Dragonmarks: Spelljammer in Eberron

The warforged captain stared at the great orange orb ahead of them. “This is it, my friends. We are about to be the first people to set foot on Olarune. Thanks to your courage and your tireless efforts, we will bring honor to Breland—and Sovereigns willing, profit.”

“Captain, ship ahead!”

“Impossible. “ The captain adjusted his ocular lenses. “We’re a day ahead of the Karrns—”

“It’s not the Blade. It’s an unknown design, sir. And it’s ascending from the surface.”

The deck crew ran to the rails. The approaching ship was like nothing they’d ever seen; it looked like a great oak uprooted and cast into the air, with tapestries of rainbows spun between its branches. In its own way, it was beautiful. But as it drew closer, the crew of Intrepid heard the sounds coming from it—the howls of hungry wolves.

Spelljammer intertwines fantasy and magic with spacefaring adventure. This dynamic setting has come to fifth edition, giving players the opportunity to set a course for Wildspace and distant stars. What does this mean for Eberron? What’s the best way to take your campaign to the skies and beyond?

Eberron: Rising From The Last War states that “Eberron is part of the Great Wheel of the multiverse… At the same time, it is fundamentally apart from the rest of the Great Wheel, sealed off from the other planes even while it’s encircled by its own wheeling cosmology. Eberron’s unique station in the multiverse is an important aspect of the world… it is sheltered from the influences and machinations of gods and other powers elsewhere in the Great Wheel.” Now, Rising also says that if you WANT to integrate Eberron with other settings you can; as a DM, you can say that whatever protections have hidden Eberron from the worlds beyond are failing. So there’s nothing stopping you from making a campaign where there’s regular commerce or even war between Realmspace and Eberron’s wildspace system—let’s call it Siberspace. But personally, I’m more interesting in combining the two concepts in a very different way—in finding an approach that adds depth to the moons, the Ring, and the existing cosmology of Eberron rather than leaving it behind.

EBERRON IN ISOLATION: THE SPACE RACE

One of the core principles of Eberron is that arcane magic is a form of science and that it evolves—that invention and innovation should play a role in the setting. With this in mind, in bringing Spelljammer into Eberron I’d emphasize that this isn’t a retcon, it’s a new development. The Five Nations have never had spelljammers until now. The adventurers aren’t the latest recruits in a vast, well-established spelljamming fleet; they are among the very first humanoids to venture into wildspace to try reach the moons of Eberron.

With this in mind, an important question is why no one’s gone into space. The Ring of Siberys is beyond the atmosphere, but what’s stopping me from putting on a ring of sustenance and pointing my broom of flying straight up? In my campaign, there are three major obstacles. The first is that the Ring and the moons are beyond Eberron’s atmosphere, so you need to be able to survive in wildspace. The second is that breaking free from Eberron’s gravity is a challenge, requiring a surge of energy a simple item like a broom of flying can’t produce. The third is that the Ring of Siberys radiates arcane energy. As discussed below, this specifically interferes with divination and teleportation, but it can overload any arcane system… and this seems to especially impact magic of flight. It’s almost like the Progenitors didn’t want people to leave the planet. But why take the hint? These are problems that can be overcome, and now they have; the people of Eberron have developed spelljammers that can reach the Ring and beyond. Still, the key is that this is all happening now, in 998 YK. And different nations are using very different techniques to overcome these obstacles—each of which could have unexpected problems.

Who’s Going To Space?

In developing a Spelljammer campaign based on the space race, a key question is who’s in the race? My preference is to focus on the Five Nations. No one won the Last War, and fear of the Mourning prevents anyone from restarting it; there’s still tension, resentment, and intrigue. So in addition to the excitement of going where no one has gone before, I’d emphasize the tension between nations and the impact triumphs in space could have back home. Just as in our world, the space race could become a proxy for this conflict, driven by national pride and the determination not to let another nation secure a tactical advantage in space. The Treaty of Thronehold still holds, and it would take intense provocation to cause an Aundairian ship to open fire on a Brelish ship—but the nations are bitterly competitive and will do anything short of war to get an edge over their rivals. Finding awesome space treasure is great, but forming alliances and establishing outposts could be the most important elements of an adventure.

So with this in my mind, I’d focus on three primary forces. The Dragonmarked Houses are willing to work with every nation, but this is also a chance to explore the growing division within House Cannith, suggesting that each of the three barons are backing a different nation and that the rivalry between these three is almost as strong as the cold war between the nations.  

Aundair: The Dragonhawk Initiative

Aundair dares, and that motto certainly applies to its spelljamming program. Rather than pursuing the established path of elemental binding, this branch of the Arcane Congress is blending cutting edge arcane science with Thelanian wonder. The Brelish say that Aundair traded an old cow for a spelljamming engine, and while that’s a mocking exaggeration, it’s not entirely untrue; the ir’Dalan line has a long association with the archfey known as the Mother of Invention, and the Archmagister Asta ir’Dalan has brought wizards and warlocks together in a unique alliance. The current Aundairian ships are the fastest and most maneuverable of the three main powers, and unquestionably the most beautiful. A few key notes about the Dragonhawk Initiative…

  • Romantic Explorers. The Dragonhawk Initiative is a branch of the Arcane Congress; it’s a scientific program rather than a military operation. While there’s a chain of command, discipline is far less intense than on a Karrnathi vessel. Dragonhawks love the story of being explorers into the unknown and embrace the romance of the adventure more than their counterparts—as befits a ship built in alliance with the fey. Dragonhawks are determined to prove Aundairian superiority and to seize strategic objectives, but they also are the most likely to be distracted by intriguing mysteries and shiny objects, and to embrace exploration for its own sake. Dragonhawk crew have relative freedom when it comes to personal expression, and Karrns often sneer that Dragonhawks are dressed for a gala rather than for space. As scientific vessels, Dragonhawks have the lightest armaments of the three powers but the greatest investment in divination magic and other research tools.
  • Arcane and Fey. Dragonhawk ships rely on a blend of concrete science and on improbable fey magic. A side effect of this is that each ship is unique. The tree-like Wayfinder uses a sail that catches “ethereal winds”, while the flagship Dragonhawk has actual wings of wood and gold that animate as it flies. Each ship has a fey spirit who’s part of the ship itself, much like a dryad is tied to a tree; this spirit can’t manifest independently as a dryad does, but it monitors the condition of the ship and its mood affects the vessel’s performance. Dragonhawk ships have a number of lesser fey that work directly with the spirit and maintain its systems; these are effectively chwinga with the mending and prestidigitation cantrips. As such, a Dragonhawk vessel has a Magister—the chief wizard and researcher, who maintains the arcane wards and other scientific systems, and an Arbiter—a warlock who has a pact with the spirit of the ship itself. The Arbiter is effectively an engineer, encouraging the ship when needed to boost performance and commanding the chwinga. However, Arbiters are also expected to mediate disputes within the crew and to serve as diplomats when required.  The explorers expect to face unknown dangers, and who better to handle first contact with alien beings than someone trained to negotiate with the fey?
  • Wondrous but Unpredictable. Each Dragonhawk vessel is unique. Their current ships are the fastest in the skies, but it’s possible the next ship they produce will be a clockwork dragon turtle that is slow but extremely durable. An unavoidable side effect of this is that each vessel can have its own unexpected problems. It’s just possible that Dragonhawk’s wings will melt if it gets too close to the sun, or that Wayfinder will run into an unexpected ethereal storm. Another way to look at this is that Dragonhawk vessels are ultimately stories. If the story of an expedition is exciting enough on its own, the ship will be fine… but if a tale starts to lag, something will happen to add drama to the story.  

As research vessels, the crew of a Dragonhawk ship focuses more on arcane sophistication and on skill than brute force. Every ship will have at least one wizard and one warlock. An eldritch knight could be appointed as security chief, but a battlemaster or barbarian would be an unlikely addition to the crew. Baron Jorlanna d’Cannith isn’t as closely involved with the Dragonhawk Initiative as her rival barons are with their nations, but Cannith West is manufacturing elements of the Aundairian spelljammers and could become more actively involved in the future.

Breland: The King’s Argosy

The Argosy is a branch of the King’s Citadel, formed in close alliance with Zilargo, Cannith South under Merrix d’Cannith, and House Lyrandar. Where the Dragonhawk Initiative is scientific and the Blade of Siberys is a branch of the military, the King’s Argosy is ultimately a commercial enterprise; its mission is to seek profit in the heavens, to secure unique resources and opportunities that can benefit Breland and its sponsors. Argosy ships rely on the established principles of the elemental binding; they are essentially bulkier, overpowered elemental airships, including the need for a Lyrandar pilot. Compared to the Dragonhawks, Argosy ships are ugly; but they are sturdy, and thanks to Breland’s industrial capacity the Argosy has the largest fleet of the Five Nations. A few core principles of the King’s Argosy…

  • Pragmatic. The Brelish aren’t here to enjoy beautiful alien sunsets or to get lost in the wonder of exploration. This is a job, and potentially a very lucrative one; every Argosy crewmember has a small stake in any whatever profits come from their voyage. An Argosy captain is empowered to negotiate for the Brelish crown, but each Argosy ship has an Optech—an opportunity technician—from the Twelve, whose job is to identify opportunities and exploitable resources others might overlook.
  • Industrial and Elemental. Brelish ships aren’t beautiful; they’re bulkier, chunky airships. The fact that they’re using an existing form of science has given Breland a head start, and the Argosy currently has the largest fleet. However, this quantity comes at the expense of quality; the drawback of using the existing tool is that it’s not necessarily the best tool, as it’s not designed specifically for the challenges of space. Due to the alliance with Merrix d’Cannith, Argosy ships also make liberal use of constructs. In addition to warforged and autognomes (see below), Argosy ships often have tiny prototype constructs that serve a similar role to the Dragonhawk chwinga.
  • Scrappy. Argosy ships may not be as elegant as their Dragonhawk counterparts, but the Brelish excel at coming up with creative solutions to problems, which is good because there’s almost always problems that need to be solved. Brelish ships share a common hull and basic design, but each has unique modifications implemented by the ship’s artificer. Think of an Observatory ship as the Millennium Falcon—it may seem like it’s constantly on the edge of breaking down, but you never know when it’s going to surprise you.

Argosy crews place a strong emphasis on skill expertise and versatility; there’s always a few jacks of all trades ready to step into the shoes of a fallen specialist. Brelish ships always have at least one warforged or autognome; a Lyrandar pilot; and an artificer, who could be Brelish, Cannith, or Zil. It’s worth noting that while the King’s Argosy is works closely with the Twelve, the two are still ultimately independent. By allowing an Optech on board, the Argosy maximizes the chances of forging profitable arrangements. But the Optech is an adviser who has no actual authority on the ship. And should Aundair or Karrnath come into possession of a valuable resource, the Twelve would negotiate with them. Breland is making business and industry the focus of its mission in space, and thus has encouraged a strong role for the Twelve, but it’s not an exclusive arrangement.

Karrnath: The Blade of Siberys

Where the King’s Argosy hopes to profit from the stars, the Blade of Siberys seeks only one thing: victory. An alliance between the Karrnathi crown and Cannith East (under Zorlan d’Cannith), the Blade is certain that there will eventually be a war in the stars—and when that comes to pass, Karrnath will hold the winning hand. Vital resources? Strategic positions? Alien weapons or allies? The Blade wants them all. A few details about the Blade of Siberys…

  • Aggressive. The Karrns aren’t here for gold or adventure; this is about the conquest of space. The Karrns are proud of their discipline and their martial skills; they consider the Aundairians to be soft and the Brelish decadent. Blade captains view anything unexpected as a potential threat, and Karrns are ready to fight any threat.   
  • Warships. The Blade of Siberys is a branch of the Karrnathi military. Martial discipline is enforced at all times and insubordination will not be tolerated. Blade vessels are armed with arcane artillery, mundane weaponry, and dedicated marines—usually supplemented by a squad of Karrnathi undead. Blade vessels aren’t fragile, but they rely on devastating offensive power over heavy armor. Argosy ships are more durable and Dragonhawks are faster, but were it to come to a sustained firefight neither could match the Blade of Siberys.
  • Necromancy. While the crown has officially broken its ties with the Blood of Vol, it hasn’t given up on the military potential of necromancy. Every Blade ship carries a squad of Karrnathi undead. Beyond this, Zorlan d’Cannith has devoted his life to finding new ways to harness the energies of Mabar and unexpected industrial applications of necromancy. Blade vessels are literal ghost ships, with moaning engines surrounded by a whirling morass of ectoplasm. Even the necromancers who maintain them don’t entirely understand the science involved; and the destruction of a Blade warship can unleash hungry shadows.

Every Blade vessel has a necromancer-engineer, and could have an oathbreaker paladin in charge of marines. While there are Karrn necromancers who aren’t part of the Blood of Vol, this could be a case where Seekers are given positions—a major opportunity to repair the relationship between the crown and the Blood of Vol. In general, the Karrns are more concerned with martial force than diplomacy, and strength over finesse. It’s important to keep in mind that the conflict between the Five Nations is still a cold war; with their heavy armament the Blade is prepared for that to change, but as things stand an attack on one of the other nations would be a political catastrophe. But the next war could start tomorrow, and even if it doesn’t, you never know what enemies might be waiting among the moons.

Other Forces

In this campaign, Aundair, Karrnath, and Breland are the three major powers in the space race; it takes the resources of a nation to get off the ground. However, over the course of the campaign other groups could make their way into space. Most of these would be operating on a smaller scale, with one or two ships rather than building up a fleet, but they could still pose unexpected challenges or become useful allies over time.

  • The Aurum can’t match the industrial capacity of the King’s Argosy, but a wealthy concordian could outfit a single ship to pursue their own pursuit of opportunities in space. This could be an excellent opportunity for a traditional rag-tag group of adventurers who aren’t bound to any one nation—essentially, Firefly.
  • Thrane isn’t part of the space race to begin with, but they could be a late entry. An engine powered by the Silver Flame could be maintained by the faith of its crew; it could be that they’re the only force the celestials of the Ring will deal with.
  • New Cyre doesn’t have the resources to support a space program. But what if Cyre and Eston were working on a spelljamming program BEFORE the Mourning? What if there’s a hidden underground facility that has two powerful spelljamming vessels—or possibly even a ship that can shift between the forms of a spelljammer and a warforged colossus? If such a thing exists, a team of Cyran adventurers could be sent into the Mournland to find this base and recover these ships for Cyre. Of course, the Lord of Blades will also be looking for these vessels…
  • Droaam is often underestimated, but given time they could have a unique entry into the space race. The core systems are developed by the Venomous Demesne, harnessing planar energies instead of elemental power; the first Droaamite spelljammer holds the essence of a pit fiend of Fernia. For the hull, the Demesne are working with the changelings of Lost to magebreed a unique, colossal facade—the massive mimics that serve as the buildings of Lost. In addition to being able to regenerate damage, this living ship could shift its appearance to mimic a ship of another nation!
  • Riedra may be content with its dominion over Sarlona. On the other hand, it’s possible there’s a fleet of crystal ships just waiting to be launched.
  • Aerenal hasn’t bothered with spelljammers and has instead focused directly on Pylas Var-Tolai and the colonization of the Astral Plane, as described in this article.

THE CANNITH AUTOGNOME

The Treaty of Thronehold specifically forbids the creation of warforged and the use of the creation forges, but it places no further restrictions on the creation of sentient construct. Over the last two years, Merrix d’Cannith has been working closely with the brilliant binder Dalia Hal Holinda to develop a new form of construct fused by an elemental heart. Over the last year this work has born fruit, but so far the bound heart can only sustain a small form; this is the origin of the autognome.

As of 998 YK, there are approximately 43 autognomes in existence. Each autognome is a hand-crafted prototype, and every one of them is unique; Merrix and Dalia are still experimenting, changing materials, designs, and technique. One autognome might have arcane sigils carved on every inch of its bronze skin. Another might be made with chunks of Riedran crysteel, which glow when the autognome is excited. What all autognome designs share is an elemental heart—a Khyber shard core inlaid with silver and infused with the essence of a minor elemental. This serves both as the heart and brain of an autognome, keeping it alive and also serving as the seat of its sentience. The minor elementals involved in this process aren’t sentient as humans understand the concept; but through the process of the binding, it evolves into something entirely new.

In creating an autognome character, begin by deciding the nature of your elemental heart. You may not remember your existence as a minor elemental, but the nature of your spark may be reflected by your personality. Are you fiery in spirit? A little airheaded? Do you have a heart of stone? What was the purpose you were made for, and how is this reflected in your design? Which of your class abilities are reflected by your physical design, and which are entirely learned skills? And most of all, what drives you? Are you devoted to your work, or are you driven by insatiable curiosity or a desire to more deeply explore your own identity?   

