south and east to resettle the nobles. The lands to the south were inhabited by goblins, and the distant region across the Blade Desert by farmers who traced their roots back to the Khunan region of Sarlona. Neither of these forces were organized into nations, and neither had the power to resist Galifar, but both regions were claimed by conquest. While outright slavery was forbidden, Galifar was willing to overlook the excesses of feudal serfdom. Central Cyre may have embodied the ideals of Galifar, but eastern Cyre was its antitheses. Due to its isolation, it was simply ignored by the rest of the united kingdom, its nobles allowed to rule their petty fiefdoms as they wished.
Following the outbreak of the Last War, the Cyrans continued to hold to the traditions of Galifar; after all, they were the rightful heirs of the true kingdom, and were fighting to defend it. Eastern and Southern Cyre were lost in the uprisings that formed Valenar and Darguun, and then central Cyre fell in the Mourning. As a result, most Cyran nobles now have little but their pride. The Treaty of Thronehold established Cyre as a fallen nation, and its nobles had no voice in shaping the treaty. While Boranel has granted Prince Oargev the land now known as New Cyre, the only power Cyran nobles now wield is what others choose to give them.
Noble Ranks. Cyran used the standard ranks of Galifar. Nobles of southern Cyre were often shields, as the land was taken from the goblins and there were ongoing conflicts over the centuries.
Playing a Cyran Noble. Position of Privilege is extremely rare among Cyran nobles. If you take the noble background, the Retainer benefit makes more sense. If you have a Position of Privilege, it means that your family is so well known and liked that people grant you respect even though your family has lost its privilege; why is that? If you’ve fought to help the refugees, you might instead be a folk hero who can find shelter in any refugee community. Otherwise, with the approval of your DM, you could take any background and add a lost Cyran title to your story; you should be the Count of Woodbridge, but instead you were forced to become a criminal. In developing the story of a Cyran noble, an important question is whether your domain is within central Cyre (the Mournland) or whether it was in southern Cyre (Darguun) or east Cyre (Valenar). Valenar and Darguun were lost almost four decades ago, and if you’re human you may have never known these lands. On the other hand, if you’re from one of these regions your lands still exist and are in enemy hands; do you yearn to reclaim them from the elves or goblins?
Where I normally suggest that adventurers should be heirs as opposed to actively holding a title—explaining why you’re not bound by the duties of your rank and why you don’t have access to its resources—Cyre provides another answer to this. It could be that you were the Duchess of Eston, that you were part of Dannel’s councils—and now, you’re a refugee with only three loyal retainers left to show for it. Again, unless you have Position of Privilege, your title doesn’t mean much; once you may have been Duchess of Eston, but now you’re just a woman with a well-worn sword and the skills to use it.
While first settled by raiders from Rhiavhaar, the seeds that blossomed to form Karrnath can be traced back to the ancient nation of Nulakesh. The Karrns are a hard people who have always valued martial discipline and strict order. It was Karrn the Conqueror whose deeds secured human dominance over Khorvaire, even though he failed to hold that power himself; and Galifar himself was a son of Karrnath. The Cyrans believe that they are the rightful heirs of Galifar because of the traditions of succession; but the Karrns know that it was their people who created Galifar, their language that is now the common tongue. And if Kaius III can’t reclaim the throne of the united kingdom, perhaps another capable Karrnathi warlord will be the next Galifar and start the cycle anew.
In Karrnath, the Galifar Code of Justice has been supplanted by the harsh Code of Kaius, a form of harsh martial law. This met little resistance and remains in place even today, in part because it reflects the overall character of the Karrns and the culture they had in place before Galifar I crafted a more enticing foundation for his united kingdom. While there are certainly exceptions, most Karrns are proud of their strict laws and view the other nations as soft and corrupt. This tendency is reinforced by the fact that all Karrns serve a term in the military and are thus used to operating within a chain of command. One might ask what Karrnath needed with such a sizable army, especially during the most peaceful years of Galifar; the answer is that the Karrnathi army is used for many purposes within the nation. Local law enforcement is largely provided by soldiers, with a small corps of career officers who maintain continuity of service. Soldiers perform public works. A term in the army is a term of service to the nation, where you are prepared to go in harm’s way for the good of your people; but the precise form of that service is up to your sovereign and the warlord.
