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!

Dragonmarks: Lamannia

Eberron has a unique planar cosmology, but Rising From The Last War only scratches the surface of the planes; in this article and the upcoming Exploring Eberron, I’m digging deeper. Thanks to my Patreon supporters, who keep this site going and who chose this topic for my final January article!

LAMANNIA: THE TWILIGHT FOREST

Lamannia embodies primordial nature, untapped and untamable. It represents the raw power and majesty of the natural world. Lamannia is often called the Twilight Forest, and depicted as a realm of colossal trees and massive beasts. However, the forest is just one of the facets of Lamannia. Every natural environment is represented in Lamannia, contained in a layer that exemplifies and exaggerates its features. Windswept desert, raging ocean, endless plains; all can be found in Lamannia.

At first glance, Lamannia appears to overlap with a number of other planes. How does the Twilight Forest differ from the domain of the Forest Queen in Thelanis? How does the chill tundra differ from the icy layers of Risia? Shouldn’t the volcanoes of the Broken Lands be in Fernia? Well, there are dryads in the trees of the Endless Weald of Thelanis; sprites hide behind leaves and satyrs dance in the clearings. And in Fernia a blazing volcano could be home to Azer smiths forging wonders in its depths, or a balor who delights in unleashing streams of lava to destroy unwary adventurers. In Fernia, the volcano is a metaphor for industry or destruction. In Lamannia, it’s a metaphor for volcano. It’s an iconic, perfect example; it doesn’t need fey or fiends to make its point, because the volcano itself is the point. The elementals of Lamannia aren’t the anthropomorphic genies found in Fernia and Syrania; they are the pure, living essence of the elements, unburdened by any humanoid desire. Its primary inhabitants are beasts—both beasts that you might encounter in the wilds of Eberron, and massive creatures that can be seen as iconic representations of their type: the idealized incarnation of BEAR or WOLF.

Some scholars assert that Lamannia served as a blueprint for the material plane, that it was in Lamannia that the Progenitors perfected the ideas of storm and stone. They believe that the natural world is infused with the essence of Lamannia—and that druids and others who wield primal magic actually manipulate that Lamannian essence. Certainly, Lamannia is charged with primal power; druids who travel to the Twilight Forest can be overwhelmed by the sheer force of nature that infuses this place.

Lamannia lies close to the world, and it’s one of the easiest planes to reach. Its treasures are wood and stone—natural object imbued with elemental power, herbs and plants whose effects are far stronger than their mortal counterparts. But when you come to Lamannia, you are prey; there are many predators in this realm, and anyone who seeks to despoil the embodiment of nature will be hunted.

Universal Traits

Lamannia is a reflection of the natural world, intensified and exaggerated. The air is pure and clean, the water fresh and clear. Colors are impossibly vivid. It is suffused with life—a realm in which any stone could be an earth elemental, where any tree could be awakened.

Vegetation is nearly always in bloom and beasts are almost always in the peak of health. With the exception of layers such as The Rot, Lamannia reflects the ideal state of the natural world. Here are a few of the consistent traits of the plane.

Extended primal magic. When you cast a spell that draws on primal magic magic that has a duration of 1 minute or longer, the duration is doubled, to a maximum duration of 24 hours. Typically druids and rangers channel primal magic, but it’s up to the DM to decide in the case of each spellcaster. A paladin that follows the Oath of the Ancients might channel primal magic to cast their spells, while an Aundairian ranger could use arcane techniques.

Indomitable beasts.While in Lamannia, beasts and elementals have a +2 bonus to Constitution and advantage on saving throws against being charmed, frightened, or immobilized. When an elemental or beast first arrives in Lamannia from another plane, any magical effect that is charming it or binding it in any way is broken; this can be disastrous for an elemental airship that’s thrown into the plane.

The land provides. When you make a Wisdom (Survival) check to forage for food or shelter in Lamannia, you have advantage on the roll. The vegetation is bountiful and the land sustaining. It may be difficult to forage in the Broken Land, but you’ll at least have advantage to help you with the roll.

Primordial matter. It is difficult to destroy or contaminate the matter of Lamannia. An ongoing purify food and drink effect cleanses any sorts of poisons or contaminants from beyond the plane. In addition, natural materials such as wood and stone are tougher than their mundane counterparts. When trying to destroy such objects, increase the Armor Class suggested in Chapter 8 of the Dungeon Master’s Guide by 3 and double the hit points of the object.

Most layers of Lamannia follow a traditional day-night cycle. However, layers aren’t synchronized and likewise don’t match any time zone in Eberron. There is only one moon in the sky of Lamannia; a Wisdom (Nature) check with a DC of 10 will identify it as Olarune, though it appears larger than in the sky of Eberron and is always full.

Denizens of Lamannia

A common story of Lamannia tells of an explorer who passed through a manifest zone and found herself on a vast mountain peak. Pushing up the mountain, she was exploring a mysterious thicket when she was set upon by rats the size of wolves. She fought the rats, but was on the verge of being overwhelmed… until a giant beak flashed down and snapped up a rat in a single bite. The wide ‘thicket’ wasn’t natural briar; it was the nest of a gargantuan roc.

BEASTS

Lamannia is filled with all manner of beasts. Any natural creature can be found in Lamannia; indeed, some sages assert that the presence of a creature in Lamannia is what defines it as “natural.” These creatures fall into the following categories.

·       Mundane animals are identical to their counterparts in Eberron. Any natural creature can be found in a layer with an appropriate environment. If such beasts are the first things player characters encounter in a visit to Lamannia, they might not realize they’ve traveled to another plane.

·       Dire animals are creatures of remarkable size. Any beast described as ‘giant’ or ‘dire’ can serve in this role. Such creatures are more common than mundane animals; in the Twilight Forest, most owls are giant owls, and they prey on giant weasels and rats. While the existing animals are a place to start, any sort of beast can have a dire counterpart in Lamannia.

·       Megafauna are gargantuan beasts. The roc is an example of Lamannian megafauna; those found in Eberron have been drawn through manifest zones or slipped between planes during coterminous periods. A megafauna serpent could use the statistics of a purple worm. These two creatures provide a rough scale of power for megafauna, but a DM can create a wider range of megafauna; adventurers could be hounded by a pack of gargantuan wolves. While these creatures are similar in form to beasts, they are typically classified as monstrosities. Between their vast size and their connection to the plane, they are immune to most effects that only target beasts, and you can’t charm a roc with a simple animal friendship spell.

·       Totems are beasts that are beyond the tactical scale… creatures that can be measured in miles. The gnome explorer Tasker tells a tale of finding an island in the Endless Ocean that turned out to be an enormous turtle; another of his stories deals with a pack of lycanthropes living in the fur of a massive roaming wolf. Such totems aren’t natural creatures and don’t need to eat or excrete. Their origins and purpose are unsolved mysteries, but most sages believe that they are immortal spirits projected by the plane itself. Some claim that the totems are connected to all creatures cast in their image. Others believe that the totems are sources of primal power, that barbarians, shifters, and druids can receive power and guidance from them. All that is known for sure is that they’re immune to common spells, and to date there are no accounts of anyone successfully harming or communicating with a totem.

For the most part Lamannian beasts are no smarter than their counterparts on Eberron. However, there are animals that possess intelligence similar to that granted by the awaken spell. However, even these beasts generally follow their natural instincts and live wild lives. While in Sharn giant owls may own shops and run for city council, the giant owls of Lamannia are content to hunt the beasts of the Twilight Forest. So it’s possible to find creatures in Lamannia that speak Common or a Primordial dialect, but most have little interest in long conversations. Also, don’t forget that dinosaurs are natural beasts! While a megafauna owl is impressive, the megafauna version of a swordtooth titan (tyrannosaur) is a sight to see!

ELEMENTALS

After beasts, the most common inhabitants of the plane are elementals. Genies, mephits, and anthropomorphic elementals are found on other planes; the inhabitants of Lamannia are pure and raw in form. These include the standard earth, fire, air, and water elementals, but they can come in a wide array of sizes and forms. Adventurers exploring the broken lands could encounter tiny globs of lava crawling across the land… while the leviathans of the Endless Ocean and the elder tempests of the First Storm are forces of apocalyptic power. The elementals of Lamannia are the spirits commonly summoned and bound by the Zil, used to propel lightning rails and airships. While intelligent, these elementals are utterly alien. They have little concept of time, and perceive the world around them though the balance of elements. The sole desire of most elementals is to express their element: to burn, to flow, to fly. Many have an antagonistic attitude towards spirits of other elements, which drives the deadly conflict in the Broken Land. This is another obstacle in dealing with elementals, as they tend to perceive humanoids as globs of water. While it’s possible for a character that speaks Primordial to talk with a Lamannian elemental, it’s usually difficult to establish any sort of common basis for negotiation. Still, there are legends of wandering druids who “befriended earth and air;” anything is possible!

HUMANOIDS

The merfolk came to Eberron from Lamannia, and their ancestors remain in the Endless Ocean. These primordial merfolk are closer to their elemental roots than their counterparts in the seas of Eberron; while they are just as intelligent as their cousins, they are driven by primal instincts. They wield druidic magic, but they don’t craft tools or structures. This serves as a model for other humanoid natives of Lamannia. Any race with a strong primal connection could be tied to Lamannia, but natives of Lamannia are driven by instinct and avoid the trappings of civilization. There could be tabaxi dwelling in the branches of the Twilight Forest, but if so they will feel feral and wild.