Autognomes aren’t widely recognized and may be mistaken for warforged scouts. If their existence becomes more widely known, will anyone will seek to amend the Code of Galifar to protect all constructs? Will the Lord of Blades see autognomes as allies in the struggle, or deny any kinship to these elemental constructs?

While I’m suggesting the Cannith autognome as the most common form of autognome, it’s not the only way to use this species. In my current campaign I’ve proposed an Autognome warlock as a crewmember on a Dragonhawk ship—a construct built with the ship, who serves as its Arbiter. But here again, this character is a unique construct who doesn’t resemble Cannith’s creations or feel any immediate kinship with them.

Siberspace: The Realm Above

In simplest terms, Khyber is the underworld, Eberron the surface, and Siberys the sky; as such, the crystal sphere containing Eberron and its moons is typically referred to as Siberspace. Korranberg scholars maintain that Berspace would be a more accurate term; “Ber” is thought to be an ancient word meaning “dragon” or “progenitor,” and as such Berspace could be seen as The Realm of the Progenitors. However, beyond Korranberg the idea was dismissed because people felt ridiculous saying “Brrr, space.”

So what awaits in the Realm Above? Compared to the endless expanse of the Multiverse, it may seem relatively limited, but there’s many opportunities for adventure.

The Ring of Siberys

The first step into the sky is the Ring of Siberys, the glittering belt of golden stones that’s wrapped around Eberron. The Ring has long been an enigma. It is a powerful source of arcane energy, and this ambient radiation—commonly referred to as the blood of Siberys—has a number of effects.

  • Mysterious. The Ring blocks divination magic, mirroring the effects of nondetection across the ring. This makes it difficult to locate Siberys shards or other valuable mineral deposits, and allows ships to hide in the cover of the ring’s field.
  • Anchoring. The Ring blocks all forms of long-distance teleportation. It’s impossible to teleport to Eberron or one of the moons from the Ring; this also prevents direct teleportation from a moon to Eberron. It doesn’t block short-range teleportation—such as misty step—within the Ring, and it also doesn’t block plane shift; however, plane shift is beyond the scope of the everyday magic of the Five Nations, and isn’t an alternative to spelljamming.
  • Difficult Approach. Gravity and the power of the Ring combine to make the approach difficult. It takes a surge of arcane power to push beyond the atmosphere. Most flying items can’t produce this power, or will burn out if they try. Spelljammers can—that’s what makes a spelljammer a spelljammer—but it still requires a supply of Siberys shards to generate the necessary energy.

The Blood of Siberys is an obstacle, but it can be overcome. Elemental airships couldn’t reach the Ring, so the Five Nations developed spelljammers. The Mysterious and Anchoring effects can surely also be overcome with research and development; this is an opportunity to reflect the evolution of arcane science. Most likely this would come in stages rather than all at once; the Dragonhawk Initiative learns to cast detect magic through the Mysterious interference, then any 1st level divination, then any 2nd level, and so on. The breakthrough could involve a rare resource, such as a previously unknown mineral only found in the Ring; deposits of this mineral would quickly become be important strategic objectives. Can House Orien create a focus item that allows them to teleport to the Ring? Who will penetrate the shrouding effect first—Aundair or House Medani?

So to this point, the people of Khorvaire haven’t been able to use divination to study the Ring, and they haven’t had ships that could reach it. What will the first spelljammers find? Legend has long held that the Ring of Siberys is comprised entirely of Siberys dragonshards; the King’s Argosy will be disappointed to learn that this is only a myth. There are Siberys shards spread throughout the Ring of Siberys, but the bulk of the ring is comprised of massive chunks of stone and ice surrounded by fields of smaller shards. The Ring is airless and cold—or so it first appears. The blood of Siberys doesn’t just shield the Ring; it makes the impossible possible. Some of the larger stone shards have some combination of gravity, breathable air, safe temperatures, or even fertile soil (though based on other conditions, it might be impossible to grow typical crops of the world below). Usually these features are only found on the interior of a sky island; it’s barren and airless on the surface, but if you find a passage there’s a hidden oasis within. Such an oasis will be an incredible discovery for exploring spelljammers, but there’s a complication: the Five Nations aren’t the first civilizations to explore the Ring. Some of the larger shards—shards the size of Lhazaar islands—contain ruins of civilizations that died long ago. Some hold stasis fields or extradimensional spaces, waiting for an explorer to deactivate the wards or unlock the space. These can contain powerful artifacts or priceless arcane secrets… or they could contain magebred beasts, ancient plagues, or even entire outposts held in stasis. Consider a few possible origins for such things…

  • Dragons. The dragons colonized the Ring back in their first great age of expansion following the Age of Demons. But even held tight by Siberys, they couldn’t escape the influence of the Daughter of Khyber. The colonies were destroyed or abandoned, but explorers could find a forgotten dracolich, or the degenerate remnants of those corrupted by the Daughter of Khyber.
  • Giants. Both the Cul’sir Dominion and the Group of Eleven established outposts in the Ring. These were crippled when Xen’drik was devastated by the dragons. Adventurers could find empty ruins; giants that collapsed into savagery but have built new (non-spelljamming) cultures in the ruins of their ancestors; or an outpost perfectly preserved in stasis—an outpost of ancient giants who remember the fall of Xen’drik as if it was yesterday, who hunger for revenge on Argonnessen, and who could still have access to the same magic that once destroyed a moon.
  • Celestials. It’s always been said that Khyber spawned native fiends and that native celestials were born from the blood of Siberys. The couatl are known as the children of Siberys, and sacrificed themselves to create the Silver Flame. But there could be other celestials that never descended from the sky to assist the mortals below. Perhaps the lilends dwell in hidden halls in the Ring, contemplating the struggle of the Progenitors and awaiting their Silent Hour. Whatever their nature, celestials of the Ring have remained aloof, disinterested in the mortal world. They might be incarnations of celestial ideals, but they could well see the people of Eberron as hopelessly corrupted, possibly even defiling the Ring with their presence. Breaking past this prejudice and forging an alliance with one or more native celestials would be quite a coup for explorers.
  • Humans. Perhaps the magi of Ohr Kaluun managed to teleport an entire war maze into the ring to escape the Sundering. Maybe there was a human civilization entirely unknown to the scholars of the present day, whose history can only be found in the ring.

Personally, I’d be inclined to say that native fiends have a minimal presence in the Ring of Siberys. The overlords are part of the architecture of Khyber. They might be able to influence people in the Ring, as with the Daughter of Khyber corrupting dragons; but there are no overlords bound in the ring itself.

Overall, the Ring of Siberys is the first frontier. It is vast—it stretches around the entire world, and has room for countless shards the size of cities or even islands. Mineral deposits and stasis caches are tempting treasures, and a habitable oasis would be an invaluable foothold in space. However, the block against divination limits the ability to swiftly locate these things… and that’s where adventurers come in.

The Mysterious Moons

The people of the Five Nations have never reached the moons of Eberron, and there are many theories about them. Some assert that the moons must be airless, arid chunks of rock. Others say that the moons aren’t actually physical objects, but rather massive planar gateways—that a ship that tries to land on Vult will actually find itself in Shavarath. In my campaign, the answer lies between these two options. The moons are essentially manifest worlds. Each moon is closely tied to a particular plane, and the entire moon has traits that are typically associated with manifest zones of that plane. All of Sypheros is blanketed in Eternal Shadows of Mabar, while Barrakas has the Pure Light trait of Irian. The moons have atmosphere and gravity. Vegetation varies—Sypheros and icy Dravago are quite barren, while Barrakas and Olarune and lush and overgrown. While each moon is suffused with planar energies, these are concentrated in specific spaces. All of Eyre has the Deadly Heat trait of Fernia, but there are only a few places regions with the Fires of Industry trait—and those spaces would be quite desirable as outposts. However, it’s quite possible that these valuable locations have already been claimed. The moons support life, and it’s up to the DM to decide exactly what’s already there. I don’t want to go into too much detail, because this is where the exploration comes in. Here’s a few general options…

Savage and Untamed. There’s no civilization on this moon, but there is life—powerful and dangerous life. Any nation that hopes to establish an outpost or to explore extensively will have to deal with any combination of deadly monsters, supernatural hazards, dramatic weather effects, and more. It’s quite possible that one or more of these effects are so dangerous that it’s essentially impossible to maintain an outpost or establish a colony on the moon. If Zarantyr has the Constant Change or Chaotic Time traits of Kythri it could be very dangerous to remain there for long, while Olarune could be like the Titan’s Folly layer of Lamannia—any attempt to impose order upon the natural world will be overcome.

Lunar Empires. A moon could be home to one or more powerful civilizations. Perhaps the Giff have an imperial civilization on Vult, with fortresses spread across the moon. The moons are smaller than Eberron, so even a powerful lunar civilization will be limited in scope; but this is still an important opportunity for first contact and ongoing diplomacy. These societies could have technology or magic unknown on Khorvaire. If the Giff are on Vult, they could have their faithful firearms! A crucial question is whether these lunar civilizations have spelljammers of their own, or if they are landbound. The fact that none of these nations have made contact with Eberron suggests that they don’t have space travel, but it’s always possible that they have limited spelljammers that can cross between moons but can’t get past the Ring. This would allow the Giff of Vult to be engaged in a bitter war against the Plasmoids of Zarantyr and for the spelljammers of Eberron to get caught up in this conflict and to engage in battles in space, but this conflict can’t reach Eberron… at least for now!

Small Civilizations. A moon could have one or more civilizations that could interact with explorers, but that aren’t so vast and advanced as to truly dominate their moon. Perhaps there’s a few clans of Hadozee on Olarune—each carrying a different form of lycanthropy! Each claims a region within Olarune, and explorers will need to negotiate with multiple clans… being careful to learn and respective their dramatically different cultures! This sort of division could also lead to the different nations finding different allies on the same moon. On Olarune, the Blade of Karrnath could forge a bond with the powerful Wolf clan, while the King’s Argosy negotiates with the Tigers and Bears.

Planar Extensions. Personally, I want the moons to be unique worlds that are influenced by their associated planes, but that are distinctly different from what you’d find in those planes. I’d rather have Vult have a Gith empire than to just make it another front in the war between the celestials and fiends of Shavarath. However, a moon could certainly have a region that is either a direct extension of a plane or that hosts the denizens of the plane. It could be that the Feyspires of Thelanis appear on Rhaan as well as on Eberron, and that explorers could find Pylas Pyrial waiting for them when they land. Or people could land on Aryth to discover a city inhabited by the ghost of their lost loved ones… but is it real, or some sort of deadly trick?

I don’t want to know all the answers; that’s why we have a journey of discovery. But there’s at least twelve moons to explore, and each one can present very different challenges and hold different rewards. Will the adventurers be drawn into intralunar wars? Will they engage in high stakes first contact with alien civilizations? Or will the greatest challenge be surviving an expedition?

Wroat, We Have A Problem…

The moons and the Ring are the main real estate, but the space race isn’t just about the destination—it’s all about the journey, and the many, many things that could go wrong in space. In my campaign, I’d want to emphasize that space travel is new. Every ship is a protoype, and the people of Khorvaire simply don’t know what threats are waiting for them in space. In addition to the hazards presented in Spelljammer content, adventurers could run across manifest zones, wild zones, or supernatural threats never encountered planetside. A Shavaran bloodstorm could induce homicidal aggression in humanoids that pass through it, while a Lamannian sargasso could bury its roots in any ship that draws too close. There’s a giant Khyber crystal floating in space… is it a valuable resource or does it contain an incredibly dangerous spirit? And just in general, what do the adventurers do when something goes wrong with their ship? And do they think it’s just a legitimate malfunction—a lesson artificers can learn from—or is it sabotage? Is there a spy among their crew… or has an alien threat come on board?

What Lies Beyond

As depicted in Spelljammer: Adventures in Space, Wildspace bleeds naturally into the Astral Sea; all you need to do is sail far enough. However, as called out in Rising From The Last War, Siberspace is isolated from the rest of the Multiverse. Exploring Eberron suggests that Eberron is the only planet in its material plane—that the stars are in fact glittering points on a crystal sphere, surrounded by the vast astral void. In my Space Race campaign, the first Spelljammers won’t be capable of reaching any form of the Astral; they’ll have to discover the limits of Siberspace and find out how to pass beyond it. This could be driven by encounters with Githyanki raiders, or require the adventurers’ patrons to bargain with Aerenal. But even when they pierce this veil, I wouldn’t take them to the full expanse of the Astral Sea. This article presents a version of the Astral Plane holding countless ruins, timelost hermitages, and outposts like Pylas Tar-Volai and Tu’narath. But it’s still an interpretation concretely tied to Eberron, home to the Githyanki survivors of a lost reality and the experiments of the Undying Court. Personally, I’d say that this version of the Astral Plane is still part of Siberspace—that just as there’s a barrier around Eberron’s material plane, its astral plane is also a shielded pocket within the greater Astral Sea.

Another point is that Siberspace can be larger that people thought. Exploring Eberron says that Eberron is the only true planet in its system. But if the twelve moons and the Astral plane aren’t enough for your adventures, there could always be one or more planets in the system that astrologers have somehow overlooked. Perhaps the Illithids of Thoon live on the dark side of a world that’s been completely blacked out, invisible and deadly.

Where is (New Monster)?

Where are the Giff in Eberron? Where could we find a megapede? In general, this is where exploration comes into play. Who knows what the adventurers will find on the moons? In my campaign, at least a few of the moons will have significant civilizations, who may well have intralunar travel and simply never have crossed the Ring of Siberys to reach Eberron. I’ve suggested the idea of the Giff as an imperialistic society on Vult—with the moon’s ties to Shavarath fueling their warlike nature—or the plasmoids being found on Zarantyr, with their fluid forms reflecting the chaos of Kythri—but those are just possibilities. There could be a single city of Mercanes on Therendor, with a gate connected to the Immeasurable Market of Syrania; they carry the goods of the Market to other moons. Neogi could have a civilization on Lharvion, or they could actually be the remnants of some long-forgotten civilization on Eberron itself, and dwell in outposts hidden in the Ring of Siberys. Space Hamsters could be found on Olarune, with other Lammania-influenced megafauna. A few other random ideas…

  • Aartuks are canonically come from a world destroyed by beholders. In Siberspace, they could be the survivors of a former Eberron destroyed by the daelkyr—an Eberron dominated by plant-based lifeforms. On the other hand, it’s just as reasonable to think that aartuks are creations of the daelkyr Avassh, spread into space like seeds on the wind.
  • Mind Flayers are typically associated with the daelkyr; why wouldn’t spacefaring illithids try to help their masters on Eberron? In my campaign I’d suggest that the Illithids found in space have broken away from the Overmind of Dyrrn and have formed an independent society in defiance of the Daelkyr; as noted above, this would be an excellent place to explore the concept of Thoon. These mind flayers may actively avoid Eberron for fear of falling prey to Dyrrn’s influence. On the other hand, it could be interesting if Xorchyllic—the mayor of Graywall in Droaam—is secretly from the stars. Did they crash, or do they still have their nautiloid hidden away?
  • Murder comets could be the remains of the Argosy’s first efforts to create elemental spelljammers; the ships were destroyed by the radiation of the Ring of Siberys, and the comet is a blend of the ships’ elementals and the restless ghosts of the dead crew.
  • Solar Dragons could dwell in Arrah itself, or one might lair in one of the largest shards of the Ring of Siberys. We know of the Daughter of Khyber down below; perhaps there’s a truly immense solar dragon in the Ring who calls itself the Son of Siberys!

Again, all of these are just possibilities; if you want space hamsters to have a mighty empire on Therendor, follow that story! Meanwhile, if you want to play a giff, hadozee, or any of the other new species, that’s what the Astral Drifter and Wildspacer backgrounds are for. I especially like Astral Drifter; your character was marooned in the Astral and lost for countless decades. You finally escaped into Eberron, where your stories of space may have inspired the current drive to reach space. But because you’ve been gone for so long, you don’t know what you’ll find when you return to your home moon. If could be that your Giff character remembers your great empire on Vult, but that since you’ve been gone it’s been entirely obliterated by illithids and neogi!

One last thing: people may say Do Giff have guns in Eberron? Why wouldn’t they? I’ve never had any issue with the existence of firearms; in a previous article I’ve suggested that the Dhakaani could use them on Eberron. I just prefer to focus the Five Nations on wandslingers and other arcane alternatives. With that said, I might still think about ways to make Giff firearms feel unique to the setting. If the Giff are based on Vult, perhaps their firearms use the powdered remnants of angels instead of gunpowder; the ashes of the eternal wars of Shavarath drift across the surface of the moon.

Playing With Time and Space

As I’ve said above, part of what I love about the Space Race campaign is the idea that it’s happening right now and that the action in space should have real consequences on the planet below. With this in mind, I’d personally play with the passage of time in a different way than in most of my campaigns.