Karrnath is notable for the Grand Duchy of Atur. This region’s independence was negotiated long ago in recognition for the work it does in containing the dangerous influence of the powerful Mabaran manifest zone at the heart of the region, and was reinforced in agreements with Kaius I in exchange for the support of Atur’s elite necromancers. This is why Atur remains a public stronghold of the Blood of Vol even after Regent Moranna and Kaius III turned against the faith. Atur is still home to the finest necromancers in the nation, and most of Karrnath’s undead troops are stored in its vaults. There are warlords who despise the Blood of Vol or who fears that the undead it maintains could be turned against Karrnath. But these nobles know that seizing Atur would prove disastrous unless they had the knowledge necessary to contain the power of the manifest zone, and so the City of Night remains inviolate.
Noble Ranks. Karrnath uses the standard ranks of Galifar. It’s common for dukes to use the title of warlord, but both titles are valid. Counts along the new borders of the nation take pride in the title of shield. Nobles are expected to levy a specific number of troops for the service of the crown, but they may maintain additional forces as they see fit within their realms; likewise, it’s understood that they are lending soldiers to the crown, and that those troops retain their loyalty to their duke.
Playing a Karrnathi Noble. As a Karrnathi noble, consider carefully whether you want the noble background or the soldier background. All Karrns serve in the military, and nobles were often officers (though only if they actually possessed the skills required to lead). The Position of Privilege benefit of the noble background reflects greater diplomatic influence; the Military Rank benefit of the soldier background reflects respect earned on the battlefield, deeds that will be respected even by enemy soldiers. Which is a better fit for your noble Karrn?
A second question for any Karrnathi noble is where you stand on the Blood of Vol and the use of undead. The faith has always had deep roots in Karrnathi. It spread when it was embraced by the crown earlier in the war, adn then withered when Regent Moranna turned against it. Are you from a proud Seeker family, perhaps tied to the Grand Duchy of Atur, and if so, how has the turn against the faith affected your family? Did your embrace the faith only to abandon it—and if so, are you still a believer in spite of your faithless forbears? Or are you a true vassal devoted to Dol Dorn and the Sovereigns, who believes that the use of undead in battle was a crutch proud Karrnath never needed?
Another question is where you stand on Kaius III and his efforts to strengthen peace. Do you believe that the current peace is best for all? Do you trust that your king is doing what’s best for the nation, even if you hope this is merely a stratagem in a longer game? Or do you believe that Kaius is squandering Karrnathi might, and hope that a new warlord will lead your nation to greatness? Do you think you could be that warlord, given time?
Daskara was a nation devoted to the Sovereign Host, reflecting the influence of ancient Pyrine and to a lesser extent, Irian. Just as Karrnath has a number of powerful manifest zones tied to Mabar, Daskara (now Thrane) has a few noteworthy zones tied to Irian, notably the region where Flamekeep now stands. Like Galifar I, the people of Daskara believed their rulers were blessed by the Sovereigns and governed with divine right. This faith was shaken by their defeats at the hands of Galifar’s forces, but Galifar I was able to convince most that his united kingdom was part of the divine plan, that their blessed lords were meant to kneel to the Wynarn king; Galifar further strengthened this by establishing Daskara as the seat of the Grand Temple of the Host, the greatest temple in the lands. However, this new pillar was broken when the dragon Sarmondelaryx ravaged the newly christened Thrane, killing its prince and burning the Grand Temple.
These challenges didn’t shatter the faith of the Thranes, but they strained them. It took the overlord Bel Shalor to change everything. It wasn’t a prince who saved the nation from terror, nor the Sovereigns; it was a warrior of lowly birth strengthened by courage and the power of the Silver Flame. In the years and centuries that followed, the people of Thrane largely abandoned the Sovereign Host and embraced the Silver Flame. The Grand Temple of the Host had been destroyed by the forces of Bel Shalor, and the people chose to replace it with the citadel of Flamekeep; the Cathedral of the Sovereign Host in Metrol became the new seat of the Vassal faith.