During the Silver Crusade, a significant number of lycanthropes made their way or were exiled to Lamannia. While in Lamannia, a lycanthrope cannot spread the curse to anyone other than their offspring. The unnatural impulses of the curse—the drive to prey on innocents, the bloodlust that can cause a victim of lycanthropy to lose control of their actions—are suspended while they remain on the plane. Primal instincts are amplified; Lamannian werewolves remain predators and take joy in the hunt. But they aren’t driven to evil and remain in full control. Packs and communities of lycanthropes are scattered across the layers. Most are descended from lycanthropes who fled Eberron to escape both the templars and the dark power whose corrupting influence led to the crusade; these shapeshifters embrace their primal nature and rarely assume humanoid forms. But there are also packs descended from afflicted templars who chose exile over death, who strive to preserve the beliefs and traditions of their ancestors. There are bitter feuds between these afflicted templars and the “first wolves” and other lycanthropes of Lamannia, but the templars can be valuable allies for planar travelers.

There are also a handful of druids and rangers who have crossed into Lamannia and chosen to remain in this primal paradise. Many run with lycanthrope packs, embracing their feral instincts and spending their days in wild shape. Others act as planar shepherds, seeking to minimize the impact of dangerous manifest zones and to help unwary travelers.

HIGHER POWERS

There are no celestials or fiends in Lamannia. It is a realm of elementals and beasts, and the elementals are alien and untamed. Yet explorers often report a feeling that they are being watched. And there are times when random events seem to be guided by an unseen hand. When outsiders have sought to bring industry to bear in Lamannia, they have been found by megafauna or elder elementals, or struck by especially vicious turns of weather. It’s possible that this is the work of the totems—that totems possess omniscience and great influence over their layers. Or there could be a greater power that watches over the entire plane. There is a single moon in the sky above every layer, the moon Olarune; some scholars assert that this is the consciousness that governs the plane. This is reflected in Eldeen shifter traditions that predate the practices of the Wardens of the Wood; shifter druids suggest that it was Olarune who created the shifters, and that the first lycanthropes were her champions. It is up to the DM to decide if there’s any truth to these tales. 

Layers of Lamannia

Like many of the planes, Lamannia is made up of layers—a connected web of demiplanes, each highlighting a particular aspect of primal nature. The scope of any single layer is up to the DM as suits the needs of the story. One layer in Lamannia might contain a single colossal mountain peak; on the other hand, the Twilight Forest could be as large as Khorvaire itself (or even Eberron!). The edge of a layer could be an impassable physical barrier, or it could wrap around onto itself; sail far enough in the Endless Ocean and you’ll find yourself back where you began.

The layers of Lamannia are connected by physical portals, but these portals often only allow travel in one direction. Any deep pool of water may connect a layer to the Endless Ocean; but while you can get to the Ocean by diving into a pond in the Twilight Forest, but there’s no gate back to the Forest on the other side. The Endless Ocean contains small islands; people who explore these islands will find they have moved to a new layer.  

The Twilight Forest

The sky is hidden by the dense canopy of this vast rainforest, leaving the forest floor in an endless twilight. The trees are over a hundred feet in height—impressive, certainly, but not as tall as the greatpines of the Towering Wood in the Eldeen Reches. But as people explore the Twilight Forest, they will come upon strange ridges and walls of wood. Some come together, forming twisted wooden canyons. Following these, explorers will find that they are the roots of truly colossal trees, vast titans wider and taller than the towers of Sharn. The Twilight Forest as mortals experience it lies in the shadow of the grander canopy that rises far above it, and these mighty trees are home to megafauna and mightier beings.

The Twilight Forest is wild and untamed. However, explorers can find wide tracks through the lower forest. Survival experts may recognize that these aren’t tracks formed by humanoid hands; rather, they are the paths of totems, who have crushed the lesser forest beneath their colossal feet. The Forest is filled with beasts; mundane and dire creatures in the lower forests, megafauna in the grand canopy above it, and the occasional passage of totems. There are multiple communities of lycanthropes scattered throughout the lower forest. A clan of wererats have carved out a warren in the roots of a colossal tree, while a pack of wild wereboars feuds with werewolves descended from exiled templars. An ancient elf druid named Haral, who spends most of her time in the form of an owl, does her best to maintain order; she is assisted in this by a megafauna owl she calls Ruark. However, the Twilight Forest is larger than the Eldeen Reaches; these are just a few examples of the inhabitants of the forest.

Another noteworthy area is the Graveyard. Of all of the layers, the Twilight Forest is closest to Eberron. There are many manifest zones between the Twilight Forest and the material plane, and when the planes are coterminous it’s possible for people—or objects—to pass through. The region known as the Graveyard contains a number of manifest zones that are tied to the oceans of Eberron, and to the air above them—and over the course of thousands of years, they have caught a number of ships in their net. The focal point of these manifest zones are dozens of feet above the ground. First of all, this means that it’s not easy for stranded travelers to find their way back; second, this means that ships fall when they pass through, causing damage and often killing many of the travelers. So the Graveyard contains the wrecks of ships from many eras—an ancient Aereni galleon, a Lhazaar vessel, a recently lost Lyrandar airship. This provides an opportunity to introduce outside influences to the Twilight Forest, or to have forgotten treasures hidden in Lamannia. A Dhakaani vessel holds a priceless and powerful artifact long sought by all of the Heirs of Dhakaan… but the vessel was infected by spawn of the Daelkyr, and these have carved out a foul warren beneath the ship.

Elementals don’t have an especially strong presence in the Twilight Forest, but they are still present throughout it. A gust of wind, a pool of water, a rolling stone—in Lamannia, any of these things could be alive.

The Broken Land

The Broken Land is a volcanically active region filled with high mountains and lava plains. There are constant eruptions, and the layer is home to many fire and earth elementals, who engage in an ongoing environmental conflict. Fire elementals flow out with the lava as volcanoes erupt; earth elementals work to contain the eruptions and to rebuild the shattered peaks, only to have them erupt again. Few beasts manage to thrive in this layer, but there are some tough dinosaurs who’ve clawed out a niche. While this region has fewer connections to Eberron than the Twilight Forest, it’s also possible to find shipwrecks or remnants of other travelers here; it’s certainly a harsh and deadly landscape for adventurers who are stranded here or those who must recover a lost relic from this place.

The Endless Ocean

This layer reflects the majesty of the ocean depths. It is home to a vast array of fish and aquatic beasts, along with merfolk tribes and a wide range of water elementals… from simple sentient currents and weirds all the way to massive leviathans. Megafauna battles are common, and this is the source of the tale of the island that turned out to be a totem turtle. True islands are few and far between, and most are actually portals to other layers of Lamannia. There are many manifest zones spread across the Endless Ocean, almost all of which connect to the ocean depths of Eberron.

The First Storm

A layer of plains and low hills, this region is permanently lashed by hurricane winds and endless storms. Beasts huddle in caves and the limited shelter, while all manner of elementals clash in the storm-lashed plains. A massive elder tempest drives the heart of the storm; during the Sundering of Sarlona, an apocalyptic cult in Ohr Kaluun sought to bring this elemental to Eberron, believing it would destroy the world.

The Rot

Decay is part of nature, and this is reflected in the Rot. This relatively small layer is swamplike, filled with fallen, rotting trees. There are corpses of megafauna beasts scattered around the layer, and giant insects and other massive scavengers prey on their remains. There’s a community of wererats thriving in the Rot, and there could be a small outpost of the Children of Winter who found there way here. While this is a symbol of death and decay, it is entirely natural; the undead have no place here. It’s possible a necromancer could arrive here, hoping to animate the massive corpses; however, this would violate the theme of the plane, and if there is any higher power at work in Lamannia it would direct forces to counter this. While most layers of Lamannia are free from disease, disease is itself part of nature; a manifest zone tied to the Rot could spread plagues into the surrounding region.

Titan’s Folly

Lamannia is filled with precious natural resources; it’s hardly surprising that an advanced civilization would try to harvest them. During the Age of Giants, the Cul’sir Dominion set up a research station and mining camp in a layer of Lamannia. After a decade struggling against megafauna attacks and elemental-enhanced weather, the outpost was finally overwhelmed and abandoned. It is a testament to the arcane engineering of the giants that anything remains of this structure… although it may be that it remains because the ruin itself has become a symbol of nature-reclaiming-civilization, becoming the theme of the layer. Vines and moss cover shattered walls, and the bones of giants are scattered throughout the remnants of this garrison. Valuable and powerful treasures may well be hidden in the Folly, but explorers will have to contend with aggressive elementals, dangerous beasts, and traps left by the long-dead giants themselves.

Other Layers

These are just a handful of the many layers of Lamannia. In developing a layer, think of a distinctive natural feature—a canyon; a desert; a lone mountain—and build the layer around it. What creatures would be found there? Have any outsiders taken up residence? Is there an unusual role for elementals? How does it connect to other layers, or to Eberron?

Manifestations of Lamanna

There are many ways for Lamannia to influence an adventure even if the player characters never leave the material plane.

MANIFEST ZONES

Lamannia is a prolific source of manifest zones. Quite often manifest zones are found at the heart of a region that resembles the connected layer: zones tied to the Endless Ocean are found underwater, while manifest zones tied to the Twilight Forest can be found in the Towering Woods, the King’s Forest, and other vast woodlands. However, it’s also possible to find Lamannian zones in areas with no obvious connection to the layer—such as the aquatic zones tied to the Twilight Forest that produce the Graveyard. Here’s a few of the common effects of Lamannian manifest zones.