  • When the campaign begins, spelljamming is in its infancy. I’ve suggested that the King’s Argosy has more ships than the other powers; but that may mean that as the campaign starts, Breland has three spelljammers, the Dragonhawk Initiative has two, and Karrnath only has a single powerful warship. The first session might be that nation’s first mission to successfully reach the Ring of Siberys!
  • While a particular mission might take more than one session to complete, between each mission I would establish a significant passage of time. I’d present the players with downtime options; these might just involve what their characters do on their time off, but they could also reflect what the adventurers’ organization does in that time. Do they focus on fortifying the outpost the adventurers established in the Ring, or do they devote their resources to building a new ship? Do they negotiate with one of the other spacefaring powers or attempt to sabotage their efforts?
  • The opening of each new mission would thus involve a recap of how things have evolved between sessions. What’s become of the joint Brelish-Aundairian outpost? What’s the challenge we face in the effort to reach Zarantyr, and what’s it going to take to overcome it? Has the Dragonhawk Initiative found a way to overcome the divination-blocking effects of the Ring of Siberys? This is also where we could see latecomers to the space race; it might be around the sixth or seventh sessions that the Aurum or Prince Oargev manage to get a ship in the air.
  • This could also lead to adventurers having a surprise land-bound adventure, as they’re called to participate in an international summit or sent on a mission to acquire a vital, rare resource! Depending on the outcomes of the missions, there could also be increasing tensions on the surface. How would the death of King Boranel affect the Argosy?
  • If I wanted things to be REALLY dramatic, the endgame could involve an existential threat to Eberron itself. Perhaps the Mourning begins to spread, or multiple Overlords break their bonds—Eberron can’t BE saved, and the goal now is to lead an exodus into space! But which moon could support the survivors?  

Another way to approach this would be to have each player make two characters—a member of the spelljammer crew and someone who’s involved in the diplomacy, administration, or research efforts on the ground. These planetbound characters might not be as combat-capable as the explorers, but they each have vital resources and influence; they’ll never actually get into a battle on a grid map, but they’ll be making the crucial decisions that determine the greater arc of the campaign. These could be people who are important but not the top decision makers, or they could actually be the central players; if you’re running an Argosy campaign, one of the players could be King Boranel, another Merrix d’Cannith, another the head of the Zil binders. Again, these characters wouldn’t actually have full stats and character sheets, but the players would have to play them in negotiations and decide what they commit to during downtime—does Merrix support the colony or does he devote his resources to building a better autognome?

Other Paths

As I said, this is the campaign I want to run. But Spelljammer is designed to allow adventures across the multiverse, and if that’s the story you want to tell, tell it! There’s nothing wrong with having your spelljammers crash land on Krynn. If you want to retrofit the two together, you could say that Galifar had a long-established spelljamming fleet with outposts in the Ring of Siberys; during the Last War, the Ring seceded and now exists as its own independent force that protects Siberspace from outside threats and continues to explore the multiverse. There are some cosmological questions you’ll have to resolve, but again, if that’s the story you want to tell, there’s always answers!

Would You Like To Know More?

I’m juggling many things, and I won’t be answering questions on this article. But if you’d like to see more of how I’d run such a campaign, you can—and you can even play in it! For the rest of the year, I’m shifting my Threshold Patreon to running a Siberspace campaign. Every month I run and record a session. The characters and the story are persistent, but the players change each session; every Threshold patron has a chance to get a seat at the table. Even if you never get a seat at the table, you have access to the recorded sessions and you have an opportunity to shape the story through polls, Discord discussions, and story hours. Currently I’m going through the Session Zero with the patrons; we’ve decided to base the campaign on the Dragonhawk Initiative, and we’re developing the player characters. If you’d like to be a part of it, become a patron!

Thanks as always to my patrons for making these articles possible, and good luck to all of you in your adventures in space!

IFAQ: Immortal Personalities and Chwingas in Eberron

I’m still battling with COVID, but as time and energy permit I like to answer interesting questions posed by my Patrons. Here’s two…

How do I keep immortals from the Outer Planes from coming across as a really boring, obtuse, and stupid? A Fernian balor is a spirit of fiery destruction, but a typical balor has 20 Int, 16 Wis, 22 Cha—how do you reconcile something that’s so much smarter and wiser than a human also having such a one track mind about just wanting to set trees on fire?

One of the core ideas of immortals in Eberron is that, as Loki would say, they are burdened with glorious purpose. They were created for a reason and most don’t have the ability to question that purpose or to chose a new path. An angel of Shavarath comes into existence knowing it is part of the Century of Mercy in the Legion of Justice. It bursts into existence with a sword in its hand and the knowledge of how to use it, and the concepts of mercy and justice are its guiding stars. This doesn’t mean it’s obtuse or stupid; it may be deeply passionate and highly intelligent, capable of devising clever strategies and of shedding a tear over the horrible cruelty of the war. But the angel knows its purpose and most likely will never question it. It believes in the cause of justice with every fiber of its being. It literally exists to be a symbol of merciful justice. You could say it’s like a robot, but I’d prefer to say that it’s like a poem; its purpose is to make you think about the concept that it represents. But again, the key point is that it has a purpose.

The depth of an immortal’s personality is usually directly related to its power and to the specificity of its purpose. In Dal Quor, a kalaraq quori has a greater depth of personality than the dream figment you encounter as a scary clown. In Thelanis, the Lady in Shadow has more depth than the sprites dancing in the meadow. In Syrania, the Dominion of Swords has more depth than one of the many Virtues of War. Like I said, immortals are in many ways stories; is the story general (fey dancing in the woods) or is it more specific (the Forgotten Prince, gathering all those things that are forgotten or unappreciated). Again, usually this is reflected by the power of the spirit. So looking to Fernia, the burning quasit is likely just embodying the idea of “FIRE! BURN!” but a balor is going to be deeper and more interesting. I didn’t discuss such balors in Exploring Eberron because I didn’t have the time or space, and frankly, I don’t have the time or energy now, either. But let’s talk about one of them.

With any significant immortal, I want to define its name and its purpose. A balor is a fiend of sufficient power that it would never just be “a balor.” Demons as a whole are spirits of chaos and evil, and Fernian demons reflect the chaotic and evil aspects of fire—flame as a source of random, uncaring pain and suffering. For a quasit, that’s all we need—Fire bad! For a balor I’d take it a step farther, and give the balor a more specific dominion within the broad category of the cruelty of fire. So if my players are going to have to deal with a balor, it’s not going to be “a balor.” It will be… Pyraelas, The Love Lost In Flame. Before the session, I’ll offer the players a chance to gain inspiration by telling me about a tragedy their character endured involving fire. Pyraelas will know these stories; if any of them lost a loved one to fire, Pyraelas will reminisce about the death, and may be able to call up the final words of the lost love, spoken in their voice. This is the same idea as the Syranian Dominion of Swords; there are many demons that embody the broad concept of the cruelty of flame, but within that Pyraelas specializes in the tragic loss of love. Now, a key point here is that Pyraelas doesn’t cause those deaths, just as the Dominion of Swords doesn’t cause swords to exist. But he knows about them, and he exists to remind us of those tragedies, to twist the knife in the wound and to embody the pain caused by a love lost in flame.

So this brings us back to how do you reconcile something that’s so much smarter and wiser than a human also having such a one track mind about just wanting to set trees on fire? Pyraelas has no particular interest in setting trees on fire. He dwells in a castle that is forever succumbing to flames, the flames following in his path wherever he goes and the castle slowly regenerating behind him, so that it is forever being lost to the fire yet never fully destroyed; again, Pyraelas is a symbol of tragic loss and his domain supports that story. Here we reach that point—if he’s so smart and wise, why isn’t he frustrated by the fact that he never actually burns down the castle for once and for all? The castle is a symbol, just as he is. He doesn’t NEED to burn down the castle—because he knows that right now there’s a barn fire in Ardev in which a child is losing his father, and a fire in Korth that’s claiming the lives of young lovers. He is ALL the love lost in flame, and it is enough for him that love is being lost in flame, and will continue to do so. As I said before, he’s not a robot, he’s a POEM. He’s a lesson for you to learn.

How will Pyraelas deal with adventurers who come into his domain? It depends why they’re there, of course; did they come looking to steal something from his burning castle? Are they seeking information about someone who died in fire long ago, a secret only he knows as the embodiment of Love Lost In Flame? It’s possible he’ll just attack them as interlopers, but in my campaign he’s more likely to talk to them first—to reminisce about what they’ve lost to flame in the past, to taunt them with what fire will take from them in days ahead. And then, most likely, I’d have him make them an offer: he’ll allow them all to leave safely, except for the one character they all care about the most; that adventurer will die slowly in fire. Or perhaps the price will be someone who’s not even there: You can leave here in peace, paladin: but your sister will die, trapped beneath a burning beam. Because again, that’s part of what it means to deal with a powerful outer immortal; their powers aren’t just about casting fireballs. Dealing with Pyraelas means dealing with the cruelty of fire itself. And should you defeat him? He’ll return. Because you may hack a winged fiend to pieces with your blades, but tomorrow, loved ones will still be dying in fires, and eventually Pyraelas will return to his burning castle to remind us of that. Depending how you defeat him, it might take a while; it could even be that he’ll return as Pyraela, a queen crying burning tears. But there will always be a balor in Fernia who embodies Love Lost In Flame. It’s not a choice they get to make; it’s a glorious purpose.

So how do you keep immortals from coming across as boring, obtuse, and stupid? Make them beautiful, intriguing and intelligent. Think about how they’ve already touched the lives of the player characters—again, have any of them lost a love to flame? The fact that they have a narrow focus and an absolute purpose doesn’t mean they’re stupid; it means that they are part of the universe in a way mortals can’t even begin to understand. There’s a fire spreading in an inn in Fairhaven right now, and Pyraelas knows about it and knows who’s going to die in it. At a glance, he’s a winged beast wandering around an endlessly burning building; but he is the embodiment of Love Lost In Flame, immortal and glorious. He was there when the King Azikan threw himself on his lover’s pyre in ancient Sarlona. And he’ll be there when the Five Nations are lost in ashes and you are only a long-forgotten memory, little paladin with your little blade.

Hopefully that helps.

Where do you see chwingas fitting into Eberron?

As fey. I love everything about chwingas, but in the cosmology of Eberron I don’t see why they’d be elementals. I’ve already talked about the fact that I commonly associate fey with masks, playing to the point that fey are stories and masks make it easy for different species to identify with them. So, small masked magical creatures, who are curious and can grant minor boons? Everything about this screams fey to me. In particular, in the past I’ve talked about Aundairians having bargains with fey—that some families may have ancient pacts with archfey, but that others may simply have a deal with a fey who will mend their shoes if they leave out a saucer of milk. Chwinga are perfect for this sort of fey. This can be represented by the charms they can grant, but also by changing up their cantrips. For example…

  • Nature Spirit. Can grant charm of animal conjuring; can cast druidcraft, guidance, pass without trace, resistance.
  • House Spirit. Can grant charm of vitality; can cast prestidigitation, guidance, pass without trace, mending. Natural Shelter is replaced with Domestic Shelter, allowing the chwinga to take shelter inside the walls or floor of its house.
  • Protector Spirit. Can grant charm of heroism or charm of the slayer. Can cast blade ward, guidance, pass without trace, spare the dying; it can cast blade ward on another creature, with a range of 30 feet.

As I said, I could see many old houses in Aundair having house spirits, but I could definitely see nature spirits and protectors in the Talenta Plains or the Eldeen Reaches, especially around the Twilight Demesne—and certainly around Pylas Pyrial in Zilargo. But such a spirit could be found almost anywhere—curious, possibly mischievous, and with a powerful gift it can grant if is chooses.

How does the balor you mentioned interact with the Devourer? Isn’t the Devourer supposed to cause wildfires?

Good question. Part of the point of Pyraelas is that he doesn’t cause the fires; he’s aware of them and takes pleasure in them, but again, at the end of the day he’s a symbol. He hangs out in Fernia and reminds us that people die tragically in fire. Now, this gets a bit fuzzy when he bargains with you—you can go but your sister will die in flame tonight—but that’s supposed to be tied to the greater magic of his domain. It’s the same way a wish-granting spirit usually can’t grant their own wishes; Pyraelas can broker deals about flame, but he can’t just burn Boranel in his armchair for his own personal entertainment. So how does this all relate to the Devourer? This is where we’ve said that there are immortals who will act as intermediaries for the Sovereigns and Six, who will answer commune and planar ally on their behalf. If you seek to commune with the Devourer asking a question about fire, you might be connected to Pyraelas. Essentially, those fiends and celestials who have faith believe that they are part of the Sovereigns and Six. Pyraelas knows that the Devourer shapes every flame, and that he, Pyraelas, has the specific task of watching those that consume love. He’s never met the Devourer, but he’s certain the Devourer exists, because killing flames exist; that’s all the proof he needs. So Pyraelas is a piece of the Devourer that you can punch in the nose, but even for him, the ultimate existence of the Devourer is a matter of faith.

That’s all for now! I won’t be answering questions on this IFAQ, but thanks to my Patreon supporters for asking interesting questions and for keeping this site going; check it out if you have questions of your own! Next up: Sky piracy!

Dragonmarks: The Astral Plane

This is actually a picture of Kythri. But, y’know, close enough.

Eberron is balanced between thirteen planes, each of which represents an iconic concept. All mortal creatures are influenced by these planes. We dream in Dal Quor and cast shadows in Mabar. We feel the martial call of Shavarath balanced by the tranquility of Syrania. Where these planes extend directly into the Material Plane they create manifest zones and wild zones, Shaping Eberron in their image. Counting those that are lost, there were thirteen planes, thirteen moons, thirteen dragonmarks.

What, then, is the role of the astral plane? What concept does it represent? Does it, too, shape the world? Why isn’t associated with a moon or with manifest zones?

While the astral plane is called a “plane,” it has little in common with the thirteen planes of the orrery. It wasn’t created to embody a concept, because it wasn’t created. The Astral Plane is the ultimate foundation of reality, the realm that existed before creation. If you interpret the creation myth literally, the astral plane was the canvas upon which the Progenitors painted existence as we know it. As such, it’s not part of creation; it’s the space that lies between and beyond it. It doesn’t have a purpose; it simply is.

With that said, the fact that the astral plane is the space between spaces gives it value. With a few exceptions—such as the Immeasurable Market of Syrania—the planes of Eberron exist as independent and isolated systems. There’s no direct path from Risia to Fernia, or from Mabar to Lamannia. All of the planes touch the material plane, but manifest zones that serve as gateways aren’t easy to find. Barring manifest gateways, travel between the planes involves passing through the astral plane. Plane shift and gate expedite this process, connecting through the astral in a blink of an eye. Without such magic, travelers must enter and depart the astral plane through the color pools. So why visit the astral plane? The first reason is to go somewhere else; the astral is just the road that will take you there. The second reason is to get away; disconnected as it is from reality and the ravages of time, the astral can serve as the ultimate sanctuary. The third reason is because you need to interact with the travelers or exiles who dwell there—or wish to explore the forgotten debris of previous ages, abandoned and forgotten in the astral plane.

Universal Properties

The astral plane is an endless silvery void. Wisps of silver and gray drift between motes of light—at first glance these seem like stars, but in fact they are the countless pools of color where the other planes bleed into the astral. There is no inherent gravity or orientation; you move by thinking about moving, and if you have no desire to move you will simply be suspended in the void. Some travelers embrace the idea of flying, while others choose to walk across the void even though there’s no ground beneath their feet.

Ancient and Enigmatic. Commune, augury, divination, legend lore and similar spells are unreliable in the astral plane. Many of the ruins and relics found in the silver sea are from previous incarnations of Eberron or predate creation itself, and spells of this age can’t unlock their mysteries.

Beyond Time and Space. Creatures in the astral plane do not age, and are immune to hunger and thirst. Time moves at the same pace within the astral plane as it does on Eberron, but creatures who spend an extensive amount of time in the astral plane often lose the ability to sense the passage of time; a hermit who’s been isolated in the astral plane for thousands of years might believe it’s been a single year.

Speed of Thought. While in the astral plane, a creature has a flight speed (in feet) equal to 3 x its Intelligence score. This replaces all other forms of movement the creature possesses, and overrides any spell or effect that grants or increases movement speed.

Suspended in the Void. Movement in the astral plane only happens by intention, and a creature that isn’t actively moving or being moved will float, suspended in the void. Thrown objects or ranged attacks travel the maximum distance they would travel in the material plane—driven by the intent of the person who launched them—and then come to a stop, floating in the air.

DENIZENS OF THE ASTRAL PLANE

There’s no native life in the astral plane. Those creatures encountered here are either immigrants, travelers passing through, or things that have been created and set here—most by beings or civilizations long forgotten. I’ll be posting a table of possible astral encounters as bonus content on my Patreon, but here’s a general look at the creatures you might find.