This shift left the nobles of Thrane in an odd position. They had long touted their supposed divine blessing… but now the people were shifting away from the faith that supported it. Many nobles responded to this by embracing the Silver Flame—sharing the faith of the people and further, acknowledging the power that saved their nation. Others sought to balance both traditions; even if the Grand Temple was never rebuilt, the faith of the Silver Flame didn’t deny the possibility that the Sovereigns might exist and might have blessed the noble lines. And a few clung bitterly to the old ways and refused to acknowledge the new faith, struggling to limit the power of the church within their domains.
Following the death of King Thalin in 914 YK, Thrane officially became a theocracy led by the Keeper of the Silver Flame and the Council of Cardinals. The lands once held through the crown were now considered the property of the church, and both civil and military administration were taken over by the church. The roles of viscounts and blood regents were dissolved and taken over by church functionaries. Higher nobles were allowed to retain a single manor and estate, but no more. Many chose to work with the church, helping with the transition and earning rank within the theocracy through faith and service. Others were willing to remain in a decorative, ceremonial role. This is the position that Queen Diani ir’Wynarn finds herself in today. In theory, she is the Blood Regent and serves as adviser to the Keeper and the Cardinals. In practice, she is largely ignored. While she smiles at the services she attends, Diani believes that Aureon and Dol Arrah have plans for her, and there are loyalists—known as Throneholders—who dream of restoring the monarchy to its rightful place.
Noble Ranks. The nobility of Thrane uses the standard ranks, but there are no viscounts or crown reeves. Only the eldest heir of a Thrane noble receives a courtesy title. Thrane nobles cannot create titles or take any action that would require the approval of the sovereign. and most have no authority beyond their estates unless they also serve in the church.
Playing a Thrane Noble. If you want to play someone of influence in Thrane, the best choice is to take the acolyte or soldier background. An acolyte is the equivalent of a civil servant, and Shelter of the Faithful gives you the same sort of influence among the faithful and within the church that Position of Privilege gives with nobles. As a soldier, Military Rank reflects your role either with the templars or the general army of Thrane; either way, your deeds were significant enough that you are respected even by the soldiers of other nations. What did you do to earn this respect? What was your most noteworthy battle?
Should you wish to plan a disenfranchised noble, the Retainer benefit makes more sense than Position of Privilege. Beyond your retainers, your family still has an estate you can return to, but they have little influence or resources to spare. As a noble of Thrane, are you devoted to the Silver Flame, supporting the new direction of the nation? Or are you a bitter Throneholder determined to restore the old order? For a more dramatic twist, you might believe that you have been chosen by one or more of the Sovereigns for some divine purpose; is this the restoration of the nobility, or do the Sovereigns have a purpose for you that doesn’t actually place you at odds with the church?
While most of the other nations of Khorvaire have their own unique traditions of nobility, a few have inherited some elements from Galifar, and these are briefly addressed below. A critical point to consider with any of the other nations is that the Position of Privilege benefit reflects a broad recognition of your authority. If you wield great power within a Lhazaar principality but don’t have any influence beyond it, you don’t need to take the noble background; you can be a sailor or a pirate, and work out the other elements of your backstory with your DM. Your background benefit reflects the aspect of your background that will regularly come into play. If you want to have an interesting story hook that may well never actually come up in the campaign, that comes down to the approval of your DM.
The Eldeen Reaches
The Eldeen Reaches seceded from Aundair in 958 YK, and its people swore their allegiance to the Great Druid Oalian. The Eldeen Charter affirmed that the land now belong to the Eldeen people and that the titles and claims of the nobility of Aundair were no longer recognized. Many nobles weren’t in residence at the time (which was part of the reason for the secession). Others fled to Aundair, becoming the Lost Lords mentioned earlier. But a few chose to stay with the people and to start a new life, working to be good community leaders even without the titles and privileges of their former lives.
Because of the timeframe, a human adventurer likely wouldn’t have actually held power in the Eldeen Reaches before the uprising. But as an elf or Khoravar, you could easily have been a noble in the Reaches. Are you a Lost Lord hoping to reclaim your birthright? Or have you embraced your new nation and worked to strengthen it?