Elemental Power. Manifest zones tied to Lamannia may have strong elemental resonance. When spells that summon elementals are cast in such a region, they’re treated as if they were cast at a level one higher than the spell slot that was expended. There are a number of these zones in Zilargo, and House Cannith and the Twelve are eager to find unclaimed zones. However, there are risks associated with them. Elementals may spontaneously manifest in such places; sometimes they linger for a long time (a pool tied to Lamannia could be inhabited by water weirds), but often they only linger for a few hours and then dissipate. Passing through such a zone can also impart a surge of power to an existing elemental; this can potentially allow a bound elemental to break free from its bonds.

Gateways. A manifest zone can serve as a direct portal between Lamannia and Eberron. Typical such portals only open under certain circumstances—often when the planes are coterminous, but the requirements could be even more restricted (for example, when the planes are coterminous and Olarune is full). Such gateways can allow adventurers to travel to Lamannia, but they can also be the source of hostile elementals or deadly megafauna. Rising From The Last War suggests the idea that what appears to be a ring of standing stones could be a group of slumbering earth elementals stranded in such a gateway.

Growth. A common effect of a Lamannian manifest zone is to enhance the growth of plants or beasts in the region around it. This is less about fertility (which is commonly associated with Irian) and more about the size and health of the beast. Animals are often drawn to such zones. House Vadalis is always searching for manifest zones with this trait, and many Vadalis enclaves are built in these zones.

Purity. Vegetation and water in such a zone are healthy and pure, as if constantly affected by purify food and drink. Such zones can be a valuable resource for small communities. Such regions may also manifest the ‘primordial matter’ described earlier; stone and wood may be unusually tough. The prison of Dreadhold is built in such a manifest zone; not only is the stone of the region denser than usual, it cannot be penetrated by scrying or teleportation.

Resistance. While Lamannian manifest zones can be useful tools for communities or dragonmarked houses, some zones actively resist and repel civilization. As noted in Rising From The Last War, weather, vegetation, and a rapid rate of decay can combine to quickly destroy structures built in the zone and overgrow the ruins.

These effects aren’t mutually exclusive; a manifest zone could have both the growth and resistance traits, and also become a gateway under specific circumstances. Zones can also have very specific effects; notably, the elemental power trait is often tied to a specific element. The weird-haunted pool enhances water elementals, but doesn’t help if you’re trying to summon fire elementals.

COTERMINOUS AND REMOTE

Lamannia has a swift planar cycle. It is reliably coterminous for a week around around the summer solstice, and remote for a week during the winter solstice; it can also become coterminous at other times, often related to the lunar cycle of Olarune.

While Lamannia is coterminous, the effects of Lamannian manifest zones are enhanced. In regions of unspoiled nature—such as the Eldeen Reaches, the wilds of Q’barra—fertility of both plants and animals is enhanced, and beasts conceived in these periods are often exceptionally strong and healthy. Primal spells that affect beasts or elementals are extended; if a spell has a duration of 1 minute or longer, the duration is doubled, to a maximum duration of 24 hours.

While Lamannia is remote, fertility rates drop and beasts born in these periods are often weak or sickly. Beast are often uneasy, and the duration of any primal spell that affect beasts or elementals is cut in half, to a minimum duration of one round.

LAMANNIAN VISITORS

The inhabitants of Lamannia rarely choose to travel to Eberron. Those few civilized creatures—lycanthropes, merfolk—are content in their primal realm and generally only cross over by accident. However, accidental visitors can be a source of trouble or adventure. A powerful elemental or a megafauna beast can pose a deadly threat to a region. Megafauna creatures can become local legends; imagine a Vadalis expedition seeking a legendary megafauna ape (which, if captured, might break free while on exhibition and climb the towers of Sharn!). There’s no records of a totem beast ever passing through to Eberron, and it’s possible that they cannot manifest beyond Lamannia.

LAMANNIAN TREASURES

Lamannia vegetation is prized by alchemists. Herbs and roots from Lamannia can produce exceptionally strong potions, and many types of Lamannian vegetation have innate magical effects; there are bushes in the Twilight Forest that naturally produce goodberries. Lamannian lumber likewise can have unusual traits, mirroring the densewood and bronzewood found in Aerenal. Lamannian wood and stone can serve as powerful focuses for primal magic, for creating figurines of wondrous power, or for tools designed to summon or bind elementals.

Lamannian Stories

Lamannia is a source of elementals and dire beasts. It is wild and untamed, strengthening primal magic and providing a haven to lycanthropes. It resists any intrusion by civilization. Here’s a few ideas for working it into your story.

·       A Savage Land.  When a party of adventurers unknowingly pass through a gateway, they must find a way to survive in this wild realm. This could be as simple as finding another manifest zone to take them home… or it could require them to survive in Lamannia for months while waiting for the planes to become coterminous. Another option is for the group to be stranded when their airship passes through a manifest zone and the elemental breaks free; in this case, the adventurers must decide whether to protect the other survivors, and deal with conflicts that arise among them.

·       Megafauna Island. Due to close ties to Lamannia, there’s an island that is home to an unusual array of megafauna beasts. Adventurers could stumble onto this on their own, or they could be hired by an heir of House Vadalis who wants to investigate the rumors without drawing the attention of rivals in the house.

·       The Great Beast. A Lamannian zone could realize a megafauna predator into the region, spreading terror among the locals. Must this creature be destroyed? Can it be returned through the zone, or is it even hostile?

·       Lycanthropes. Lamannia suppresses the negative effects of the curse of lycanthropy. Adventurers could stumble upon a village of lycanthropes and jump to the wrong conclusion, not knowing that the influence of the local manifest zone allows them to control the curse. Alternatively, a group of benevolent lycanthropes could return to Eberron only to fall prey to the predatory impulses of the curse: can the adventurers capture these lycanthropes alive and help them return to the Twilight Forest?

·       Relic Hunt. The trail of a powerful artifact leads to Lamannia. It might have been on a ship lost in the Graveyard, or it could be that an artificer needs Lamannian resources to complete an eldritch machine. Can the adventurers win this deadly race?

·       At War With Nature. An Ashbound druid manages to establish a new Lamannian manifest zone in a major city, such as Fairhaven or Sharn. The resistance effect is causing the city to crumble, releasing elementals and wild vegetation. Can the adventurers find a way to remove the manifest zone? Alternately, House Cannith could be determined to create a bridge that allows them to harvest Lamannian resources… will they succeed, or will their efforts backfire dramatically?

·       Unusual Flavor. The impact of a manifest zone can be felt just as part of the backdrop of a scenario. The village of Clearwater is in a hostile region, but it survives because of the small lake that provides fresh water and a seemingly inexhaustible supply of fish. In a small Eldeen village, the locals live in harmony with a breed of giant rabbits unknown elsewhere in Khorvaire. A tribe of shifters lives in the branches of the three massive trees that grow in a Lamannian manifest zone.

If you have questions or stories about what you’ve done with Lamannia, post them below!

Dragonmarks: Lightning Round 3/19

I’m just back from the JoCo Cruise and about to head off to PAX East, and I haven’t had an opportunity to write the next installment of the Dark Six series. Instead, I’m going to do a quick Q&A with questions submitted by my awesome Patreon supporters. These questions fall into two categories: some are questions that have canon answers, while others are essentially asking for speculation. What other failed secessions happened during the Last War, for example; none are mentioned in canon sources that I’m aware of, so any answers I give are me telling you what I might do in MY campaign. I’m marking these answers NC. 

The current political map of Khorvaire is defined largely by successful secessions – Valenar, the Mror Holds, and the Eldeen Reaches, to name a few. What kinds of *failed* secessions happened during the Last War?

(NC) One of my main rules of worldbuilding is this: In adding a detail to the lore, can I think of three ways that it could play a meaningful role in a story? I’ve never made a comprehensive list of all the rulers of Galifar, because I’ve never been in a situation where someone needed to know who was king in 464 YK; if it came up randomly at my table, I’d just make up a name and make a note of it. I bring this up for two reasons. First of all, you’ve generally heard about the winners because they HAVE defined the present map; and second, that means in describing failed secessions, I’m only interested in coming up with ideas that COULD play an interesting role in a story… whether that’s driving adventure, creating a colorful NPC or villain, or being tied to a character’s backstory.

With that in mind, here’s one idea.

Faldren’s Folly. The drive to rid Breland of the monarchy didn’t begin with Ruken ir’Clarn. In 961 YK, King Boranex of Breland committed suicide after the deaths of his two eldest sons. While Prince Boranel had proven himself in war, he was seen as an adventurer and dilettante. Commander Rand Faldren sought to rally support within the Brelish army for an overthrow of the monarchy, placing power in the hands of the parliament. He stopped short of attempting a coup, and stood down when the majority of parliament condemned the idea. However, soon thereafter he seized control of Orcbone, the fortress by the Graywall Mountains. He proclaimed the fortress to be the heart of “New Wroat,” reclaiming the pre-Galifar name of the nation, and called on those who sought freedom to join him, following the model of Q’barra. Breland dispatched a small force to retake Orcbone, which failed; given that the region was strategically unimportant and there were pressing concerns on other fronts, Boranel chose to pull soldiers back rather than to devote a major force to bring down Faldren; essentially, he put it on Faldren to defend his new settlers. This proved a disaster. As numbers grew, Faldren encouraged settlers to establish themselves in the foundation of an old goblin city… the city we now know as Graywall. These settlers were prepared for minotaur raiders, and repelled a few attacks. But they weren’t prepared for the skullcrusher ogres and war trolls that came later—the first appearance of the elite forces of Sora Maenya. The force drove deeper into New Wroat and laid waste to Orcbone. Rand Faldren was dismembered and his head was never found; some believe Sora Maenya still has it.