Travelers

While plane shift allows travelers to instantly traverse the astral plane, there are always travelers who make their way across the astral step by step. These include denizens of the outer planes, but not many; the planes are independent systems that are designed to function in isolation. With this in mind, it’s never normal for beings from the planes to be traveling through the astral, and if they are you can be sure there’s a story behind it. Perhaps an efreeti pasha wishes to serve shaved Risian ice at their next gala, and has dispatched a servant to fetch some. Perhaps a condemned archfey is being escorted from Thelanis to the Inescapable Prison of Daanvi, or an angelic Virtue of Knowledge is going to consult the Infinite Archive. Any of these things could happen, but all of them are remarkable events; it’s not like there’s a constant stream of immortals passing through the astral plane.

Mortal travelers from the material plane are likewise rare, but not unknown. The mages of the Five Nations know of the Astral Plane, but have not yet developed a sustainable form of astral travel. There are currently three civilizations that make use of astral travel.

  • The Dragons of Argonnessen. Long ago, a cabal of dragons sought to build within the astral plane; this experiment came to an end with the loss of Sharokarthel (see below). Today Argonnessen sees the astral plane purely as a conduit for travel. Since powerful wyrms will make use of plane shift, most dragons encountered in the astral plane will be in their middle years—accomplished enough to have needs that can only be met in other planes, but not capable of casting plane shift. Loredrakes (dragon scholars) may wish to consult the Infinite Archives of Daanvi or to speak with a particular immortal. Masters of the Hoard (collectors and merchants) may be seeking unique commodities, while Flames of the Forge (artisans and artificers) may be looking for resources that can only be acquired beyond reality.
  • The Elves of Aerenal. The Ascendant Councilors of the Undying Court spend a great deal of time in the Astral Plane, working on the grand experiment of Pylas Var-Tolai. Beyond this celestial realm, the Aereni follow in the footsteps of the dragons. The greatest Aereni sages may consult with Virtues in Syrania or browse the Infinite Archive, and Aereni artisans may seek materials that can only be found in the planes. Where dragons found traveling in the astral are usually young, elf travelers are most likely among the most accomplished of their kind still living; astral travel is an established practice, but only the most capable elves will risk its many dangers.
  • The Venomous Demesne. Hidden in western Droaam, the Venomous Demesne is less than two thousand years old—a pale shadow in comparison to Argonnessen or Aerenal. But the humans and tieflings of the Demesne are brilliant mages who are pushing the bounds of arcane science. Over the course of the last century they’ve begun to dig deeper into the mysteries of the Astral Plane, both as a corridor through which to reach the planes and as a resource in its own right. Some mages of the Demesne seek to bargain with the Githyanki, while others hope to find forgotten treasures in the ruins of Sharokarthel. So the Demesne doesn’t yet have a large-scale presence in the Astral Plane, but adventurers could encounter Demesne mages either as fellow travelers or as rival explorers competing for plunder and secret knowledge.

Immigrants and Exiles

There’s no truly native life in the astral plane, but there are creatures—both mortals and immortals—who choose to live within the silver sea. Some have been stranded by mystical accidents. Others are prisoners exiled to the astral plane, cursed so that they cannot leave it; they are trapped in the timeless void, doomed never to return to the world that has forgotten them. There are hermits who have chosen this solitary existence: philosophers who appreciate having an eternity to contemplate the higher mysteries, inventors working on forbidden research, fugitives waiting for their enemies to die of old age. With no need for food or drink, some dwell in complete isolation; explorers could find a Cul’sir giant who has been meditating for the last five thousand years. Other creatures came to the astral plane in groups, and maintain some form of society in the silver sea. The most significant of these are the Githyanki, who escaped the destruction of a previous incarnation of Eberron and now dwell in fortress-ships the size of small towns. However, there are a handful of smaller communities scattered across the infinite void. Some come from lost realities, like the Gith. Others are remnants of fallen civilizations or followers of traditions that have been wiped out on the material plane. Adventurers exploring the deep astral could discover an outpost built by the dwarves of Sol Udar, or a Dhakaani garrison that knows nothing of the chaat’oor. Part of the point of these outposts is to explore the idea of isolation. They don’t need anything from the outside world; they have no need to seek out others and trade with them. Thus they can exist as flies in amber—a Dhakaani force even more isolated than the Kech Dhakaan, goblins who don’t even realize their empire has fallen. Adventurers could find an astral workshop where giants of the Sulat League have been perfecting a doomsday weapon they can use to take vengeance on the dragons, or the labyrinth-tower of an infamous prince of Ohr Kaluun, cast into the astral plane to escape the Sundering.

The Githyanki

Most of the immigrants and exiles of the astral plane exist in isolation and timeless stagnation, content to be forgotten in the trackless expanse of the void. The Githyanki are the most notable exception to this rule. Tu’narath is a bustling city, fueled by the plunder Githyanki raiders bring in from other planes. The ships themselves are communities, from small vessels that house a dozen raiders to the fortress-ships that hold hundreds. With that said, between dwelling in the astral and pillaging immortal planes, the Githyanki themselves have lost track of time. This has led to a faction in Tu’narath advocating for an invasion of the Material Plane—asserting that a foothold in the material would both allow their population to grow and to give them an anchor in time. The naysayers argue that they don’t belong in the current creation—that they’ve been able to thrive in the astral because it is beyond reality, but that if the Githyanki stake a claim in the material it could trigger unknown metaphysical defenses. The argument continues; as a DM, if you decide to explore such an invasion, you’ll have to decide if there will be unforeseen consequences to a Githyanki incursion.

The Githyanki are warlike and proud. Their ultimate goal is to build their power until they can destroy Xoriat itself, regardless of the consequences this could have to reality. They have a deep competitive streak that could be seen as a need to prove themselves superior to the world that has replaced theirs. Whether merchant or warrior, Githyanki view all interactions through the lens of conflict; every situation has a winner and a loser, and the Githyanki will always be the victors. Note that this doesn’t mean mindless aggression; the Githyanki recognize the need to outwit their enemies, to employ careful strategies and preserve their limited resources. But they are always seeking a path to victory, and they have no compunction about taking anything they desire from the people around them; in the eyes of the Githyanki, only their people are real, and all the trappings of this age are just flawed reflections of their reality. This is one reason the Githyanki raid other planes while leaving the other denizens of the astral plane alone. Even if they are from other realities, the Githyanki recognize the other exiles as kindred in suffering—and beyond that, they prefer not to start battles on their home ground. So the Gith are constantly raiding through the color pools, but they avoid the ruins and outposts of other immigrants in the astral sea. They have limited contact with the Aereni. They feel no love for these creatures of the usurping reality, but see more value in trading with them than in starting a conflict in the void. However, if the Githyanki were to launch an attack against Eberron, it’s likely they would either negotiate a treaty with Aerenal before they begin… or that they would find a way to cripple the Undying Court and launch their conquest with a devastating first strike against the elves.

The Forgotten

Most of the denizens of the astral plane have a history that can be unraveled and explored. Some come from earlier incarnations, like the Githyanki. Others come from fallen nations—remnants of Xen’drik, Sol Udar, the Empire of Dhakaan. The ruins of Sharokarthel are almost a hundred thousand years old. But there are beings in the astral plane that predate even the age of demons, constructs built and abandoned by civilizations entirely unknown… civilizations that could even predate the Progenitors and the cosmology of Eberron itself. The terrifying Astral Dreadnoughts are one example of these forgotten entities. These gargantuan entities glide through the astral sea, destroying all that they encounter. Some believe that the dreadnoughts were created by the Progenitors to fight any beings that might come from beyond Eberron’s cosmology—that the dreadnoughts exist to fight any would-be gods that might seek a foothold in Eberron. Others believe that the dreadnoughts predate the Progenitors, that they are remnants of a world truly beyond mortal understanding. The dreadnoughts are just one example of those things that may be forgotten in the depths of the astral—powers waiting to be unleashed.

LAYERS AND LOCATIONS

The astral plane isn’t divided into layers. It is a singular, seemingly infinite void in which color pools are scattered like stars. Measured using the concepts of the material plane, Tu’narath and Sharokarthel could be tens or even hundreds of thousands of miles apart. This is why it’s possible to find an astral hermitage where a giant philosopher has remained undisturbed for thousands of years… because unless you know what you’re looking for, the astral plane is so vast as to make any particular location a single grain of sand on a vast beach.

It might seem like this distance would prevent any sort of meaningful travel in the astral plane. If Tu’narath and Sharokarthel are a hundred thousand miles apart, how is an adventurer to move between them? The catch is that movement in the astral plane isn’t measured in miles or even in space; it is purely a concept. The Speed of Thought trait determines a character’s speed in combat, where people must focus on the narrow moment. Outside of combat, movement across the Astral Plane is based on knowing where you wish to go and willing yourself to get there. Travel speed is largely arbitrary; the Dungeon Master’s Guide notes that it will take about 1d4 x 10 hours to find a color pool tied to a particular plane, with the risk of psychic wind increasing travel time. But that’s just to find a random pool; think of this as searching the skies for a green star and then willing yourself in its direction. Astral color pools are tied to locations within planes; finding a specific pool, or finding a location like Sharokarthel, is a different story. If you have been to the location before, it will usually take around 1d4 x 10 hours to reach it. If you’re proficient in Arcana, you can work with a description of a location (an Aereni map, a description from a Cul’sir tomb…). In such a case, it can take 1d8 x 10 hours to reach your destination. If you have no intended destination, you can try to navigate based on the constellations formed by the scattered color pools; you’ll eventually find something, whether it’s just a pool or some more interesting outpost or ruin. Someone familiar with astral travel can make an Intelligence (Arcana) check to speed travel; this is arbitrary, but a good result can reduce travel time and help the travelers avoid the psychic wind.

The elves of Aerenal are the most notable astral cartographers in Eberron. The Ascendant Councilors of the Undying Court have spent countless hours exploring the astral sea as thought forms, recording the paths of its constellations and noting interesting ruins and hermitages. If adventurers wish to find adventure in the astral plane, they could just dive into the sea and start swimming… but a torn page from an Aereni atlas could be what they need to get started.

Ruins and Hermitages

The astral plane may in fact be infinite, and there’s no telling what could be waiting in that void. There’s at least one active city, Tu’narath. But there are many other points of interest scattered in the void. Most of these are ruins. Some are the remnants of actual cities once built in the astral plane, like Sharokarthel. Others are simply pieces of unknown civilizations or lands. These could be from the distant past of this Eberron. They could be remnants of a lost Eberron, such as the Eberron of the Gith. Or they could even be relics of previous creations, realities older than the Progenitors themselves. A few examples…

  • A dragon’s skull, ten miles long from snout to horn-tip. The shape doesn’t precisely match any known species of dragon.
  • A single tower, seemingly broken off of a larger castle.
  • A massive ship, apparently designed for sea travel—a distinctly different design than the Githyanki vessels.
  • A mountain peak formed from some sort of smoky crystal.
  • A mass of silvery clouds, soft but solid enough to stand on. They drift and shift, but never disperse or drift apart.
  • The empty shell of an immense dragon turtle.
  • Half of an immense bridge, sheered off sharply in the middle.
  • A manor house, preserved with mending magic and tended by unseen servants. It’s impossible to tell how long it’s stood empty.
  • A grove of colossal trees, whose roots and branches are intertwined.

There are many planes in which odd structures can be found. What differentiates the ruins of the Astral Plane from the bizarre landscapes of Xoriat is the fact that ruins generally feel like they had a purpose—they may be encountered out of context, but once the ship was in water and the skull was part of an immense dragon. What makes them unlike the wonders of Thelanis is that while they may have a purpose, the ruins of the astral plane rarely have a story—at least, not one that can be easily discerned. The skull was once part of a dragon, but there are no further clues as to who that dragon was or how it died; if it was once part of a story, that story is long over.

Ruins are generally abandoned. When immigrants or exiles lay claim to a ruin, it becomes a hermitage. Given that creatures in the astral plane are immune to starvation and thirst, people can live in places that could never support life in the natural world. A massive dragon skull could be inhabited by a clan of winged kobolds, or by a trio of Seekers of the Divinity Within. Again, unlike Xoriat, the denizens of such a realm came from somewhere; if there’s kobolds in the skull, the question is whether they’re from Eberron, a previous reality, or a forgotten creation.

PYLAS VAR-TOLAI

The Ascendant Councilors of the Undying Court spend a great deal of time in the astral plane—leaving their bodies behind and exploring through astral projection. In part, they are charting the near-infinite expanse; the Aereni have maps of many ruins and hermitages, even though they have left many of the hermits undisturbed. But astral cartography is a side project. Their true interest is something far grander. The astral plane is a place of beginnings. If the myths are true, it is here that the Progenitors laid the cornerstone of creation. The Undying Court seeks to follow in their footsteps—to create a new reality. They are still far from this goal, but using their gestalt power they have managed to create a region within the void—an island they call Pylas Var-Tolai.

The core of Pylas Var-Tolai is a vast, fortified monastery. This includes a scriptorium where monks draw maps of the astral sea, a vast library holding accounts of all the ruins they have explored, and a vault holding both wonders found in the astral and artifacts deemed too dangerous to be kept in the material plane. There is a council chamber at the center of it where the ascendant councilors commune with one another and exert their power. While the most important inhabitants of Var-Tolai are the astral forms of the ascendant councilors, there is a population of mortal elves—scholars, priests, and soldiers—who are physically present. While Pylas Var-Tolai is primarily a research outpost, it also serves as a waystation for Aereni who have business in the planes; as such it does have a small capacity for guests, and there are usually a handful of travelers along with the permanent staff. Whoever, the monastery is driven by research, not commerce. If adventurers come to the gates of Pylas Var-Tolai, the priests will be more interested in their stories than their gold.

The most important aspect of Pylas Var-Tolai is the gate at its center. This allows passage to the workshop of the Undying Court… the reality they are creating. This is very much a work in progress, fluid and unsustainable. But they are continuing to work at it. When adventurers visit, the realm on the other side of the gate could be a tiny island or a vast continent. It could be a perfect replica of Aerenal, or it could be a wondrous realm that defies the laws of physics. Visiting adventurers could be asked to explore the nascent realm—to test the creation of the councilors, and identify its flaws.

Sharokarthel

In the wake of the Age of Demons, the victorious dragons spread across the world. This lead to the first rise of the Daughter of Khyber, which led to a devastating war of dragons that destroyed the nations they’d created and forced them to withdraw later. Ten thousand years later, a loredrake presented a new idea. The Daughter of Khyber drew power when the dragons expanded across Eberron. But the Daughter herself was bound to Khyber. What, then, if the dragons spread not across the material plane, but across the outer planes? This impulse led to the creation of a number of outposts in the astral plane, culminating in the great city of Sharokarthel. This is a city built by dragons, for dragons—a city formed from magic and the immateria, unbound by gravity or weather. The dragons of Sharokarthel built arcane workshops and planar orreries, and amassed hoards drawn from across the planes. But ultimately the theory was proven wrong. The Daughter of Khyber couldn’t touch the dragons in Sharokarthel—but as their glory grew, she could corrupt those dragons still on Eberron, and these corrupted servants could carry the fight to the astral city. This led to the second great collapse. The Daughter was defeated once again, but the dragons were forced to abandon Sharokarthel. They didn’t destroy the glorious city, but they laid powerful wards and curses upon it, ensuring that no casual traveler could claim their abandoned glory.

There are a number of draconic ruins in the astral plane, but Sharokarthel is the grandest of them all. It surely holds untold wonders and treasures, but it’s protected by powerful curses and traps. Still, there are surely accounts of those defenses somewhere. Perhaps a human sage might stumble upon a book detailing a secret path into Sharokarthel… or perhaps a young dragon might recruit a group of adventurers to accompany them to the abandoned city, hoping to reclaim some treasure of their ancient ancestors.

Subspace

There are many effects—magnificent mansions, bags of holding, portable holes—that make use of extradimensional spaces. Typically, these are presented as tiny demiplanes, isolated and unconnected; some, such as secret chest, mention the ethereal plane. However, one possibility is that these extradimensional spaces are in fact in the astral plane. A bag of holding can be encountered as a floating force bubble containing objects… while a magnificent mansion is a mansion suspended in the void. If this is the case, someone might be able to find and penetrate those spaces from the outside. Of course, keep in mind that finding a bag of holding in the astral plane would be like finding a bottle dropped into an ocean; the astral plane is potentially infinite. But if a DM follows this route, they could decide that items created with the same technique occupy the same region of the astral plane; that there is a constellation of Cannith bags of holding, a neighborhood of Ghallanda magnificent mansions, or an island formed by the Kundarak Vault network. If this is the case and someone DOES find a way to access any of these things from the outside, it could cause chaos and force the houses to deploy additional security. But it could certainly make for an epic astral heist!