Q’barra: New Galifar
The nation of Q’barra was founded by Ven ir’Kesslan of Cyre, once duke of the Dollen region. Ven named his settlement New Galifar, and claimed his intention to recreate the noble model of Galifar in this untamed land. The former duke thus became the first king of New Galifar, despite not being tied to the Wynarn bloodline. Those few counts that had supported his cause became dukes, and wealthy donors who had funded the expedition became counts. Having said that, New Galifar is small and still actively expanding. Newthrone is the royal seat, and the only two actual “duchies” are Whitecliff and Adderport. Q’barran counts rule over villages that would barely justify a crown reeve in the Five Nations. Most nobles are “claim lords”—they’ve been granted titles and parcels of land by the King of Q’barra, but they haven’t actually claimed or cultivated those lands. Adderport and Newthrone together have a kingdom’s worth of dukes and counts, but most only over a handful of retainers and a small city estate.
A Q’barran title currently means little in the wider world, and it’s unlikely that a Q’barran noble would have a Position of Privilege unless they were tied to some other office, such as being an appointed ambassador. With your DM’s approval, your character could be a claim lord, regardless of your actual background; as such you have a title and some influence when you’re actually in Newthrone, but it has no real significance elsewhere. While this would not provide you with the benefits of a Position of Privilege, your king could charge you to perform services in the name of New Galifar.
As far as the outside world can tell, the Host of Valenar seized the lands of eastern Cyre, drove out the Cyran nobility, and replaced them as feudal overlords. High King Vadallia granted the fiefs to his war leaders, so there is a Count of Moonshadow and a Duke of Pylas Maradal. However, this was largely a show for the rest of the world; the Valenar have never cared about holding land or titles, as the ancestors they emulate didn’t rule petty fiefdoms. The Valenar nobles are rarely found in their supposed domains, and it is Khoravar immigrants who make up the civil service and administer justice in their names.
There’s little logical basis for using the noble background for a character from Valenar. Being the Count of Moonshadow won’t get you the benefits of a Position of Privilege in the wider world. If you want to be a person of influence within the Host of Valenar, use the Soldier background; among the Tairnadal, Military Rank is more important than some noble’s title. If you want to be a former Cyran lord yearning to reclaim your lands, you could take the noble background with the Retainer feature (bearing in mind that Valenar was seized 42 years ago)… or almost any background and simply say that your family has claim to a title in Valenar, if your DM supports the idea.
As described earlier in this article, when the forces of Galifar advanced to conquer the lands beyond the Howling Peaks, they were met by gnome negotiators. After lengthy discussions and a wide array of offers and enticements (many of which turned out to favor the gnomes more than they originally appeared), the region of Zilargo was recognized as the Grand Duchies of Korranberg, Trolanport, and Zolanberg, with the region being governed by triumvirate with a representative from each duchy. While ostensibly part of Breland, their status as a grand duchies allowed them to largely remain autonomous. To this day, there are three noble families in Zilargo—the ir’Korrans, the ir’Trolans, and the ir’Zolans—and heirs happily compete for the title of grand duke and hold elaborate coronations. But grand duke is a symbolic role that was largely only brought out for special interactions with nobles of Galifar, while the Triumvirate, the Councils of Nine, and of course the Trust actually maintain the nation.
In the wake of the Treaty of Thronehold, the Grand Dukes are even more toothless than they were before. The three ducal families are among the most powerful families in Zilargo, but the title of Grand Duke is more of a toy than an actual position of significance; these families often hold elabroate duels or games, with the victor claiming the title for a year. The actual positions of authority within Zilargo are elected offices—though these elections are often decided by vast webs of intrigue.
That’s all for now! As this article is already 11,000 words, I’m going to post answers to questions about it in a follow-up article as opposed to adding them to the end of this one. Thanks to my Patreon supporters for choosing this topic and keeping this site going, and I’ll be posting a Patreon exclusive article about a few notable nobles of Galifar soon for the Inner Circle. And if you’d like to know more about Cyre and the ruling clans of the Mror Holds, check out Exploring Eberron on the DM’s Guild!