Boranel responded swiftly to the destruction. Orcbone was reclaimed and fortified, and many settlers were safely returned east. While some were grateful, others felt that Faldren was a martyr to the principles of a democratic Breland—that he was driven to his fate by the outdated monarchy, and that Boranel left the settlers to die because they challenged his authority. Today any western cells of the Swords of Liberty call Faldren a hero, and demand that stronger action be taken against the creatures of Droaam.

As an idea, this is tied to existing principles—the rise of Droaam and the ongoing uncertainty about the fate of the Brelish Monarchy. It serves as a rallying point for the Swords of Liberty. And a PC could have lost family in Faldren’s Folly… perhaps still yearning for vengeance against Sora Maenya or the troll commander who slaughtered their parents.

In each country, what power group would be most likely to react to a planar invasion ? Assuming it’s more covert than just a giant portal opening and a massive horde coming through. The invasion starting under the radar but growing as major threat as time progresses.

First and foremost: Who should deal with a covert planar invasion? The player characters. Eberron has always been designed as a world where there aren’t tons of powerful benevolent forces and where the ones that do exist are often limited in some way. So I’m going to continue to talk about the forces that might come into play, but in an ideal story, these forces WOULDN’T just solve the problem on their own. Perhaps they’re crippled by infighting or corruption. Perhaps they’ve been infiltrated and compromised by the invading forces. Essentially, even if the Church of the Silver Flame is ultimately the force that would fight such a thing, in my campaign the question would always be How do the player characters play a central role in that defense? 

With that said… most of the modern nations don’t have “Planar Invasion” agencies. On the one hand this is because they’re been focused on carrying out an actual war against very concrete, mundane enemies: Karrnath has been too busy fighting Thrane to devote much of their budget to the Xoriat Defense Initiative. However, part of the reason for this is that there’s a very well established and respected military force that is dedicated to protecting people of all nations from exactly this sort of threat: The Church of the Silver Flame. People often look at the Church of the Silver Flame through the lens of religion in our world. In OUR history, militant religions have often used that military force to impose their beliefs on others. But that’s never been the purpose of the templars. Instead, they are a volunteer army dedicated to defending ALL innocents—regardless of their nation or their beliefs—from the very real supernatural threats that exist in Eberron. At any time there could be a planar incursion, a horde of aberrations bursting out of Khyber, an overlord unleashed, or—just as a random example—a deadly surge in lycanthropy. And when that last one happened, who came to the defense of the people of Aundair? The Church of the Silver Flame.

I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again: The Church of the Silver Flame has more in common with the Jedi and the Men in Black than with any religion in our world. The Silver Flame isn’t a traditional god; it is a force that holds demons at bay and that empowers champions who fight to defend the innocent from supernatural threats. Breland doesn’t need a Planer Defense Initiative because they know that IF such a threat arises, templars and exorcists from across the Five Nations will stand against it, and they DO specialize in dealing with this sort of thing. Again, when the Purge happened, Galifar as a whole said “Not our problem;” It was the Silver Flame that took action. Having said this: The Lycanthropic Purge shows that the best-intentioned plans can have terrible consequences. The Pure Flame sees the faith as a weapon to punish the wicked as opposed to a shield to protect the innocent. The rise of the theocracy has created opportunities for those who pursue rank in the church because they seek power as opposed to being devoted to defending the innocent. Part of the point of Eberron is that few things are entirely good or evil. But at its heart, defending the innocent from planar incursions is exactly the job of the Church of the Silver Flame.

The Gatekeepers are next in line as a force specifically trained and dedicated to protecting Eberron from planar incursions. However, they are a small force and lack the widespread recognition of the Silver Flame. If an exorcist of the Silver Flame shows up, presents their holy symbol and says “There’s a planar breach, I need you to get out of the way” many people would respond to their authority; whereas if someone says “I’m a Gatekeeper, I need your help” most people in Sharn will say “A what now?” The same holds true for the Shadow Watchers of the Kalashtar; while primarily dedicated to fighting the Dreaming Dark, they might uncover other planar agendas… but they lack resources or influence.

Beyond this, however, a covert threat is a covert threat. How different is this threat from one posed by mundane terrorists or spies? As such, you could get the King’s Citadel (note that the Blackened Book of Sharn and the King’s Wands are trained to deal with mystical threats), the Royal Eyes of Aundair, or the Trust of Zilargo engaging with such a threat.

Speaking of planar incursions, we know of the Daelkyr Invasion and the lycanthrope and shifter Lamannia exodus during the Purge, and feyspires being stuck in Eberron, are there any other historical en masse planar jumps either to Eberron from other planes and natives or a time when a significant group of Eberron natives went elsewhere in the cosmos?

(NC) This is back to noncanon speculation. The short answer? Yes, absolutely. The longer answer will have to wait, because it requires me to actually sit down and make some up. Just for a start, I’ll point you to my article on Mabar; there’s certainly regions that have been pulled into Mabar in the past.

There are no Daanvi manifest zones in any canon material. What would one be like, do you think?

(NC) Manifest zones channel some aspect of the plane. Daanvi is more subtle than some of the planes; per the 3.5 ECS, there are no effects when Daanvi is coterminous. Personally, I think it’s that there’s no physically obvious effects when Daanvi is coterminous, but that’s a subject for another time. The basic issue is the imposition of law and order. Here’s just a few ways I could imagine this manifesting.

  • Modrons manifest in the region, designing and maintaining a system of pendulums or some other monument to stability and order.
  • The region is permanently under the influence of a zone of truth.
  • Magic that seems inherently “lawful” could be cast at a higher spell slot in the region, with disadvantage to save versus its effects; magic that is inherently chaotic could have its effect minimized, and saves could have advantage.
  • The region could subtly push people to come together in groups, to embrace rules and laws or surrender freedoms. On some level, one could make a case that Korranberg could be in a manifest zone to Daanvi, which drove the original foundation of the Trust and enhanced people’s willingness to grant such brought authority to the institution.
  • Natural phenomena could manifest in ways that are unnaturally symmetrical or uniform.

Kalashtar: do you see most of them living in kalahtar communities, or more like a family secret that’s passed down through the generations, and you may or may not meet another kalashtar in your lifetime? And would an orphaned kalashtar simply believe themselves to be human, though with strange/unexplainable experiences?

Per canon, there’s a few factors here.

  • Kalashtar are described as mostly living in kalashtar communities.
  • Kalashtar lineage is very clear cut. If a human and kalashtar have a child, there’s a 50/50 chance of that child being human or kalashtar, and it’s 100% one or the other; either it inherits the bond and is kalashtar or it’s not and is entirely human. So it’s not like it lingers in the bloodline as a latent trait that can manifest in the child of two human parents.
  • By canon, kalashtar are close to human—in 3.5 they don’t have a penalty when disguising themselves as human—but they still HAVE to disguise themselves in order to pass as human. Kalashtar are kalashtar. Their body language, their features, the eyes-that-can-glow-when-they’re-emotional… if they aren’t hiding it, they’re just as distinctive as, say, an elf. Because they are rarer than elves, there are many people who see them and don’t know exactly what they are; but if they aren’t trying to hide it, it’s clear that they aren’t entirely human.
  • It is established in canon that an orphan kalashtar doesn’t inherently gain an understanding of what it means to be a kalashtar or of the true nature of their kalashtar spirit. So you can have a kalashtar orphan who doesn’t KNOW what they are… but they will CERTAINLY know that they are different from the humans around them. On the other hand, in a world with sorcerers and aberrant dragonmarks they may not assume “I am a different species,” but they will know they are different.

That’s all by canon. As with all things in Eberron, you can always do what makes a good story. Do you want to play the first kalashtar somehow born to two human parents? Then do it (with your DM’s permission, of course). But that’s definitely not normal.

Are the Kalashtar’s pale skin and black hair the general look for people from Adar? The Inspired are also fairly pale with (purple-blue?) dark hair, so is that region of Sarlona just known for pale people?  Or is there a huge spread, dark skin, pale skin, in between, dark hair, fair hair, curly hair, straight hair, so that noticing a Kalashtar or Inspired from far away isn’t as cut and dry (ignoring that Disguise exists and they still look weird and have glowy eyes)?

Sarlona is home to a diverse range of ethnicities based on its highly divergent environments—the Tashana Tundra, the deserts of Syrkarn, the Corvaguran rain forests, the mountains of Adar. The Inspired were drawn from across Sarlona, appearing in ALL of the nations involved in the Sundering, so there should absolutely be a full spectrum; now you call it out, I’m disappointed that we haven’t seen any dark skinned Inspired in art and I’d like to see that change.

The same is true of the kalashtar. Despite the limited depictions in art, this is from the EPG:

The monastery where the sixty-seven humans became kalashtar was a place of refuge, so the humans who lived there were diverse. Kalashtar have thus retained a diversity of appearance, possessing the same variety of skin, hair, and eye colors found among humans. They are usually slimmer and taller than humans, although short or stocky kalashtar exist.