Tu’narath

In their early days in the astral plane, the Githyanki discovered an immense six-fingered hand floating in the void. This severed hand is charged with arcane power, not unlike Eberron dragonshards. The origins of the hand remain a mystery, but the Githyanki recognized it as a useful resource and a suitable foundation for an anchorage. Most Githyanki prefer to dwell in their ships, but Tu’nararath is the port where the city-ships come together, where the Githyanki unload their planar plunder and tell tales of their glorious battles. And should they plan a conquest, it is here that they will mass their forces.

The Githyanki have no love of outsiders; if you want a friendly place to conduct commerce, go to the Immeasurable Market of Syrania. However, the Sixth Finger is essentially a foreign quarter where travelers can find shelter and sample some of the wonders the Gith have claimed from across reality. It’s a very rough neighborhood, where you will find exiles, astral prisoners, and worse—but if you’re looking for an astral guide or some exotic planar plunder, you could make a landing at Tu’narath.

PLANAR MANIFESTATIONS

Here are ways that the astral plane can affect the material plane.

Manifest Zones, Coterminous and Remote

The astral plane doesn’t produce manifest zones on the material plane, and it never becomes coterminous or remote. It touches all of the planes at various points. These are visible in the astral plane as color pools and allow travelers to exit the astral plane into the connected region. However, these points are generally imperceptible on the other side of the pool. Identifying the astral point and opening the gate requires magical tools that the people of the Five Nations have yet to master. The three civilizations mentioned earlier—Argonnessen, Aerenal, and the Venomous Demesne—have ways to do this. This could involve a specialized ritual, or it could use an astral key that can open color pools from either side—either linked to a particular pool or potentially able to open any pool-point the adventurers can find. Using such methods, a Chamber agent could open an astral gateway to allow adventurers to escape disaster or to quickly pass between distant points in the material plane. Lacking such magic, the only ways to enter the astral plane are to use plane shift, gate, astral projection, or similar spells. With that said, a DM could always decide that there are circumstances under which unwary travelers can fall into the astral plane. Perhaps there’s a graveyard of ships, a point in the Thunder Sea where under the right circumstances, a maelstrom can draw ships entirely out of reality.

Astral Artifacts

The astral plane produces nothing on its own, and it has no unifying theme. But it is filled with the ruins and remnants of countless civilizations and worlds. Githyanki plunder can provide treasures drawn from across the planes. Ruins and hermitages could provide relics from the past; adventurers could recover titans’ treasures from a Cul’sir outpost, Dhakaani weapons from a floating piece of an Imperial garrison, draconic wonders from the ruins of Sharokarthel. Beyond that there is the possibility for astral explorers to discover tools or resources that truly have no place in this creation. This could be anything from a new form of dragonshard or some other material that simply doesn’t exist on Eberron… to an iron flask holding an entity who comes from a previous iteration or Eberron or another creation entirely.

One uniquely astral tool is the astral key, an object that allows the bearer to open an astral color pool from either side. This allows access to the astral plane, but only from a specific point. Depending on the power of the item, the key could be tied to a single specific point or it could have the power to open any pool the bearer can find. Note that the people of the Five Nations don’t currently possess astral keys; such an item could be a relic of one of the civilizations that has mastered astral travel, or it could be a unique prototype or breakthrough. Despite the name, an astral key could be any shape; it could be a dagger that slices through the veil of reality or a paintbrush they must use to paint a doorway in the air.

Astral Stories

For most creatures, the astral plane is simply the space that lies between the planes. It’s a path to be traveled, not a destination. But there are many ways that it can drive a story on its own. The adventurers might have to pursue a fugitive who’s slipped through a pool point and into a ruin. They could be tasked to explore a region of the astral sea, to bargain with a Githyanki smuggler, or to help a mad scholar who’s determined to reach Sharokarthel. They could acquire an iron flask holding some unknown spirit from a previous world—what will it take to open it, and would it be better left alone? Here’s a few other ideas.

An Ancestor’s Call. An Aereni adventurer is ordered to bring their adventuring companions to Shae Mordai, and from their send to Pylas Var-Tolai. An ascendant councilor—one of their distant ancestors—is conducting experiments in creation, and wants their descendant to test the lands beyond the portal. Is this just coincidence, or does the ascendant councilor know something about their descendent as yet undiscovered by the living?

Storming the Castle. An enemy of the players has built a fortress in the Astral Plane. Using a spell similar to magnificent mansion, they can retreat to their fortress from any location; this allows them to have their evil lair wherever the adventure is taking place. The adventurers could be on a desert island or in a small rustic village, but they’ll still have to pursue the necromancer Demise into her Tower of Death when things go wrong.

The Undiscovered Country. A Morgrave scholar has discovered three astral keys. One opens a pool-point in Sharn, and they want a group of adventurers to help them explore the other side. The pool-point leads to a Cul’sir outpost in the astral plane. Is it abandoned, or are their ancient giants still lingering in this place? Was it just good fortune that the scholar found the keys, or does someone want the adventurers to stumble into the forgotten outpost?

Q&A

This article presents my vision of the astral plane and how I will use it in my Eberron. It surely contradicts various canon sources—Eberron or otherwise—regarding the Astral Plane, and I’m not going to try to reconcile every contradiction; it’s up to the DM to decide how to handle such things in their campaign.

What’s the deal with silver cords and spirit forms?

There are multiple ways to enter the astral plane. It is possible to enter it physically by using plane shift, gate, or by opening a pool portal (using an item like an astral key). In this case, the traveler is physically present and can suffer lasting harm and death. On the other hand, astral projection separates the caster’s spirit from their body and allows them to enter the astral plane as a spirit form tethered to their body by a silver cord. The advantage of this form of travel is that you can’t be permanently harmed while in “astral form”; if you’re reduced to zero hit points, you return to your physical body.

The Ascendant Councilors of the Undying Court typically travel the astral plane in spirit form, which allows them to venture into unknown regions without fear.

What about the psychic wind?

What about it? It’s a dangerous local weather condition that operates just as described in the Dungeon Master’s Guide.

If creatures in the Astral Plane do not age, do some people travel there simply to avoid death? It seems more hospitable than Risia for such a purpose.

Absolutely! I’ve called out a few examples of this—the trio of Seekers in the dragon skull, the prince of Ohr Kaluun. You could have a Khunan archmage, another remnant of a long-forgotten society. Keep in mind that this trait isn’t unique to the astral plane of Eberron; it comes directly from the Dungeon Master’s Guide: Creatures on the Astral Plane don’t age or suffer from hunger or thirst.” So there are certainly hermits who come to the Astral Plane to experience immortality. But there’s a number of reasons why it’s not commonplace.

  • It’s actually easier to reach Risia than it is to physically enter the astral plane. Manifest zones can serve as gateways to Risia; entering the astral requires the use of powerful magic or an astral key. The people of the Five Nations don’t have access to such magic; you can’t just decide to go to the Astral Spa.
  • The Aereni don’t actually want eternal LIFE; they seek spiritual evolution and believe life and death are part of that journey. The ultimate path of the Undying Court is to become an ascendant councilor; they spend most of their time in astral form because they are no longer bound by their physical form and exist as part of the divine gestalt. There are certainly Aereni outposts; I can imagine a tower where an Aereni poet has been working on a particular poem for a century. But for most Aereni, such a retreat would be a temporary measure, not an ideal way to spend eternity. The living elves of Pylas Var-Tolai certainly cycle out every few decades or centuries.
  • The Astral Plane is essentially a vast, vast desert. If you live there you won’t age and you won’t know hunger and thirst; but you’ll also live isolated from all contact with mortal society, in a vast empty void. There are unquestionably people for whom that’s a worthwhile trade, and that’s the point of hermits; if all you want to do is to study conjuration for a thousand years, building an astral workshop is an alternative to becoming a lich. But offered the casual choice, not everyone would be interested in eternal life if it means sacrificing all contact with the world and living in an endless gray void.
  • As noted in the traits, if you spend too much time in the astral plane you actually start to lose track of time—as noted with the giant who doesn’t realize that thousands of years have passed. It’s immortality, certainly, but it does have a psychological price.

So the short form is that there definitely are hermits in the Astral Plane who dwell there because they desire immortality. There’s philosopher dragons, old Sarlonan wizards, a handful of giants. But they’re a few grains of sand in a vast desert; the odds you’ll actually encounter them when you travel in the astral plane are quite low, unless you have some hint as to where their hermitages lie.

That’s all for now! This topic was chosen by my Patreon supporters, and it’s only their support that makes articles like this possible; if you’d like to see more articles like this or have a voice in future topics, follow the link.

IFAQ: Yrlag and the Direshark Prince

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Can Mabar consume fragments of Irian?

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

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

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!

Dragonmarks: Common Knowledge

As time permits, I like to answer interesting questions posed by my Patreon supporters. One question that often comes up is “What do people in the world actually know about (subject)?” As players and DMs, we have access to a tome of absolute knowledge that tells us all about the Lords of Dust, the Dreaming Dark, the Empire of Dhakaan, and so on. We know that characters may know about these things if they have appropriate proficiencies and make successful skill checks. But what do people know WITHOUT making any skill checks? What things are just common knowledge?

This article reflects the common knowledge of a citizen of the Five Nations. Common knowledge will vary by culture, and I can’t account for every possible variation. People in Stormreach are more familiar with drow than people in Fairhaven. Shadow Marchers will have heard of the Gatekeepers, while Karrns won’t have. In general, you can assume that things that have a direct impact on the lives of people living in a region will be part of common knowledge. For example, the people of the Mror Holds don’t know a lot about the daelkyr in general, but they DO know about Dyrrn the Corruptor, because they’ve been fighting him for decades and he signed his name with Dyrrn’s Promise in 943 YK. So determining what things are common knowledge will often require the use of common sense.

With that said, the people of the Five Nations can be assumed to know the following things.

Planes, Moons, and Manifest Zones. Everyone knows the names of the planes and the moons, and the basic attributes of the planes (IE, Shavarath is the Eternal Battleground and is filled with celestials and fiends fighting). Think of this a little like knowledge of the planets of the solar system in our world; most people can name the planets and know that Mars is the Red Planet, but only someone who’s studied them can tell you the names of all of the moons of Jupiter. The main point is that the planes have real, concrete effects on the world through their manifest zones and coterminous/remote phases, and people understand these things. A common person may not be able to tell you the precise effects of a Shavarath manifest zone unless they actually live by one, but they know Shavarath is the Eternal Battleground and could GUESS what such a manifest zone might do.

The Creation Myth. Everyone knows the basic story: Khyber, Eberron, and Siberys created the planes. Khyber killed Siberys and scattered his pieces in the sky, creating the Ring of Siberys. Eberron enfolded Khyber and became the world. Whether people believe this is literally true or a metaphor, everyone knows the myth and everyone understands that magic comes from Siberys, natural creatures come from Eberron, and fiends and other evil things come from Khyber.

The Sovereign Myth. The Sovereign Host is deeply ingrained into daily life in the Five Nations. Even if you don’t BELIEVE in the Sovereigns, you know the names and basic attributes of the Nine and Six. Likewise, everyone knows the basic story that in the dawn of time the world was ruled by demons; that the Sovereigns fought them; and that the demons were bound. The Dark Six are largely only known by their titles—The Mockery, the Keeper—and their original names are something that would only be known by someone with a tie to a relevant cult or with proficiency in History.

The Silver Flame. Tied to this, everyone knows the idea that the Silver Flame is the force that binds demons. People do NOT know where it came from. Many vassals assume the Sovereigns created the Silver Flame. Those who follow the faith assert it is a celestial force that is strengthened by noble souls.

Dragons. Everyone knows that dragons exist and that they are terrifying and powerful creatures. People know stories of dragons guarding hoards of treasure, and if you’re from Thrane you know of the Bane of Thrane, the dragon who slew Prince Thrane. There are also a few stories about heroes making bargains with dragons, or dragons possessing secret knowledge. People know that Argonnessen is a land of dragons, but they know almost nothing about it beyond “Here there be dragons” and the fact that people who go there don’t come back. Some people know that dragons occasionally attack Aerenal, and know that the giants of Xen’drik were destroyed in some sort of war with dragons. So everyone knows that dragons exist; that they are extremely powerful; and that they can be deadly threats or enigmatic advisors. Most people don’t ever expect to see a dragon. The idea that there are dragons secretly manipulating humanity is a conspiracy theory on par with the idea that many world leaders in our world are secretly reptilian aliens; there are certainly people who believe it, but sensible people don’t take it seriously.

Evil Exists. Everyone knows that there are fiends, undead, aberrations, and lycanthropes in the world. They know that ghouls may haunt graveyards, that the creepy stranger in town could be a vampire or a werewolf, and that dangerous things could crawl out of Khyber at any time. This is why the Silver Flame exists and why templars are generally treated with respect even by people who don’t follow the Silver Flame; people understand that evil exists and that the templars are a volunteer militia who are ready to fight it.

The Overlords and the Lords of Dust. Everyone knows that the overlords were archfiends who dominated the world at the beginning of time. Regardless of whether you believe in the Sovereigns or respect the Flame, you know that the overlords are real because one broke out and ravaged Thrane a few centuries ago. Most people have heard stories of a few of the overlords and may know their titles—the Shadow in the Flame is the one most people have heard of—but would need to make checks to know more. But critically, everyone knows that there are bound archfiends that would like to get out and wreck things.

Most people have never heard of “The Lords of Dust.” People have certainly heard stories of shapeshifting demons causing trouble and know that this is a real potential threat, but the idea that there is a massive conspiracy that has been manipulating human civilization for thousands of years is up there with the idea that dragons have been doing the same thing. If you have credible proof that someone in town is actually a fiend or is possessed by a fiend, people will take the threat seriously; people know that such threats can be real. But few people actually believe that there’s a massive conspiracy that secretly controls the course of history, because if so, why haven’t they done anything more dramatic with it?

As a side point to this, most COMMON PEOPLE don’t differentiate between devil, demon, and fiend and treat these as synonyms. People know of rakshasas as “shapeshifting demons,” even though an arcane scholar might say “Well, ACTUALLY ‘demon’ refers specifically to an incarnate entity of chaos and evil, and the rakshasa is a unique class of fiend most commonly found on the material plane.” But the Demon Wastes could be called “The Fiend Wastes;” in this context, “Demon” is a general term.

Khyber and the Daelkyr. Tied to the creation myth and to the idea that evil exists, people know that BAD THINGS COME FROM KHYBER. They don’t know about demiplanes, but they know that if you find a deep hole there might be something bad at the bottom of it. Critically, most people just know that THE DRAGON BELOW IS THE SOURCE OF BAD THINGS and don’t actually differentiate between aberrations, fiends, and monstrosities. This is why the Cults of the Dragon Below are called “The Cults of the Dragon Below” even though a cult of Dyrrn the Corruptor really has nothing in common with a cult of Sul Khatesh; as far as the common people are concerned, they are cults that worship big evil things, and big evil things come from Khyber, hence, cult of the Dragon Below.

With this in mind, most common people don’t have a clear understanding of what a “daelkyr” is. Anyone who’s proficient with Arcana or History has a general understanding of the difference between the daelkyr and the overlords without needing to make a skill check. But for the common person, they are both powerful evil things that are bound in Khyber.

Fey and Archfey. Everyone knows that the fey exist. Everyone knows about dryads and sprites, and everyone knows that they’re especially common near manifest zones to Thelanis. Beyond this, everyone know FAIRY TALES about fey and archfey, and knows that there’s some basis to these stories. So people know STORIES about the Lady in Shadow and the Forest Queen, and they know that somewhere in the planes, you might actually be able to meet the Forest Queen. But they don’t actually EXPECT to every meet one. Most people have no way to easily differentiate between an archfey and some other type of powerful immortal. Notably, you could easily have a cult of the Dragon Below that’s bargaining with Sul Khatesh but BELIEVES it is bargaining with an archfey, or a cult of Avassh that thinks it’s blessed by the Forest Queen. If a cult worships “The Still Lord” or “The Queen of Shadows”, they don’t have some kind of special key that tells them whether that power is a fiend, a fey, or a celestial; that distinction is ACADEMIC, and would require a skill check.

Specific knowledge of the fey is more prevalent in regions that are close to Thelanis manifest zones or where people have a tradition of bargaining with the fey; notably, Aundairians know more about fey than most people of the Five Nations.

The Dreaming Dark and the Kalashtar. Everyone knows that when you dream you go to Dal Quor. Everyone accepts the idea that “There are demons that give you bad dreams!” Very few people believe that those fiends are manipulating the world. People have had bad dreams FOREVER. If bad-dream-demons were going to take over the world, why haven’t they already done it? As with the Lords of Dust, people will listen to credible threats that a specific person could be possessed, but few will believe stories of a massive dream conspiracy bent on world domination.

Looking to Sarlona and the Inspired, everyone knows that the Riedrans have a strict culture and they’re ruled by beings who they say are channeling celestial powers. Few people have ever met a Riedran, let alone one of the Inspired. Those who have met kalashtar (which for the most part only happens in major cities) know that the kalashtar have been oppressed and driven from Sarlona, but largely assume this is about political and religious differences, not a war between dream-spirits. It’s relatively common knowledge that people from Sarlona study some form of mind-magic, but most people don’t know the precise details of how psionics are different from arcane or divine magic.

The Aurum. While it’s a stretch to say that everyone’s heard of the Aurum, it’s about as well known as, say, Mensa in our world. It’s generally seen as an exclusive fraternal order of extremely wealthy people. Because it IS exclusive and because many of its members are minor local celebrities, there are certainly lots of conspiracies theories about what it’s REALLY up to… but even if there’s people who SAY that the Aurum wants to overthrow the Twelve or that it engineered the Last War, at the end of the day people know it’s that fancy members-only club on Main Street that always donates generously to the Race of Eight Winds celebrations.

Secondary Religions. Aside from the Silver Flame and the Sovereign Host, most of the other religious are relatively regional. The Blood of Vol is the best known of the secondary religions because of the role it played in Karrnath during the Last War, but outside of Karrnath most people think it’s some sort of Karrnathi death cult. Everyone knows druids exist, and the Wardens of the Wood are relatively well known because of their central role in the Eldeen Reaches, but the other sects are largely unknown outside of the areas where they operate; the Ashbound are likely the second best known sect because of sensationalized reports of their violent actions. The Path of Light is largely unknown aside from people who have direct interaction with kalashtar.

Goblins and the Empire of Dhakaan. Everyone in the Five Nations knows that goblins were on Khorvaire before humanity, and that they had an empire that fell long ago. Most people don’t know the name of this empire or exactly how it fell. People generally recognize Dhakaani ruins as being goblin creations, and know that many of the largest cities of Khorvaire are built on goblin foundations, but there’s certainly a lunatic fringe that asserts that those structures are clearly too sophisticated to be goblin work and must have been built by some forgotten human civilization. However, most people understand that these “forgotten human” stories are ridiculous conspiracy theories, on par with the idea that shapeshifted dragons are secretly manipulating the world.

The History of Xen’drik. People know that Xen’drik was home to a civilization of giants. Most people believe that the giants were destroyed in a war with the dragons. Many people know that the elves were originally from Xen’drik and fled this destruction. Without History proficiency, most people do NOT know the name of any of the giant cultures or that there were more than one, and they definitely don’t know anything about giants fighting quori. The idea that arrogant giants destroyed the thirteenth moon is a common folk tale, but it has many forms and it’s something most people know as a serious fact.

Spies. When people in the Five Nations talk about spies, they’re usually thinking of The Dark Lanterns or the Royal Eyes of Aundair. Both are well known spy agencies known to operate covertly in other nations, similar to the CIA and KGB during the height of our cold war. Most people in the Five Nations have heard of the Trust and understand that it’s some sort of secret police force that maintains order in Zilargo, but don’t know much more than that and they aren’t concerned about Zil spies. House Phiarlan and House Thuranni are known as providers of ENTERTAINMENT and aren’t generally seen as spies. The assertion that Phiarlan runs a ring of spies is like the idea that Elvis worked for the CIA; not IMPOSSIBLE, but not something people see as a particularly credible threat.

Exotic Player Species. Most people know that drow come from Xen’drik. People know that lizardfolk and dragonborn come from Q’barra, but most people in Khorvaire don’t know that these are two different species. Tieflings are generally understood to be planetouched; as discussed in Exploring Eberron, aasimar are generally so rare that they won’t be recognized by the general populace. With that said, overall people are fairly accepting of species they’ve never encountered. In a world where people DO deal with humans, orcs, shifters, goblins, warforged, elves, kalashtar, ogres, medusas, and more every day, people who’ve never seen a goliath before are more likely to say “Huh, never seen that before” than to panic because it’s some sort of alien giant-man; exotic characters will generally be targets of curiosity rather than fear.

Dragonmarks and Aberrant Dragonmarks. The dragonmarks have been part of civilization for over a thousand years. The houses provide the major services that are part of everyday life. Everyone in the Five Nations knows the names of the houses and the common twelve marks. Without proficiency in History, people won’t have heard of the Mark of Death. Common knowledge is that aberrant dragonmarks are dangerous to both the bearer and the people around them, and are often seen as the “touch of Khyber.” Without proficiency in History, they won’t know much about the War of the Mark, aside from the fact that the aberrants were dangerous and destroyed the original city of Sharn.

The Draconic Prophecy. Most people have heard of “The Draconic Prophecy” but know almost nothing about it aside from the fact that it’s, y’know, a prophecy. When such people talk about the Prophecy, what they’re usually talking about is the Caldyn Fragments, a collection of pieces of the Prophecy assembled by Korranberg scholar Ohnal Caldyn (described in City of Stormreach). Most people definitely don’t understand that it’s an evolving matrix of conditional elements or that it’s the key to releasing the overlords.

Aerenal, the Undying Court, and the Tairnadal. Aerenal is an isolationist culture that has little interest in sharing its traditions with others. However, the elves do trade with the Five Nations and there’s been enough immigration over the course of history to provide a general knowledge of their culture. Most people know that Aerenal is ruled by the Undying Court, and that the Undying Court is made up of ancient undead elves. Most people don’t have a clear understanding of the difference between deathless and other undead. In Five Nations, most people have never heard of “Tairnadal” and assume any Tairnadal elf is from Valenar. They know that Valenar elves are deadly warriors who are always looking for fights and who worship their ancestors, but they don’t know any specifics about patron ancestors or the Keepers of the Past.

Q&A

What do most people believe about the connection between shifters and lycanthropes?

Most people believe that there is some sort of distant connection between shifters and lycanthropes. Shifters are often called “weretouched,” and some people mistakenly believe that they get wild when many moons are full. However, few people few people believe that shifters are capable of spreading lycanthropy or are sympathetic to lycanthropes. Those negative stereotypes exist, especially in rural Aundair or places where people have never actually SEEN shifters, but they’re not common.

What do followers of the Silver Flame believe about the Sovereigns? What does the Church teach about them? Is it normal to venerate both, at least among the laity? Do they even believe the Sovereigns exist?

Nothing in the doctrine of the Church of the Silver Flame denies the existence of the Sovereigns. It’s entirely possible to follow both religions simultaneously, and templars are happy to work with paladins of the Host. However, the point is that the Church of the Silver Flame doesn’t CARE if the Sovereigns exist. Their general attitude is that if the Sovereigns exist, they are vast powers that are maintaining the world overall. Arawai makes sure there’s rain for the crops. Onatar watches over foundries. That’s all great, but SOMEONE HAS TO DEAL WITH THE GHOULS IN THE GRAVEYARD. It’s notable that the Church of the Silver Flame, for example, doesn’t have a unique creation myth because at the end of the day it doesn’t MATTER where the world came from, what matters is that the people who live in it are threatened by supernatural evil and we need to work together to protect them.

I’ve said before that the Church of the the Silver Flame is more like the Jedi or the Men in Black than any religion in our world. It is EXTREMELY PRACTICAL. Evil exists, and good people should fight it. The Silver Flame is a real, concrete source of celestial energy that can empower champions to fight evil. Noble souls strengthen the Flame after death, so be virtuous. If you want to believe in some sort of higher beings beyond that, feel free. What’s important is to protect the innocent from supernatural evil, and faith in the Flame will help you to do that. So the Church doesn’t teach anything about the Sovereigns and it doesn’t encourage its followers to believe in them or incorporate them into its services in any way, but it doesn’t specifically deny that they exist or forbid followers from holding both beliefs.

That’s all for now! Feel free to ask about other general information topics in the comments, but I won’t have time to address every topic. Thanks again to my Patreon supporters who make these articles possible!

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.

Dragonmarks: Reaching For The Stars

Image by Lucas Guerrini for Exploring Eberron

Nearly a quarter of Exploring Eberron is devoted to the planes of Eberron, providing a deeper look into these different layers of reality. While this addresses the supernatural cosmology of Eberron, my Patreon supporters have posed a number of questions tied to the Material Plane. What do the people of Eberron know about the physical universe beyond Eberron? What is the nature of the moons? Could there be a space race in Eberron? Others have raised more practical questions: how do the many moons of Eberron affect its tides? Wouldn’t the destruction of a moon have had even more cataclysmic results than have been suggested?

Ultimately, this begins with a crucial question: what is the Material Plane? In the myth of the Progenitors—a tale told in some form by nearly every culture—the three Progenitors work together to create thirteen planes, each one an idealized exploration of a particular concept: Life, death, war, peace. Following this effort, they rest in the emptiness that lies at the center of the planes. There the Progenitors quarrel. Khyber kills Siberys and tears him apart. Eberron enfolds Khyber and becomes the world itself, forming a living prison she cannot escape.

Whether this is truth or metaphor, it is a basic explanation for natural phenomenon.

  • Eberron is the world and source of natural life. It is surrounded by the shattered Ring of Siberys, and it contains Khyber. Whether or not Eberron was once a noble dragon who imprisoned another dragon, it is a natural world that surrounds and imprisons a source of fiends and aberrations.
  • Eberron—and its Material Plane—lies between the thirteen planes. It is influenced by all of them but it’s not part of any of them. It’s a world that knows both war and peace, life and death.
  • By canon (Rising p. 228), Eberron is the sole planet in its Material Plane. Beyond this, when people dream in Eberron, their spirits go to Dal Quor. When they die, they go to Dolurrh. There are no accounts of people encountering spirits from OTHER material worlds in either plane.

So the first thing to bear in mind: There is nothing natural about the universe of Eberron. The story of the Progenitors might be fact or it could be mere myth. But Eberron does appear to be the center of its Material Plane. It is the fulcrum of the 13 planes, the point where they all intersect — and as shown by Dal Quor and Dolurrh, the creatures of the Material Plane are tied to the other planes. Dig below the surface of Eberron and you won’t simply find a molten core; you’ll find the demiplanes of Khyber. You can go down a tunnel in the Mror Holds, walk five miles, and come out in Xen’drik. Which is to say, this is a supernatural reality. Arcane and divine magic are side effects of this; Eberron is suffused with a fundamental force that doesn’t exist in our world. Now, this may be because Eberron as a setting is a created artifact—that some form of the myth of the Progenitors is true. Or it could be the result of undirected evolution… but that doesn’t change the fact that it is a supernatural reality, fundamentally different from the universe that we know.

This initial section examines the known facts about the celestial objects of Eberron. This is followed by a discussion of the possible space race, which goes into more detail about what might be found on the moons or in the ring. Lest it go without saying, this is my vision of Eberron and may contradict existing sourcebooks.

The Sun and the Stars

In the Progenitor Myth, the three Progenitors rested in the Material Plane after creating the planes. They created the sun, Arrah, much as mortals might kindle a campfire. This fire remained even after their battle, and continues to provide light, heat, and comfort to the world. Arrah is rarely mentioned because it functions much like the sun we’re used to; it’s good that it’s there, but you definitely wouldn’t want to visit it. In the Sovereign Host, Dol Arrah is the Sovereign of Sun and Sacrifice; her name is, essentially, “The Warrior Sun.”

As for the stars, there are stars in the sky of Eberron, but they aren’t the anchors of distant solar systems. There are limits to the Material Plane, and the stars mark those limits; whether or not you embrace the concepts of Spelljammer, you can think of them as glittering points in the shell of a crystal sphere. The common constellations are figures of ancient dragons—Io, Tiamat, Chronepsis—though most people can’t actually say where these names come from. It’s generally assumed that they were handed down by one of the ancient kingdoms of Sarlona, or established by the ancestors of the Aereni; in fact, this is a tradition that was spread by dragons, as they moved secretly among the lesser races.

The Ring of Siberys

The closest celestial object is the Ring of Siberys, a brilliant equatorial band of light that dominates the sky. We know that the Ring is comprised of siberys dragonshards, because it’s where those dragonshards come from. Most fallen shards are quite small, but it’s there are definitely larger shards in the Ring; the civilization of the Qabalrin elves of Xen’drik was destroyed when the Ring of Storms was struck by a massive dragonshard now known as the Heart of Siberys. It’s possible that the entire ring is made up of pure dragonshards, or it could be that there are shards embedded in a more inert material—perhaps the petrified flesh of an ancient cosmic dragon.

One of the more popular schools of arcane thought maintains that all arcane magic (and perhaps divine magic as well) manipulates energy that radiates from the Ring—that magic itself is the “Blood of Siberys.” Whether or not this is true, siberys dragonshards are an extremely valuable resource. Siberys shards are used for dragonmark focus items, but per Rising From The Last War they are also used for “eldritch machines or the creation of legendary items or artifacts.” A nation or house that can secure a reliable source of siberys shards will have a huge advantage in advancing arcane science. It’s also possible that an outpost in the Ring could harness the ambient energy of the Ring itself to perform epic magic. So the Ring of Siberys is close to Eberron and unquestionably valuable; if a space race begins, it’s the logical first step.

The Moons

Twelve orbiting moons are visible from Eberron. Each moon goes through standard lunar phases, and during the month that shares its name, the moon enters an “ascendant phase”; during this time the moon is brighter than usual. Each moon is associated with certain personality traits, and it’s believed that people are influenced by the moon that is ascendant at the time of their birth. Canon descriptions of the moons can be found in this article. Moving beyond canon (something suggested but never defined) there’s a further complication, because the moons are also tied to the planes—and each moon enters its ascendant phase when its associated plane is coterminous, and becomes unusually dim when the plane is remote. So while unusual, it’s possible for there to be two or three ascendant moons at a particular time, if multiple coterminous periods converge.

The connection between the planes and the moons is reinforced by the fact that within a plane, the associated moon is the only one that can be seen in the sky (assuming that any moon can be seen; not all planar layers have a visible sky). However, the phase of the moon doesn’t match its current phase on Eberron. It may be fixed in a single phase—such as in Lamannia, where the moon is always full, or it could change from layer to layer.

By canon lore, no humanoid has ever visited one of the moons. Because of this, their nature remains a mystery. They could be similar to the moon of Earth—harsh and barren. It’s possible that they aren’t planetoids at all, but are in fact planar gateways—that a vessel that tries to land on Dravago will find itself in Risia. This would explain why the moons don’t have the expected impact on tides; it may be that they don’t actually have any mass! A third option lies between these two: that the moons are habitable planetoids that are strongly influenced by the planes they are tied to. The moon Vult isn’t inhabited by the angels and demons of Shavarath, but it could be home to societies of tieflings and aasimar locked in an endless war… though unlike the immortals of Shavarath, the people of Vult might decide to turn their aggressive attention to Eberron!

THE SPACE RACE

By canon, Eberron is the only planet in its material plane. Between the planes and the demiplanes of Khyber, there’s ample opportunity for adventurers to explore strange new worlds, and deep space exploration was never planned as part of the setting; we don’t need to have alien invaders come from a distant planet when we already have alien invaders crawling out of Xoriat. Nothing’s stopping the DM from going full Spelljammer and breaking through the wall of stars. But by default, that’s not the story Eberron was designed to tell.

However, you don’t have to go into deep space to have a space race. The Ring of Siberys is a clear target for any advanced nation. Siberys dragonshards are an immensely valuable resource; now that the Five Nations are using dragonshards in an industrial capacity and can see the potential of siberys shards, it’s only logical that people would be looking to the skies and dreaming of the power waiting to be claimed. Beyond the ring you have the moons. Perhaps they’re barren orbs. But if they’re planar gateways they could be the key to serious planar exploration, and if they’re manifest worlds they could hold unknown wonders. So there’s clearly something to be gained from reaching for the sky. And just as in our world, a space race gives a clear, tight focus for the current cold war. The people of the Five Nations may be afraid to start the Last War anew… but which nation will be the first to plant their flag in the Ring of Siberys?

In dealing with the space race, there’s a few questions to consider. What are the obstacles that have to be overcome? Who’s in the race? Who’s already up there? And what might people find?

Obstacles

If all that it takes to reach the moons is to fly straight up, people would have done it long ago. Even though airships are a relatively recent innovation, surely in three decades SOMEONE has determined just how high they can go… and while airships may be new, brooms of flying and similar devices have been around. If there’s no obstacles, there’s no tension and it’s hard to explain why it hasn’t happened. Yet at the same time, this isn’t our reality and there’s no reason that the obstacles to space travel should be the SAME obstacles that we had to overcome. So as a DM planning a space race, consider the following factors.