I also feel that while the quori bond doesn’t remain latent in the human side of the gene pool — a child either has it or they don’t — a kalashtar inherits physical traits from both its parents, So you could have three kalashtar who share the same quori spirit but are physically distinct from one another.

If you imagine Droaam has an Ithilid population beyond it’s mayor. What attempts could be made to reconcile their brain-eating needs the same way troll-flesh is used to reconcile the carnivorous population’s needs?

By canon, Droaam doesn’t have a significant Illithid population. Xorchyllic is called out as being a very unusual exception, found imprisoned below Graywall and working with the Daughters of Sora Kell for reasons of its own. In general I see mind flayers as being far more alien than most of the creatures of Droaam; while I have nothing against the idea of having a few more in the mix, in my campaign their motives would be VERY different from any other warlords.

So first of all, you’re only feeding one or maybe a few mind flayers, not an entire army of carnivorous creatures. So I don’t see an industry around it. My assumption is that Xorchyllic acts as judge, jury, and executioner in Graywall, and execution involves it eating your brain. If it’s especially hungry, then guess what, jaywalking just became a capital offense…

To what extent does Rekkenmark train officers, as opposed to elite troops or even standard troops. Is it primarily about tactics or skill? In 4e terms, is it training warlords, or fighters, or both?

Here’s a few quotes from Five Nations. 

  • After the Kingdom of Galifar was established, military officers from across the land trained at the Rekkenmark Academy.
  • What if she washed out of the academy? A third of first-year officers don’t come back to Rekkenmark for the second year.

  • The vast majority of warlords and officers in the various Karrnathi armies graduated with honors from the Rekkenmark Academy and earned a place in the Order of Rekkenmark.

So: Rekkenmark ACADEMY trains officers. That could be 4E warlords; in 5E battle master fighters and Purple Dragon Knights could definitely be part of the Order of Rekkenmark.

The critical point here, though, is that Rekkenmark isn’t JUST an academy; it’s a city. And that city is also a central garrison and training center for the general Karrnathi military. So any sort of fighter might have “Trained at Rekkenmark.” The question is if you graduated from the Academy and if you’re part of the Order (which would be an interpretation of the “Military Rank” benefit of the Soldier background.)

That’s all for now! If you’re going to be at PAX East, I’ll be at the Twogether Studios/Table Titans booth. And if you haven’t seen it already, check out my recent release The Morgrave Miscellany on the DM’s Guild! And while you’re there, take a look at Rime or Reasonthe latest installment in the Across Eberron adventure path!

Lightning Round Q&A: Manifest Zones and Magic

Hello, world!

I’ve been off the grid for a month: dealing both with a host of mundane challenges and working on Morgrave’s Miscellany, which will be released in November. This has kept me from posting much here. I will be back online next month, but for now I wanted to do a quick lightning round with some questions from my Patreon supporters.

MANIFEST ZONES

Manifest zones are often portrayed as this Venn diagram overlap between Eberron and another dimension/world, with the overlap recurring cyclically like the orbits of planetary bodies. Assuming that’s an accurate depiction of what you intended them to be… are manifest zones subject to continental drift, ocean levels, etc.?

This isn’t an entirely accurate description; it’s combining two separate ideas.

Manifest Zones are permanent locations: places where the influence of another plane can be felt in Eberron. This isn’t cyclical; it is ongoing and reliable. Sharn is built on a manifest zone that enhances spells tied to levitation and flight, and this supports the great towers and enables skycoaches; if that connection were to fade or be severed, the towers could collapse. Likewise, Dreadhold is built on a manifest zone, and this is tied into its security. Manifest zones are reliable. They are (super)natural resources, like rivers and veins of precious metal; thus many of the great cities and institutions are built to take advantage of them. Generally speaking we haven’t suggested that manifest zones are subject to effects such as tides or rising ocean levels. I think that the location of the manifest zone is static; if the land beneath it drifts or rises or lowers, the zone will remain constant. We’ve presented manifest zones that are small points high in the air or underwater, so they aren’t tied to soil.

Coterminous and remote planes are the result of the constant shifting of planar influence on the world. This is something that occurs cyclically, like the orbit of planetary bodies. When a plane is coterminous, it strongly influences Eberron, causing broad effects not unlike what a manifest zones can produce—but universally across the world. When its remote, the influence of that plane is far weaker.

You could say that while a plane is coterminous, the effects of a manifest zone are increased. So for example: you might say that tieflings may be born when a child is conceived in a manifest zone during a coterminous period. But that;s a double whammy, and critically the effects of a manifest zone continue even while the plane is remote.

The 4e ECG says that some manifest zones are permanent, and others may appear where no one was before. 

It’s entirely reasonable to say that a manifest zone can appear unexpectedly or that an existing manifest zone could suddenly fade. My point is simply that this isn’t how manifest zones USUALLY work. The ebb and flow of planar power—remote to coterminous—is a part of the setting, but it is a separate thing from the functioning of manifest zones, and that’s what I wanted to clarify. But there’s nothing wrong with having a new manifest zone appear.

Are there zones that respond to stimulus at a lower level of magic than eldritch machine?

We often say that manifest zones are a requirement for creating eldritch machines or for performing powerful magical rituals. But it’s not that the zone responds to the machine; it’s that the machine harnesses the existing power of the zone. Most manifest zones have perceivable effects at all times, just not as dramatic as the powers of an eldritch machine.

When I have more time, I’d certainly like to give more examples of manifest zones and the sorts of effects they can produce.

Is there any specific listed canon method to shut off a manifest zone?

In canon? No. Manifest zones also aren’t uniform in size, shape, or power, so I doubt that there’s a single method that would apply to all manifest zones; I’d also expect the method using to have to relate to the plane involved.

With that said, the idea that it can be done has certainly been presented. My novel The Son of Khyber involves an attempt to destroy Sharn using a Cannith weapon that would disrupt the manifest zone. Again, this isn’t canon (Eberron novels are suggestion, not concrete fact); and it is a weapon that critically had to be used in a very specific location and required a massive amount of arcane power. So when it has come up, it’s presented as a difficult challenge. But yes, it’s certainly POSSIBLE.

Could a tinkering arcanist build a music box that opens a foot-sized manifest zone? 

Sure. Anything is possible if it’s a story you want to involve. But something that CREATES a manifest zone certainly isn’t a trivial effect. It’s not something that people casually do. Again, manifest zones are things that must be found and harnessed; they aren’t created (if they could be easily created, we’d have more cities like Sharn). But if you WANT to say that this particular NPC has made some sort of bizarre breakthrough and created an artifact that produces a tiny manifest zone, why not?

Do the deathless need the manifest zone of Irian to stay “alive,” or just need it for their creation?

Deathless require an ongoing supply of positive energy to sustain their existence. There’s two primary sources of this: manifest zones to Irian, and the devotion of loyal followers. So Shae Mordai is located on a powerful Irian manifest zone, and that means that even if all the living elves were wiped out, the Court could survive. But a deathless who spends an extended amount of time outside manifest zone needs to have a pool of positive energy to draw on, which means devoted followers. The deathless counsellor in Stormreach is sustained by the devotion of the local Aereni community, and if they all left, she’d have to leave too.

This was the fundamental divide between the Line of Vol and the Undying Court. Positively charged undead can’t take the power they need to survive; it has to be freely given. Negatively charged undead consume the lifeforce they need; even if every living elf died, the vampire or lich will continue. So Vol asserts that Mabaran undeath is the only way to ensure the survival of the finest souls; the Undying Court asserts that all Mabaran undead consume the ambient lifeforce of the world, and that creating them is unethical and ultimately a threat to all life.

MAGIC IN THE WORLD

How do you imagine ID systems in Khorvaire? Who checks them, how are they authenticated?

We’ve generally suggested that Eberron is at a rough level equivalent to late 19th century earth, NOT 20th century. When you get into magical wards you can have more advanced forms of identification. But when it comes to ID papers, it’s NOT supposed to be on par with our modern day systems of databases, biometrics, or anything like that.

House Sivis fills the role of the notary in Eberron. Originally, arcane mark was one of the powers of the Mark of Scribing. The idea is simple: each Sivis heir can produce a unique arcane mark—a sort of mystical signature. A Sivis heir goes through training and testing to become a notary, and their mark is on record in the house. Like a modern notary, a Sivis notary would make a record of all documents they notarize and this would be held by the house. So: ID papers would be notarized by a Sivis scribe, who would review all materials before placing their mark. An arcane mark is difficult (though not impossible) to forge. A border guard is primarily just going to look at your ID papers and say “This appears to be you, and you’ve got a valid Sivis mark.” IF there was some reason to question things, the papers could be confiscated and referred to a Sivis enclave, who could use a speaking stone to check with the primary house records to confirm that ht papers were legitimately notarized. But that’s a very big step. Generally it’s a question of if you have a valid Sivis arcane mark.

Fifth Edition doesn’t have arcane mark, so instead we added in the scribe’s pen as a dragonmark focus item that allows a Sivis heir to inscribe mystical symbols. This would still work the same way: a Sivis heir would have to go through a process to become a notary, their personal mark is recorded, and records are made of every document they notarize.

So getting all the way to the point: 95% of the time, verification will essentially be on a level of what could be done in the 19th century: a cursory check for obvious signs of forgery, confirming that the material in the document is accurate (IE, it says you’re a dwarf but you’re clearly an elf), and that it has a Sivis mark. Forgery is thus entirely possible; the challenge is forging the arcane mark, because that’s a glowing magical symbol and you’d have to have some sort of magical tool to pull it off.