  • Gravity. If you have to escape the gravity of Eberron to reach the Ring of Siberys, it’s easy to say that no standard methods of flight provide sufficient velocity to accomplish this. This provides room for different nations to be exploring different approaches to attaining that velocity. Elemental binding is an option; how many elementals can you bind to a vessel? Another option is to expand on the arcane principles of levitation, perhaps burning siberys shards to provide a temporary surge of energy. A more exotic option would be to abandon flight in favor of teleportation; imagine flinging a teleport circle anchor at the target.
  • Cosmic Rays. The Ring of Siberys is thought by many to be the source of arcane energy. If so, this radiation could be lethal without proper protection. Alternately, the energy might be harmless, but it could overload unprotected enchantments: until people figure out how to protect against this surge, all magical systems could burn out and shut down in the vicinity of the Ring of Siberys. This could form a deadly layer around the entire planet, or this could be a way to explain why people are aiming for the moons instead of the Ring; because they can’t safely get close to the Ring, but they can avoid it.
  • Oxygen. At what point does the air become too thin to breathe? Is there a vacuum between Eberron and the moons? Because this isn’t natural space, it could be that there IS breathable air throughout the entire system, or that the Ring or the moons have atmosphere—or it could be that the atmosphere largely behaves the way that we’re used to. If oxygen is an obstacle, it doesn’t affect the design of a vessel, but travelers will need to have a solution. Spells and magic items that allow people to breathe underwater could be adapted for this purpose; it’s possible that the same item could work both underwater or in the Ring of Siberys.
  • Hostile Environment. In our world, space travel may require you to deal both with extreme cold or heat. Is the Ring of Siberys shrouded in bitter cold, or is it mysteriously maintained at a comfortable temperature? Chapter 5 of the Dungeon Master’s Guide provides basic guidelines for dealing with extreme cold, extreme heat, or high altitude. These could be intensified to reflect a truly alien environment, either reducing the time between required saving throws or amplifying the effects of failure. This could also be a factor in vessel design. Airships are made of soarwood; will a wooden ship burn up on re-entry?

Who’s In The Race?

The idea of a space race is that there’s a sense of tension and competition. The Ring of Siberys is too vast for any nation to claim dominion over it. But the first nation to establish an outpost in the Ring or on the moons with have the first opportunity to explore the environment, to harness its resources, and to establish contact with whatever creatures could be found there. The idea is that no nation or dragonmarked house has had unlimited access to Siberys shards; no one knows what could be done with that reliable source. So for purposes of the story, people should KNOW who’s in the race; adventurers could involve helping an allied power gain the resources it needs to advance or acting to block a rival power. So who’s in the race?

One option is to focus on the Five Nations: this is about Breland, Aundair, and Karrnath racing to the sky. A second option is to make it a rivalry between house and nation; perhaps it’s about the Twelve competing against the space program of the Arcane Congress.

Personally, my inclination is to focus on the Five Nations—emphasizing that the Last War has been replaced by a cold war. But I’d also throw in additional alliances. House Cannith is involved with everyone; it’s split in three and the house thus wins in any scenario, but part of the question is who wins; it could be generally understood that the Cannith faction that wins the space race will also claim the leadership of the house. So here’s the factions I’d use in MY space race.

  • Aundair: The Dragonhawk Initiative. Aundair’s space program is an alliance between the Arcane Congress, Cannith West (under Jorlanna d’Cannith), and House Orien. While they are exploring all possibilities, the Dragonhawk Initiative is focusing on teleportation. There are three current paths under investigation: direct teleportation (which also requires scrying to confirm the target point); physical projection of an object that serves as a teleportation circle; or using a passage through a plane to cross space. Thelanis and Xoriat are the planes most tied to these efforts. There is a branch of the Dragonhawk exploring traditional levitation, but leadership is convinced that teleportation is the cleanest and safest approach.
  • Breland: The King’s Observatory. The Observatory is a branch of the King’s Citadel, formed in alliance with Zilargo, Cannith South (under Merrix d’Cannith), and Hosue Lyrandar. While they are exploring traditional levitation techniques, the Observatory is primarily focused on building a better elemental airship, overcoming the obstacles with elemental binding and Cannith ingenuity. Merrix has been experimenting with living ships—a step that could render Lyrandar pilots obsolete. Syrania and Fernia are the planes most associated with their efforts.
  • Karrnath: The Blade of Siberys. The Blade is an alliance between the Karrnathi crown, Cannith East (under Zorlan d’Cannith), and a number of wealthy individuals. Antus ir’Soldorak brings tremendous wealth and mineral resources to the table; Alina Lorridan Lyrris is an expert transmuter and owns the richest khyber shard mines in Khorvaire. The fact that they’re both members of the Platinum Concord of the Aurum is a remarkable coincidence. The Blade of Siberys is primarily interested in reaching the Ring rather than the moons. It is focused on traditional magic of flight, but Zorlan is exploring ways necromancy could be used to solve this problem: ghost astronauts? A shadow engine that draws on the power of the Endless Night? These efforts involve the Mabaran manifest zones in Karrnath, but they are considering the potential of other planes. The Blade is also very focused on the military potential of this program, and any Karrnathi space vessel will be heavily armed.

Thrane is currently a minor player in the race, though the Argentum is exploring the possibilities for an engine that harnesses the power of the Silver Flame itself. Likewise, New Cyre lacks the resources to compete with these main players… but Oargev dreams of establishing a true new Cyre on Olarune.

Who’s Already Up There?

The Five Nations may be working to win the space race, but someone else likely won that race long ago. The dragons of Argonessen are an ancient and advanced civilization, and believe themselves to be the children of Eberron and Siberys; if it’s possible to reach the Ring of Siberys, they surely did it long ago. They could use outposts in the Ring to watch for the appearance of Prophecy marks, and the epic magics unleashed in the destruction of Xen’drik may well have been channeled through siberys shards harvested from the Ring. However, the Ring of Siberys is vast and the dragons are secretive; their outposts are surely well hidden, both physically and magically. Having said that, the dragons may not have bothered to explore the moons—so they could be a truly unexplored frontier.

The giants of ancient Xen’drik were also powerful and advanced. Both the Cul’sir Dominion and the Group of Eleven explored the planes; either one could have ventured into space. Any giant outposts in the Ring of Siberys would have been destroyed by the dragons when they laid waste to Xen’drik, but there could be still be ruins in the Ring. And if a DM wants to introduce a powerful force of giants or empyreans, they could have used a powerful sequester effect to conceal a base in the Ring or on one of the moons.

The Undying Court aren’t involved in the space race. The Ascendant Counselors explore the universe in astral form and have no need to do it physically. The Lords of Dust don’t have any outposts of their own, but they are surely watching all the participants in the space race. As the fiends are the children of Khyber, it’s possible that the pure essence of Siberys is especially repellant to them—that any fiend that approaches the Ring will be destroyed.

These are creatures of Eberron who might have settled above it; possible natives are discussed below.

Exploring the Ring of Siberys

The Ring of Siberys is the logical first stop in the space race, being closer than the moons and having a clear strategic value. If the DM would rather focus on the moons, the magical energies of the Ring can be deadly to living creatures. If the Ring is the destination, the first question is whether the Ring has gravity and atmosphere. This is the most magical place in existence, so anything is possible. The next question is whether the Ring is in fact entirely comprised of massive dragonshards, or if the bulk of it is some other material; it could be a soft stone, that some might see as the calcified flesh of an ancient dragon. Even if there is an atmosphere, the Ring is entirely barren. People may be able to dig into it or build structures on the surface, but there’s no natural sources of food or water; travelers will need to either have strong supply lines, or more likely, to come prepared with ways to magically create food and water.

Magic is dramatically enhanced within the Ring. One option is that all spells cast in the Ring benefit from the Distant Spell and Extended Spell Metamagic options presented in the sorcerer class. But it’s difficult to channel this power; if the DM uses this option, all spellcasting carries the risk of a sorcerer’s Wild Magic Surge. With time, it could be that spellcasters could learn unique spells that can only be cast in the magic-rich environment of the Ring.

Even if the energies of the Ring aren’t directly lethal, they can produce many dangerous effects. Just as the energies of the Ring can be used to produce fireballs and lighting bolts, the Ring produces dramatic, unnatural weather effects—bursts of fire, acid rain, illusory manifestations, psychic storms. The Ring also produces living spells, which linger for a time before being absorbed back into the Ring. Other native creatures are rare, given the difficulty of surviving in the RIng. However, just as the rakshasa are said to be the children of Khyber, the native celestials of Eberron—the couatl—are said to have been born of Siberys. While most of the couatl sacrificed their existence to bind the overlords, there could be a few powerful celestials still bound to the Ring. Given that Thrane isn’t a major player in the space race, the first explorers could be surprised to discover embodiments of the Silver Flame itself in the Ring of Siberys.

There’s another exotic possibility. Legends speak of the Irsvern—winged kobolds said to be blessed by Siberys. According to these tales the Irsvern live on the peaks of the tallest mountains; but what if they’re actually natives of the Ring of Siberys? What powers might these children of the Ring possess?

Exploring The Moons

Exploring Eberron provides more details about the planes, and will prove a useful resource whether the moons are planar portals or merely strongly influenced by planes. The main difference between the planar portal and the idea of the manifest world is the degree to which the adventurers can have a lasting impact, and the degree to which the world is an entirely new frontier. The planes are known, even if mortals don’t visit them regularly; and the planes cannot be fundamentally changed. On the other hand, manifest worlds are an opportunity to explore entirely new and alien realms—to have first contact with unknown cultures. This is another a way to introduce exotic races or elements from other settings; perhaps loxodons are from Olarune!

Q&A

Does Arrah orbit Eberron? If so, is it much further away than the moons?

There’s no canon answer to this. What we know is that Eberron has traditional seasons (as defined by the calendar)—that Arrah FUNCTIONS in the way we’re used to a sun working. On the one hand, there’s some logic to Eberron being stuck in the center of its sphere (though it could well be that it rotates in that central point and that Arrah is fixed!).

But let’s consider the Progenitor myth, which again, may or may not be exactly true but is still the closest thing we have to an explanation. In the myth, the Progenitors finish their work and rest in the Material Plane. They kindle Arrah as a campfire. They then fight: Siberys is killed, Eberron and Khyber entwined. Arrah exists BEFORE Eberron becomes a world, and I think it’s perfectly logical to say that ARRAH is at the very center of the plane and that Eberron orbits it. Though another sage could argue that the Progenitors were clearly the focal point of creation and that Arrah would have been pulled into their orbit. So like many things in Eberron, I expect that it’s something sages are actively debating in the world itself.

How do the multiple moons of Eberron affect lycanthropes?

The origin of lycanthropy remains a mystery. All lycanthropes are influenced by the moons, but not all in the same way; this suggests that there may be multiple strains of lycanthropy with different origins. The first strain is only affected by the phases of the moon Olarune; this is typically associated with good-aligned lycanthropes. The second strain of lycanthropy is affected by all of the moons, and multiple full moons can cause extreme behavior; this is the effect reported by the templars during the Lycanthropic Purge, and it encourages aggressive behavior and drives victims to quickly succumb to the curse. The third strain of lycanthrope is affected by the moon(s) that were ascendant at the moment of its birth or at the moment it was afflicted; this is common among natural lycanthropes. When adventurers encounter lycanthropes, the DM will have to decide which strain they’re dealing with.

In the past you’ve said that the Gith come from another world… could this be one of the moons?

It’s a possibility, but not the one I personally use. Exploring Eberron goes into more detail about how I use the Gith in my Eberron.

How do the shifter Moonspeakers see the moons? Are they planar portals or more like spiritual guides?

The Moonspeaker druids view the moons as spiritual guides. This doesn’t invalidate the possibility that they are planetoids or portals; the Moonspeakers invoke the spirits of the moons, just as some other druids invoke the spirit of Eberron. With that said, it’s worth noting that this material contradicts the Moonspeaker’s assignment of the moons; I didn’t design the Moonspeaker and I don’t agree with all of its choices.

While the moons correlate with the planes, is there really a correlation with the Dragonmarks, too? The lost moon is tied to Dal Quor, but the lost mark is the Mark of Death, which would have been tied to the same moon as Dolurrh, I would have thought.

There’s a few basic points here. The moons and the planes are both part of creation; they have both existed since the dawn of time. The Dragonmarks have barely existed for three thousand years, and it’s quite possible they were created by the daelkyr. Consider that Crya was lost tens of thousands of years before the Mark of Death even existed! So the ultimate point is that the association of dragonmarks and moons isn’t a concrete, natural FACT as the association of planes and moons is; it’s a superstition, where people have ASSIGNED marks to moons, because hey, twelve marks, twelve moons. And the people who made those assignments may not even know that there once was a thirteenth moon! So it’s possible that people have stumbled onto a cosmic truth in linking these together‚that even those the marks are recent, they tied into this cosmic code. But it could also be entirely speculative.

Having said that, consider what Dolurrh actually is. It’s NOT the “Plane of Death.” Many believe that it is the plane of transition, where the soul leaves its burdens behind and ascends to a higher realm. Aryth is “The Gateway” — and the dragonmark associated with it is the Mark of Passage. The point of this association is that Dolurrh ISN’T actually the destination; it’s a pathway to the unknown realm that lies beyond.

The moons of Eberron are tied to the planes. What about the sun? What’s it tied to?

There is no canon answer to this question, and I’m sure that sages debate it at Arcanix and Korranberg. I’ll give you three answers that all likely have supporters. One is that it represents nothing. It was created by the Progenitors to serve a utilitarian function; it’s the divine campfire. Another is that just as the moons are tied to the planes, the sun represents the MATERIAL plane. A third is tied to the theory that Dolurrh is a gateway that allows people to transition to the Realm of the Sovereigns, a higher realm no mortal can know; some surely believe that Arrah is tied to THAT plane, which is why it’s so much brighter than the moons; it’s a glimpse of the truly celestial realm.

Thanks to my Patreon supporters, who chose this topic and who keep this blog going! How have you used the moons or the space race in your campaign?

Dolurrh, the Realm of the Dead

Every month, my Patreon supporters select a topic for a major Eberron article. This month’s choice was the plane of Dolurrh. Additional information about Dolurrh and all of the planes of Eberron is coming soon inExploring Eberron!

Endless caverns stretch throughout Dolurrh, bleak passages of gray stone. Wherever you go, shadowy figures reach towards you, imploring, but you feel only the faintest chill as their insubstantial fingers pass through you. Mist pools around your feet, and as you press forward you realize this swirling mist is moaning. This is no natural phenomenon; these are the remnants of souls who have forgotten their original form. This is Dolurrh, where mortal souls go after their bodies die, where memories fade and lives are forgotten.

Mortal spirits are drawn to Dolurrh within moments of death, and their memories begin to decay immediately. Within days, most spirits no longer have any desire to leave Dolurrh; within weeks, most only have the faintest memories of their previous lives. The faiths of Aerenal and the Blood of Vol assert that Dolurrh is the absolute end of existence, the last echoes of a life before it is gone completely. But when Dorius Alyre ir’Korran drew his classic planar map he used the octogram symbol of the Sovereign Host to represent Dolurrh, because he declared it to be the door through which all mortals must pass to join with the Sovereigns. This has come to be a common view: what appears to be memory fading is actually the soul slowly ascending to a higher form of existence, rising to a level of reality no mortal can experience. The vassals of the Sovereign Host say the faithful finally join the Sovereigns; followers of the Silver Flame say that noble souls strengthen the Flame. What is left behind is a husk—the cast-off remnants, like an abandoned snakeskin or the traces of memory that can be read using speak with dead. Thus, while Dolurrh has long been known as the Realm of the Dead, there are many who call it The Gateway. Ultimately, this is a matter of faith. Whether the other side of Dolurrh is oblivion or paradise, no one ever returns from it.

All living creatures will come to Dolurrh, sooner or later. Those that come here before death are almost always looking for something: a lost soul, a forgotten memory. But living or dead, any who come to Dolurrh can be trapped by its power.

Universal Traits

Everything about Dolurrh is gray and gloomy. Even the brightest colors seem faded, the most joyful sounds seem dull. The heavy weight weight of ennui settles on travelers the moment they arrive, making even the simplest tasks feel challenging. And there is a constant pull, tugging on memory and emotion, a desire to just sit down and let it all go.

  • Eternal Ennui. When you enter Dolurrh, you immediately gain one level of ennui (described below). This cannot be removed by rest or any other effect. It is immediately removed when you leave Dolurrh.
  • Impeded Magic. In order to cast a spell of 1st level or higher in Dolurrh, you must succeed on a spellcasting ability check with a DC equal to 10 + the level of the spell. On a failed check, the spell is not cast and its spell slot is not expended, but the action is lost.
  • Timeless. Time passes on Dolurrh at the same rate as on Eberron. But creatures on Dolurrh don’t age, and do not need to eat, sleep, or drink. Other natural processes may be delayed, though living creatures can benefit from resting normally and can suffer damage and die.
  • Inevitable Entrapment. Every time you complete a short or long rest, you must make a DC 12 Wisdom saving throw. If you fail, you gain one level of ennui. Each time you make this saving throw, the difficulty increases by 1. If you don’t complete a rest over the course of a 24 hour period, you must make this saving throw at dawn.

Ennui reflects the soul-sapping power of Dolurrh. It’s gained in levels, and duplicates the effects of exhaustion. However, it affects all creatures, including undead and other creatures immune to exhaustion. Ennui saps motion and memory. When a creature reaches six levels of ennui, its will is completely broken and it can take no purposeful action; if this happens to a living creature, its physical body dies and it becomes a husk bound to Dolurrh. Ennui is separate from exhaustion, and levels don’t stack. If a creature has both ennui and exhaustion, use which has more levels to determine the effects.

Undead cannot recover from ennui while in Dolurrh. If a living creature completes a long rest and succeeds on the saving throw against Inevitable Entrapment by 5 or more, they reduce their ennui level by 1. Creatures native to Dolurrh are immune to Eternal Ennui and Inevitable Entrapment, but still have to deal with the effects of Impeded Magic.

DENIZENS OF DOLURRH

The Quick

The native creatures of Dolurrh are bound to the cycle of transition, and all have some role to serve in this process. Nalfeshnee demons patrol the Catacombs of Dolurrh, dispersing melds and lemures and dealing with mortal intruders; Dolurrhi nalfeshnee appear as large humanoids whose features are shrouded by gray mist. Marut inevitables are more powerful guardians, and are occasionally dispatched to Eberron to intervene with acts of resurrection. No one is sure what triggers this deadly intervention, but Jorasco healers will always cast augury before raising the dead; if the result is “woe” they will refuse the job. Finally, the shadar-kai are servants of the Queen of the Dead, shades granted new life in this form. They serve her in the Vault of Memories and occasionally as her hands on Eberron, though their actions are almost always enigmatic. Other denizens of Dolurrh are unique. The Librarian is found in the Vault of Memories, while the Smith of Souls dwells in the Crucible; both are described later in this section.

The Dead

The spirits of the dead are omnipresent in Dolurrh. Shades are souls that are freshly arrived in Dolurrh, and maintain a portion of their memory and original appearance. They are insubstantial and can’t interact with material objects. Shades that are overcome by ennui become husks, which have only the vaguest memories of their past lives or awareness of their surroundings. Occasionally a group of husks cluster around one strong memory, forming an ectoplasmic mass called a meld that seeks more memories to consume; these are presented in more detail in Exploring Eberron.

Sometimes a shade clings to a memory with such intensity that even Dolurrh can’t eradicate it—perhaps a terrible mistake or bitter grudge. Other memories fade, but the creature lingers as a ghost and can be a danger to mortals. Other forms of undead are rarely seen in Dolurrh. The entities found here are the spirits of the dead, either undergoing transition or trapped in the process. Corporeal undead such as ghouls, skeletons, or zombies have no place here, while undead that hunger to consume life belong in Mabar.

The Lingering

Memories of joy and happiness do no harm in Dolurrh. But memories of pain, of cruelty, of anger… these don’t fade so easily, and they can hurt others. Even if they don’t trap shades as ghosts, this psychic residue can build up in the gears of the spiritual machinery of Dolurrh. Often it takes the presence of a mortal to trigger it; when this occurs, the lingering pain and hate coalesces into a solid form. The least of these are lemures, which are formed from hateful memories or deeds. The emotional residue of hundreds or thousands of people can form deadly sorrowsworn. In particular, the Last War and the Mourning created a lot of deaths that could fuel manifestations of the Angry and the Lost. When a character is struck by one of the Lingering, they may have a flash of one of the memories or deeds that drive the entity.

The Lingering are formed in Dolurrh and are immune to the effects of Eternal Ennui and Inevitable Entrapment. However, they are a waste product, not the desired result. Nalfeshnee, maruts, and other guardians will destroy the Lingering whenever they are found. 

The Queen of the Dead

The Queen of the Dead dwells in the great spire that rises up above the Vault of Memories. She is the most powerful being in Dolurrh, and has the ability to pluck shades from the cycle of entrapment and even to grant them new life. She appears to be an elf woman, robed in silver and black, her face hidden by a cracked alabaster mask. But little is known about her motives or her origins. She creates the shadar-kai by housing shades in new bodies. She saves other souls that she never restores; she preserves them in the Vault of Memories, saving them from dissolution for unknown reasons. She collects secrets and memories, plucking her favorites from those gathered by the Librarian and keeping them in her personal collection. Sometimes she seems to directly oppose mortal necromancers, especially Lady Illmarrow. At other times she seems to be interested in killing specific people, perhaps so she can preserve their spirits or their memories. But such direct action is extremely rare, remarkable if it occurs more than once in a century; most of the time she remains silent in Dolurrh, unknown and unknowable.

There are many mysteries about the Queen of the Dead. She takes the form of an elf and gives her shadar-kai elven bodies, yet she existed long before the elves. Her actions directly involve the Material Plane, in a way unusual for the great planar powers. This may simply be tied to her role as keeper of the gateway; or there may be some greater secret yet to be revealed.

LAYERS OF DOLURRH

Dolurrh is universally gray and gloomy. All layers that have been described in the accounts of explorers have appeared to be underground; no one has ever seen the sky in Dolurrh. Unlike most planes, the layers of Dolurrh don’t embody different ideas; instead, they serve different functions. Dolurrh is a machine for gathering, collecting, and perhaps transitioning souls; all of its layers serve that purpose. Here are four of them.

The Catacombs

Tunnels are carved into gray stone. In some places they are painfully tight; in others they widen into grand halls, with ceilings lost in the darkness. The dead are everywhere, shades pleading for release and husks keening in the shadows. Some chambers contain vast wells filled with moaning mist; in others nalfeshnee herd shades into pens or scrape lemures off the walls. There is no particular logic to it, just endless tunnels.

The Catacombs may be larger than Khorvaire, or even Eberron. A mortal could wander forever through these winding tunnels, or at least until they are consumed by ennui. However, there are junction points that transcend the logic of distance. If one knows the right symbols to follow, they can cross the vastness of the Catacombs quickly or pass to other layers.

The Kennel

All the mortals born on Eberron are bound to Dolurrh, but like spirits are drawn together. The Catacombs holds the spirits of dead humanoids. The Kennel is similar in appearance, but it contains the shades and husks of beasts and monstrosities. Here you’ll hear the howls of fading wolf spirits, and see flocks of spectral birds flying through grand halls… along with larger and more fierce creatures. Beast spirits rarely linger long in Dolurrh, as most have fewer memories to erase.

It’s possible that the Queen of the Dead has created special servants that wander these halls, just as she has made the shadar-kai; adventurers could be questioned by a clever raven with the soul of a poet. But nalfeshnee and maruts can be found here as well as in the Catacombs.

The Crucible

In the Crucible, the immortal spirit known as the Smith of Souls refines the essence of faded spirits and creates things out of this husksteel. The Smith forges the armor and weapons of the shadar-kai, and creates the maruts from the husks of brave souls. She also creates smaller and stranger items from husksteel. This is a comparatively small layer, but it is still a grand foundry, tended by shadar-kai and guarded by newly-forged maruts.

The Smith wears a mask of black steel and an apron that seems to be made from dragonhide. When forging maruts she is a giant; when crafting tiny trinkets she appears to be a gnome. It’s possible that she collects the memories of mortal artisans, and can replicate their works at her forge.

The Vault of Memories

The heart of Dolurrh is the Vault of Memories. It’s a tower carved up through gray stone, larger than any of the great towers of Sharn. The lowest levels are the Library. Here, the spirit known as the Librarian interviews each shade and makes a record of its life. The power of the Librarian is such that an entire life can be confined to a single large page. Every sigil inscribed holds a crucial memory; a character proficient in Arcana can read the symbol to experience that memory. The many floors of the library hold countless books of preserved lives, carefully tended by shadar-kai scribes. The Librarian himself is a massive hooded figure, and his books are enormous. It’s said that he can be many places at once, which is how he is able to speak to every shade before it fades. 

In the halls above the library, the Queen of the Dead keeps her many treasures. What seem to be obsidian statues are actually shades, crystallized to prevent them from fading into husks. Paintings and crystals contain memories that the Queen has chosen to isolate. Beyond these are countless trinkets and oddities, items collected by her shadar-kai over the vast scope of history. And higher still are the chambers of the Queen herself, where she usually sits in silent contemplation listening to the whispers of the countless shades in her domain. 

MANIFESTATIONS OF DOLURRH

Here are a few of the ways Dolurrh can affect the Material Plane.

Manifest Zones

Manifest zones tied to Dolurrh rarely possess the full properties of the plane. But they are close to the Realm of the Dead, and that means they are almost always haunted. Shadows may move in strange ways, and travelers may hear whispers they can’t quite make out.

Restless spirits yearn to return to the Material Plane, and it’s easier for them to do so in Dolurrhi zones. Sometimes they manifest as ghosts. Other times they’ll animate the corpses of people buried in the zone; these creatures are effectively zombies, but may display unusual intelligence as they seek to resolve their unfinished business. Raising the dead can be dangerous in a Dolurrhi zone; there’s a chance that the wrong spirit will be returned to the body!

While these are negative traits, Dolurrhi zones can have positive effects. In many zones it is easier to return people from the dead; you only have to spend half the usual material components when casting such a spell. In others, anyone can cast speak with dead as a ritual; this takes an hour to perform, and the caster must have the corpse they wish to speak with and a personal connection to the deceased.

The most dramatic manifest zones are those that serve as gateways to the Catacombs of Dolurrh. Opening such a gateway might require a special ritual, a significant sacrifice, an alignment involving the moon Aryth, or all of the above. It might only work if Dolurrh is coterminous. But under the right circumstances, you can use the gateway to enter the Realm of the Dead—and hopefully, to return. 

Coterminous and Remote

As with any plane, Dolurrh can become coterminous or remote when it serves the needs of a story. It has has a slow planar cycle, and becomes coterminous for a full year once every century. Fifty years after that, it is remote for a full year. Shorter phases are tied to the movements of the moon Aryth.

While Dolurrh is coterminous, it’s easier for ghosts to slip from the Realm of the Dead into the Material Plane, especially around Dolurrhi manifest zones. Any form of magic that restores life to the dead can also serve as a conduit for unwanted spirits.

While Dolurrh is remote, no form of magic that restores life to the dead—including revivify or reincarnate—will function. The only way to restore life to the dead in these times is by directly traveling to Dolurrh and pulling the shade back to the world. Ghosts are also especially common in this time. But these aren’t ghosts that return from Dolurrh; rather, if Dolurrh is remote when people die in the grip of great emotion or with vital unfinished business, their spirits can more easily resist Dolurrh’s pull.

Dolurrhi Visitors

 The most common types of visitors from Dolurrh have already been discussed. A marut may show up in response to resurrection. Ghosts may drag their way back into the world. And the shadar-kai—or other revenant servants of the Queen of the Dead—may come to the world pursuing her enigmatic missions.

Dolurrhi Artifacts

The most common Dolurrhi artifacts are the creations of the Smith of Shadows. These are formed of husksteel, the fused essence of faded souls. Depending on the nature of the object, it could be crafted from a single spirit—a dagger whose edge is forged from a single moment of pain—or from the emotional residue of multiple husks. Despite the name, husksteel can appear as dark metal, slick black leather, dark iridescent cloth, or other substances.

In creating a husksteel object, consider the memory or emotion that is the heart of the item. For a magic item, this should reflect its purpose; a husksteel cloak of elvenkind could be formed from a secret. A husksteel variation on a dagger of venom might be formed from a moment of absolute terror; when its power is invoked, the victim struck by the dagger must succeed on a DC 15 Wisdom saving throw or take 2d10 psychic damage and be frightened of the wielder for 1 minute. 

Other husksteel items are largely curiosities. Adventurers could find a monocle that shows the last thing seen by a dead man, or a journal containing poems written by a celebrated poet—after they died.

CONCERNING RESURRECTION

Returning life to the dead is not a reliable service in Eberron. There are many characters who are capable of casting the necessary spells, from clerics to adepts of House Jorasco. But just because it can be cast doesn’t mean that it should be cast… or that it will work if it does.

The first and simplest limitation is time. The longer a spirit remains in Dolurrh, the more it falls under the sway of ennui. Any spell that returns life to the dead requires the spirit to want to return. Once the shade becomes a husk, it can no longer make that decision and can’t be raised or reincarnated; note that most religions maintain that this is because at this point the true soul has moved on to a higher level of existence; you can’t easily pull someone back from their union with the Sovereigns. So you only have about a week or two—depending on the strength of will of the victim—to pull them back. But even before that time, it is quite possible that the spirit will simply choose not to return. What is it they have to live for? Is that worth fighting to lulling ennui of Dolurrh?

The second limitation is risk. The appearance of maruts is extraordinarily rare, but in part that’s because Jorasco knows to check beforehand and won’t raise someone if there’s a risk. Essentially, the question is whether this person is supposed to come back… or if this is, indeed, their time to die. If so, a marut may appear to challenge the resurrection.

The final risk is the direct intervention of a higher power. It’s said that the Keeper can snatch souls before they reach Dolurrh. It’s up to the DM to decide if there’s any truth to this myth; the story says that such souls must be recovered from the Lair of the Keeper in the Demon Wastes. The Keeper itself may or may not be there, but it’s certainly the abode of a powerful dracolich! Alternatively, the Queen of the Dead can crystallize a shade and prevent it from being restored, or she can catch a spirit that’s about to be restored and set a price on its passage. The flip side of direct intervention is that the Queen of Death—or another power that seems dramatically appropriate, as chosen by the DM—could offer to return a shade to life for a price. This is a way to bring a low-level character who can’t afford resurrection back to life, while adding a hook to their story. This article provides some ideas about the possible cost of a life.

Perhaps your augury warns you of woe. Perhaps Dolurrh is remote. There’s one way you can always bring someone to life: to go to Dolurrh, find their shade, and drag it back out to the Material Plane. All you need to do is to locate a single soul in the endless Catacombs (perhaps with the help of a native guide, the records in the Vault of Memories, or powerful divination magic) and evade the many guardians to return to the world. But if you succeed, the victim receives a new body, just as if you’d cast true resurrection; and while the defenders will try to stop you from leaving, they won’t interfere once you return to Eberron. It is theoretically possible to restore a husk in this way as well, but it won’t restore lost memories. Most resurrected husks are effectively mindless. Some can relearn new skills, though their original memories are forever lost. This is why people don’t try to bring back the Tairnadal ancestors or Galifar I; you could bring a body back, but it’s not the original person in any meaningful way. This is why the Queen of the Dead (and perhaps the Keeper) preserves certain shades from decay—so that it could be possible to restore them, even after centuries.

In the Age of Giants, the Cul’sir Dominion sent an army into Dolurrh to recover the spirits of a family lost in the Quori Conflict; none returned. The Queen of the Dead doesn’t care if a shade or two are stolen every century or even every decade. But her power cannot be contested in Dolurrh, and thieves who attract her personal attention will find their shades torn from their bodies in the blink of an eye.

DOLURRHI STORIES

Dolurrh can inspire many simple stories through its manifest zones or escaped ghosts. A husksteel trinket could provide a flash of memory that sets the adventurers on a particular path. And finding a way to rescue a shade from the underworld is always an epic tale. Here’s a few deeper stories to consider.

The Once and Future Queen of the Dead. The Queen of the Dead is an enigmatic figure who wields great power in Dolurrh. But there’s another being who uses this title: Erandis Vol, the last heir of the Mark of Death. Through her agents in the Order of the Emerald Claw and beyond, Erandis seeks to restore the power of her dragonmark; no one knows what godlike powers she might wield if she unlocks its full potential. Meanwhile, the Queen of the Dead seems to oppose Erandis, and often sends her agents—both shadar-kai and adventurers she’s restored to life at a price—to interfere with Vol’s schemes. This could be exactly what it appears. The Queen of the Dead may despise necromancers, and Vol is seeking to depose her. But perhaps there’s more to it. Time works in strange ways when dealing with the planes and beings of vast power. Perhaps the Queen of the Dead isn’t trying to stop Erandis; perhaps she’s guiding her down a very specific path. Perhaps Erandis will become the Queen of the Dead, in which case, she always will have been her. Or perhaps that’s what’s supposed to happen, but there’s a way in which it could still go wrong… which could destroy the Queen of the Dead and throw Dolurrh itself into chaos.

Agent of Death. After the adventurers kill a nefarious villain, their foe reappears alive and well. This happens time and again. How is the villain escaping from Dolurrh? Are acting as an agent for the Queen of the Dead, or have they simply found a back door to the Realm of the Dead? Either way, what can the adventurers do to lay them to rest once and for all?

Devastating Sorrow. When Dolurrh becomes coterminous, a powerful sorrowsworn emerges and devastates the region. The adventurers may not have the ability to defeat the sorrowsworn in battle, but if they understand the circumstances of its creation—the emotion that drives it and the event that triggered it they might be able to disperse the deadly monster by defusing this emotion. 

That’s it for now. Thanks again to my Patreon supporters for choosing the topic!