How do mundane craftsmen and martial characters stay relevant in an increasingly magical world like the Five Nations? I feel like the Houses and magewrights crowd out trade and spellcasting ability seems borderline required going forward for spies and fighters alike.

Magewrights don’t crowd out trade; magewrights are the future of trade. It’s essentially saying “Does a washing machine drive people who are washing by hand out of business?” Sure, so that launderer probably wants to invest in a washing machine. I still have a large article half-written that talks about the general concept of what it means to be a magewright. Essentially, as a blacksmith your life is simply easier if you can cast mending and magecraft (which I see as a skill-specific version of guidance). Now, those two cantrips on their own aren’t that much of a job; it’s the combination of those cantrips and mundane skill that make a good blacksmith. So I’m saying that in Eberron, most successful craftsmen will KNOW a cantrip or two.

With that said, you can also say “Why didn’t the microwave drive chefs who use longer cooking techniques out of business?” Prestidigitation allows you to heat food instantly, but you could certainly say that food snobs think that food produced through mundane means is BETTER.

The critical point here is that Eberron in 998 YK is based on the idea that civilization is evolving. The wandslinger is something new, a reflection of improved techniques developed during the Last War and now spreading out to the civilian population. Magic isn’t supposed to be a static force that’s remained unchanging for centuries; we are at a moment in time where people can ask “Can you really be a good spy without knowing magic?”

As I said, I’ll certainly write more about this in the future.

GENERAL

You’ve said that nothing in Eberron is born evil. Does that include aberrations created by the daelkyr, like the dolgrim, dolgaunts, and dolgrue?

My short form is that entirely natural creatures aren’t bound to an alignment; their alignment will be shaped by their culture and experiences. UNnatural creatures can be either forced into a particular alignment (like celestials, fiends, and lycanthropes) or strongly driven in a particular direction (like a vampire, who is driven towards evil by their connection to Mabar)…though you can have good vampires and even fallen celestials.

First of all, I don’t think you can make a single canon ruling on all aberrations. Beyond that, we have given examples of beholders and illithids who are at least neutral in Eberron. I think I see it as the equivalent of the vampire. A dolgrim or illithid is pushed in a particular direction. It’s gone alien brain chemistry. Its mind literally doesn’t work the way the human or dwarf brain does. However, I think that MANY aberrations have the ability to ultimately follow a unique path—that they aren’t absolutely locked into a particular form of behavior.

So let’s imagine a baby dolgrim raised by peaceful goblin farmers. I don’t think it would be just like any other normal goblin child, because IT’S NOT NORMAL. It’s brain was physically shaped in a particular direction by an alien geneticist. It’s tied to Xoriat and likely has vivid visions and possibly hallucinations pushing it in a particular way. And it has two unique (and yet merged) consciousnesses. So it wouldn’t just present as any old goblin that happens to have two mouths. But I don’t think it would necessarily be EVIL; it could find a unique path.

I know that werewolves transform when any moon is full, but do the twelve moons effect them differently in any noticeable way?

Not that we’ve said in canon so far, but I think it’s an excellent idea to explore and develop. In the past we’ve suggested that Olarune is the PRIMARY moon that influences lycanthropes. But if I was exploring the idea in more depth, I’d love to present ways in which different moons influence lycanthropes, suggesting that each moon pushes a particular time of emotion or behavior.

If their ships were made airtight, what’s to prevent House Lyrandar from flying into space? What would they find when they got there?

That depends. How are you viewing space? Are we using spelljammer concepts or modern science? Could a fire elemental exist in a vacuum, or would it be extinguished? Are we going to consider the stresses of re-entry that a rocket actually deals with and the sort of speed and forced required to break escape velocity, or are we going to saying that in THIS universe, magic propulsion overrides gravity? Or that there’s a universal gravity, and that when your Lyrandar airship sails into space people can still walk around as if there was gravity?

Essentially: I like the idea of an Eberron space race, though I’d likely start by exploring the moons. But if I was to propose such a campaign I’d need to stop and answer a lot of questions about the physics of the universe that we haven’t yet answered… and I’d want to think carefully about it before I do. For example, let’s just look at the moons. I can imagine the moons being fantastic wonderous locations, like Barsoom in Edgar Rice Burroughs novels. But I could ALSO imagine the revelation that the moons aren’t celestial bodies at all; they’re actually massive planar portals, allowing an airship to physically sail into another plane. I’d want to think about which story feels more interesting and which I’d like to explore. But as of now, there is no canon answer.

Would you ever allow a player to play as an escaped Chosen vessel?

Sure. I think there’s stats for them in Secrets of Sarlona. But the main issue is that the Chosen have no voluntary say in being possessed. Chosen vessels are genetically designed to be possessed by a particular quori. So my question is how your PC vessel deals with this. Are they a ticking time bomb who could be possessed at any time? Have they been given some sort of Adaran artifact that keeps them safe as long as they don’t lose the item? Or has the particular quori tied to their line been bound?

Were a particular quori to be made incapable of possessing its Inspired hosts, whether by destruction or imprisonment, would it be possible that the Chosen and Inspired of that particular line be “reassigned”? Would Dal Quor remove the Inspired as well if they removed the quori? Would an “unused” Chosen be given to a new quori or share the fate of the “used” Inspired?

The principle that’s been established is that the bond between quori and vessel is in some way biological. So Dal Quor can’t simply reassign a Chosen line; they’d have to breed a new one. With that said, Chosen CAN be possessed by any quori; it’s simply that they have to ALLOW themselves to be possessed, while they have no choice when dealing with the quori bound to their line. So there could easily be Chosen who are serving as voluntary vessels for other quori; it’s just that it can’t be forced.

That’s all for now! If you have questions related to these topics, post them below!

Shavarath and the Blood War

An icy storm swirls around the Fortress of Frozen Tears. The bitter winds are mirrored by the flurry of activity on the ground. Overseers crack blazing whips, driving the hordes of lemures as they haul siege towers carved from glacial ice. Gelugons perform gruesome sacrifices, harnessing power for the horrific war magics they will soon unleash. The Fortress of Frozen Tears has withstood all enemies for a thousand years. Tonight it will fall into the hands of the Legion of the Long Winter. And tomorrow the Battalion of the Coming Dawn will arrive, beginning a siege that could last for centuries. 

Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes (MToF) explores the Blood War, the conflict between devils and demons that plays an important role in the default planescape of Dungeons&Dragons. If it’s in D&D, there’s a place for it in Eberron… so how does the Blood War fit into Eberron?

One obvious answer would seem to be Shavarath, the plane of war. This was essentially the approach that was suggested in the 4E version of Eberron, where Shavarath was presented as a battleground between forces coming from other planes. But it’s not the approach I’d take. As I’ve discussed in other articles—such as my articles on Mabar and the Planes of Hope and Peace—I see the planes as being both iconic and self-contained. Shavarath isn’t *A* war. It embodies the IDEA of war, in all its many aspects. It began at the dawn of time and it will continue as long as reality exists. The beings that fight in it may have the statistics of devils and demons, angels and archons, but they are first and foremost incarnations of war. A Shavaran archon embodies courage, hope, war fought for a just cause and carried out nobly. A Shavaran devil embodies tyranny, cruelty, war fought to conquer and enslave. The lesser spirits of the war fight because they literally can’t conceive of any other existence; they exist as symbols as much as anything else. If you ask them why they are fighting—what point there is to a war that has continued for tens and thousands of years, in which there is clearly no hope of permanent victory—they will tell you that their war is reflected across all realities. They believe that the balance of justice and tyranny, hope and despair, honor and treachery—all of these things are shaped by their battle. If the Long Winter seizes the Fortress of Frozen Tears, the balance of the universe will shift slightly towards tyranny. The celestial soldier knows they can never WIN the war; but they believe that simply by fighting and holding a line, they are maintaining a balance that must be maintained.

So as a general rule, the conflict of Shavarath doesn’t DIRECTLY affect the material plane. The generals aren’t recruiting mortals for the battle, any more than the fiends of Fernia are running around lighting fires in Eberron. It can affect a campaign when a manifest zone or coterminous period causes the endless war to spill into Eberron, when an unusual spirit does go rogue, when a party of adventurers are trapped in the Plane or have to go there to obtain a celestial weapon. But in my mind, it’s not the right match for the Blood War—where you want fiends actively harvesting souls or recruiting mortals, where you could have the possibility of a dramatic upset.

So… if not Shavarath, how would I adapt the Blood War to Eberron? Here’s three ideas.

THE LEGIONS OF KHYBER

In a previous article about the Ghaash’kala, I mention the idea that Khyber is comprised of layers of demiplanes.

The Demon Wastes are peppered with passages to Khyber… not simply the physical underworld, but a host of demiplanes and demonic realms. Fiends emerge from these paths to prey on the weak… and the Ghaash’kala venture into them to find what they need. The Maruk hunt balewolves in the Abyssal Forests of Khar, and wield weapons taken from the corpses of the demon foot soldiers of the Ironlands. 

In the past I’ve suggested that these demiplanes would be an excellent place to use archdevils and demon princes—beings weaker than the Overlords, but still mighty enough to rule a domain and command fiendish hordes. Notably, this was my suggestion for incorporating Demogorgon into Eberron in converting the Savage Tide adventure path. Here’s a piece of that conversion…

As spawn of Khyber, the demons of Eberron are not tied to any planar agenda, nor bound to the great war of Shavarath. Instead, they embody Khyber’s wrath and hatred of the world above. They seek to corrupt and destroy the children of Eberron.

And what of the Abyss? Again, it could be grafted onto Shavarath, with each layer being one more battlefield. But it can also be bound to Khyber. Eberron is a magical world, and it does not have to obey the laws of logic. An adventurer who ventures too far beneath the surface of Eberron will be amazed by the horrors that lurk below. A deep cavern can open into the endless maze of Baphomet. A whirlpool can draw unwary travelers into the abyssal ocean. Many people think Xen’drik is the ultimate destination for the pulp adventurer. But the most exotic and terrifying realms are not across the water; they lie beneath it, in the very heart of the Dragon Below. While these are not outer planes, they exist beyond normal space and cannot be reached by normal forms of teleportation; travelers must either find the proper path between the realms or employ planar magic to step into these demiplanes.

So: the Blood War could exist exactly as presented, fought between demon and devil… but fought within Khyber itself. The River Styx is a portal that connects these demiplanes. Just as the Silver Flame holds the Overlords at bay, it prevents this evil from spilling out into the world en masse. It could be that it’s always been possible for a few of the fiends to venture out and seek aid among the mortal world, but if it was ME, I’d say that this is a recent thing—that the Mourning fundamentally shook up the mystical balance of the world, and it is only in the last four years that these fiends have been able to send agents into Eberron. The advantage this has is that they aren’t simply continuing to do what they’ve been doing for tens of thousands of years: this is both a new opportunity for the fiends and a new threat to Eberron. The fiends themselves are still figuring out what they can do with mortals and mortal souls. This is a new threat that’s not recorded in the Library of Korranberg, one even the Chamber knows little about. The greatest experts would likely be the Ghaash’kala, who have encountered the Blood War in their expeditions into Khyber. This allows the goals of the fiends to be mysterious and the player characters to be on the tipping point of figuring things out… and to have it be something that ALL the powers of Eberron are concerned about.

STRANGERS ON A PLANE

A twist on this is to have the Blood War be the same Blood War encountered elsewhere, but to have it only just spilling into Eberron. The cosmology of Eberron is self-contained, with the planes surrounding the material in its own corner of the Astral. One possibility is that the Progenitors intentionally created Eberron in isolation from the rest of the multiverse; it could even be that the Ring of Siberys actively blocks contact to or from other realities. If this is the case, this protection could finally be fading… allowing forces from the broader multiverse to touch Eberron.

This keeps the same basic concept as mentioned above: the idea of the Blood War being an entirely new threat that the powers of Eberron know little about. It’s primarily useful if you WANT to have traffic between Eberron and other settings; now there’s a path, but it’s an extremely dangerous one. It’s not the route I’d personally take, but it could be interesting.

THE MOURNLAND

What if the Blood War was being fought in the Mournland? This could be a variation of either of the two previous ideas; the Mourning could have opened a breach into Khyber, causing the conflict to spill into the world in the Mournland. On the other hand, this could be an opportunity to dramatically reduce the SCALE of the Blood War, but have it be a new and ongoing thing. The demons and devils were literally brought into existence with the Mourning; they might even be formed from the souls of humans caught in the Mourning and transformed. If this is the case, the archfiends could themselves have once been mortals, possibly generals from the Last War itself. What if Zuggtmoy was the horribly transformed Queen Dannel of Cyre?

Q&A

If we do the “strangers on a plane” route, how would you approach the planes of Eberron? As the actual moons, or related to them in a specific way? Demiplanes made by the progenitors?

There’s definitely a relationship between the moons and the planes, but I personally wouldn’t say that the moons ARE the planes. With that said, let’s take a quick look at the original  Eberron Campaign Setting and what it says about cosmology.

Eberron spins within its own Material Plane, enfolded by three coexistent transitive planes: the Astral Plane, the Ethereal Plane, and the Plane of Shadow, just as in the core D&D cosmology (see Chapter 5 of the Dungeon Master’s Guide). Within Eberron’s Astral Plane, thirteen planes revolve in a complex orbit around the Material Plane. These planes are a combination of features of Inner Planes and Outer Planes…

I see Eberron as its own pocket of creation. Each plane is an isolated concept; a layer of reality embodying a particular idea. The material plane is the nexus where all these come together: a place of life and death, war and peace, light and darkness. I see “orbit” as a metaphorical concept, reflecting the fact that the planes move into and out of alignment with the material. I’ve never actually played Spelljammer, so I don’t know how this concept meshes there, but to me, think of Eberron as a galaxy surrounded by a vast void, but in this case the void is astral. If you can find a way across that vast void, perhaps you can find another galaxy. PERSONALLY, I’m not interested in mixing settings; but from the very beginning it was suggested that the way to do it would be to slip through the Plane of Shadow.

I would also say that Eberron’s equivalent of the blood war was it’s creation, Siberys and Khyber’s fight, whether allegory or literal.

It’s an interesting approach, but in my opinion it doesn’t really fit the Blood War… at least following the classical mythology. Part of the point of the Blood War—and a reason I don’t map it to Shavarath—is that it’s specifically a conflict of evil fighting evil. As decent people we don’t identify with EITHER side. If you make it a fight between good and evil, heroes have a reason to WANT to take part; as is, it’s just a bloody mess of a war between two equally unpleasant factions. Beyond that, looking to the metaphorical conflict of the Progenitors, the fight between Khyber and Siberys is OVER, and Siberys lost. The conflict between Eberron and Khyber continues, but it’s a passive struggle: Eberron can’t defeat Khyber, but Khyber can’t escape from Eberron.

I’m not very familiar with the concept of Blood War… but couldn’t the Mourning be caused by the Blood War itself?

If you WANT it to be, sure. You could say that some sort of dramatic action in the Blood War caused it to spill out into Cyre and triggered the Mourning. Personally, I prefer to have the Mourning be in some way related to the Last War—whether directly caused by it, or the result of Cannith testing weapons, or others tampering with dangerous forces to try to create an edge—than to say that it just randomly happened to occur while the war was going on. But it’s certainly an approach you could take if you wanted.

Some planes have a deep impact on eberron. Some of the main villains come from outer plains: Xoriat, Khyber, Dal Quor. How would you use Shavarath if you want it to have a bigger impact on your campaign?

The main issue is that you need a REASON for the beings of the plane to take an interest in Eberron. The Quori interest is directly tied to their survival, due to the Turning of the Age. The Daelkyr are largely depicted as explorers and artists… and we’ve called out a number of times that they aren’t the most powered spirits of Xoriat, they’re simply the ones that have taken an interest in other realms. So you COULD have an expeditionary force from Shavarath conducting military operations in Eberron, but the question is why now? Why are they suddenly taking an interest when they never have before?

The most logical answer to the question is the event that defines the age: The Mourning. Whatever caused it, you could say that the Mourning caused some sort of tear between Eberron and Shavarath. Perhaps Shavarath is literally bleeding into Eberron and will continue to do so unless the Mourning is undone. While this could occur in the Mournland itself, it would be more dramatic if this “bleed” occurred in random places around Khorvaire. The Fortress of Frozen Tears is superimposed onto one of the towers of Sharn, and now a legion of devils are assaulting it; can the PCs find a way to break the alignment before everyone dies?

That’s just one idea, but really the possibilities are infinite. Pursuit of a deserter. Planar convergence. “We had to seize reality to save it.” I’d just want to know WHO is leading the incursion; WHY it’s happening now when it hasn’t happened before; and WHAT their objective is.

Can you share a small sample list of the names and titles of prominent demons, devils, and archons on Shavarath? Just like two or three of each?

Personally, I tend to focus on titles rather than names. Aside from the idea of names having power, the position is eternal even if the specific spirit that holds it changes. Title meanwhile we be a reflection of the aspect of war that the spirit embodies. Here’s a few entirely random ideas.

Archons: The Last Bastion, The Sword of Hope, The Pillar of Justice

Devils: The Fourth Dominion, The Bringer of Chains, The End of Hope

Demons: The First Terror, The Gray Butcher, The Bloody Tide

All of these would go along with a direct title. So a full name would be something like Malecarius, Bringer of Chains, First Lord of the Legion of Winter. Meanwhile, a rank and file soldier would be Fifth Spear, Third Cohort, Battalion of the Coming Dawn. 

How would you describe a typical landscape in Shavarath that does not involve archons, demons or devils in constant fight? Something that you could explore? Or, perhaps, you see Shavarath more as a contiguous landscape rather than a cluster of layers of reality?

Some of regions described in the Blood War section seem to map pretty well to various actual planes: Stygia/Risia, Phlegos/Fernia, Cania/Irian. What do you think about using those various sections as sections of those planes where relevant?

I’m answering these together because they are reflections of one another. As with the other planes, I don’t see Shavarath as a single contiguous landscape. I see it as being layers, each reflecting a different aspect of war and conflict. The environment that surrounds those conflicts can be extremely varied, because war is extremely varied. Look to the paragraph I wrote at the start of this article; it presents an icy tower buffeted by bitter winds. To me, this is an eternal reflection of a siege in a long winter, a battle in which the weather itself takes a toll on both sides. Which is to say that you don’t have to actually go to Risia to have a battlefield in Shavarath that is brutally cold. Essentially, the question to me is what the most defining aspect of the situation is. If this is a movie, is the focus of the movie on the ice and winter? If so, you might be in Risia. But if the focus is the SIEGE, and the ice and winter is something that adds flavor to this particular siege and differentiates it from a hundred others, then you’re in Shavarath; the fact that this is the endless winter siege is important, but still secondary.

In regards to what else is out there, in Shavarath everything is going to in some way be connected to a battle. It’s not that every square foot is occupied by fiends and celestials in direct conflict. But if you don’t have that direct conflict, you’re going to have a maze of trenches that lies between battlelines, or a vast field strewn with mangled corpses and the wreckage of siege machines, or fire pits where lemure slaves toil endlessly forging weapons. If the situation doesn’t involve an actual battle, it deals with the aftermath of one or the build-up of it. So what could you explore? You could be thrown into the trenches, trying to find your way out or find someone else lost somewhere in this maze. You could need something that’s in one of the many fortresses. You could come across a small village where people are pinned down by an arcane sniper. Essentially, if you can imagine a location as a scene in a war movie—regardless of whether there’s actively war—then it could be a place in Shavarath.

I’m going to stop here, but feel free to add your questions and thoughts about the Blood War and Shavarath below. Next week I’ll share my thoughts on the Raven Queen in Eberron. As always, thanks to my Patreon supporters, who make it possible for me to spend time on this blog!

The Age of Demons and You

Everyone in Eberron knows the story of the Progenitor Wyrms. There are a few who believe that these beings were literal dragons who ruled over a civilization we can’t even imagine… that they turned on one another and destroyed all traces of that world in their feud. But the common myth — shared in various forms by almost every culture — paints things in more mythical and metaphorical light. Here’s one version.

The Progenitor Wyrms breathed creation into the void. Siberys breathed fire and kindled the endless flames of Fernia. Khyber’s icy breath formed the frozen depths of Risia. They had new ideas and worked together to give those form. Siberys envisioned a realm of peace, and together they shaped the serene towers of Syrania. Khyber demanded an endless war, and so Shavarath was born. Eventually they made a place where all of these creations could convergence — a realm where there was both life and death, war and peace, darkness and light. And it was in this place that Khyber turned on the others, tearing Siberys to pieces. Eberron grappled with Khyber. She couldn’t defeat her sister, but she caught Khyber in her coils, wrapping around her. Eberron transformed herself into a living prison, becoming the world itself, forever trapping Khyber within the world. Dying Siberys coiled around Eberron, and so it remains today: The Dragon Above, The Dragon Below, and The Dragon Between.

Life was the only prison that could hold Khyber, and so Eberron gave birth to the natural world. The blood of Siberys fell from the sky. Some drops quickened as they fell and became the celestial couatl. Others touched Eberron, and from this union the dragons were formed. Where blood struck ice, a white dragon emerged; where it touched a swamp, a black dragon was born. Thus the dragons are the mightiest creatures of the natural world, imbued with the magic of Siberys and yet still born of Eberron and thus mortal.

Khyber could not escape her prison, but her fury spawned horrors both endless and mortal. The host of fiends rose from the depths and laid claim to Eberron, twisting the natural world and tormenting its creatures. Terror ruled for an unimaginable time. This was the First Age of the world… the Age of Demons.

As I said, this is one version of the Progenitor myth. In some versions, the Progenitors begin as siblings working in harmony. In others, they were always rivals seeking to outdo one another with acts of creation. Some say that the entire act of creation was driven by their pursuit of the Prophecy… and that Khyber killed Siberys in an attempt to harness this power. As a game master it’s up to you to decide if any element of this is true. Did three mighty beings create reality? Were they literally dragons, or unimaginable beings of untold power? Or is this all just a way to explain the world, the ring in the sky, and the darkness below where horrors are born?

Whatever the origin of the world, we haven’t talked much about the Age of Demons. But the legacy of the First Age still haunts the present day. Fiends and dragons spar in the shadows, and the threat of the Overlords is an eternal threat, held at bay by the light of the Silver Flame. But what was the world like in those days, and what would a return of the Overlords actually mean?

About The Overlords…

I’ve covered some of these topics in the past. This post is an extended discussion of the Overlords of the First Age, including a list of known Overlords, the nature of their bonds, and what they might do if released. This post discusses the Demon Wastes and the nature of demonic ruins. Here’s a quick summary of things you should know.

  • The Overlords are immortal fiends with godlike power (equivalent to divine rank 7 in 3.5 terms). At full power, an Overlord exerts influence over a broad region, but this dominion is finite; it might cover a country, but not an entire continent. There were approximately thirty Overlords, and between them they dominated the world. While they have the equivalent of Divine Rank and while I may refer to them as “gods” in this article, they ARE NOT ACTUALLY DEITIES. They cannot grant divine magic, though a devout follower might be able to draw power directly from Khyber as a result of their faith. 
  • The Overlords cannot be permanently destroyed. The couatl sacrificed themselves and fused their celestial energy together to create the Silver Flame, a force capable of binding the Overlords and most of their minions.
  • While most of the fiendish forces were bound with their masters, some slipped through. These beings largely work to release their masters, and they are called The Lords of Dust. They are opposed by the dragons of The Chamber.
  • Each Overlord is bound in a physical vessel, but it is the power of the Silver Flame that keeps them bound. They can only be released if a particular piece of the Draconic Prophecy comes to pass. The Draconic Prophecy is constantly evolving, and so the Chamber and the Lords of Dust study it and seek to manipulate it to achieve their goals.
  • Even while bound, the Overlords still influence the regions around their prisons. Most Overlords are effectively asleep, and this influence is essentially an effect of their dreams. A few — such as Bel Shalor, the Shadow in the Flame — are aware and actively scheming.
  • “Demon” usually refers to a chaotic evil fiend, but it can also be used as a general term for any evil immortal, and this is its context of “The Age of Demons.”

An Age of Demons

The Overlords dominated Eberron for millions of years. They didn’t choose to rule. There wasn’t any sort of organized civilization as we would recognize it. The Overlords didn’t form a government or establish countries. Rather, they shaped reality within their dominions to reflect their nature. The Heart of Winter embodies the killing cold, and bitter ice engulfs any land where she resides. The Rage of War thrives on strife and conflict, and armies clash in his wake. Katashka the Gatekeeper sets the dead against the living. Where the Overlords raised cities, it was because the city was somehow a part of this identity. Rak Tulkhesh might create a fortress simply so it could be besieged. The dark metropolis of Eldrantulku was home to clans and guilds whose endless intrigues reflected their master’s love of betrayal and discord. Mortals caught in the sphere of an Overlord would be swept into these things and forced to play a part in them. But these things didn’t build towards anything. The fortress of Rak Tulkhesh would be forgotten once his attention shifted, replaced with some new battle. We sometimes say that the Overlords had mortal slaves, but this implies an institution of slavery; it’s more accurate to say that all mortals were helpless playthings caught in the dreams of cruel gods.

The Overlords weren’t allies and had no interest in cooperation. When the domains of two overlords overlapped they would clash, and many took great joy in these conflicts. But mortals remained helpless pawns.

We have no records of precisely what creatures existed at that time or how they came to be. The Ghaash’kala orcs and lizardfolk of Q’barra seem to have traditions that can be traced back. Some believe that means these races were widespread. Some say that the orcs were created by demons, that Rak Tulkhesh imbued hobgoblins with his rage and that the Silver Flame redeemed them. The human and demihuman civilizations covered in canon didn’t come into existence for many tens of thousands of years. The dragons were first; then the giants; then the elves and goblins and dwarves. As a DM, feel free to explore this however you see fit. If you wish to add an ancient human civilization that rose and fell while the giants still ruled Xen’drik, go ahead.

The couatl helped mortals resist the influence of the Overlords, and it was this that ultimately allowed a resistance to form — primarily the dragons (themselves imbued with some of the essence of Siberys), but also other mortal species. The Overlords are immortal, and there seemed to be no way to achieve a true victory… until the Prophecy revealed the way that the Overlords could be bound. This led to the couatl sacrifice and the kindling of the Silver Flame. While the Couatl formed the Flame, just as with Tira and Bel Shalor, it took mortal heroes to complete the binding; this is where Ourelonastrix, Dularrahnak and other champions played a crucial role. The Overlords and most of their minions were bound; their works collapsed; and the normal course of history began.

What Does This Mean?

First of all, understanding the nature of the Age of Demons helps understand why the Lords of Dust don’t just take over Khorvaire. They don’t want to rule this pathetic, mundane world. They want to return to a time when their gods walked the world and reality bent to their will. Bear in mind that the Lords of Dust are immortal beings who may have been around for a million years. They aren’t human, and their motives and the way they experience time are unlike those of mortal creatures. They, too, are incarnate ideas. They are for the most part aspects of their master’s domain, and pursuing the release of their master is a natural thing. To be sure, there are a few of the Lords of Dust who want to supplant their Overlords and steal their power… but that sort of behavior would be most common in a servant of someone like Eldrantulku or even Bel Shalor, both of whom embody corruption and betrayal.

It also shows why the Lords of Dust aren’t close allies. The Overlords fought one another more often than not. The Bleak Council of Ashtakala was established to prevent the Lords of Dust from interfering with one another accidentally, and to allow sharing of resources when it is useful. But the key word there is accidentally. The circumstances that will release one Overlord might actively block the release of another; even failing this, two rakshasa might pursue a personal vendetta that goes back long before human civilization.  This post talks more about the Council of Ashtakala, the binding, and the relationships between Overlords.

The Nature of the Binding

The spirit of each Overlord is contained in some sort of vessel. However, it is the Silver Flame that binds the spirit to the vessel. The only way to release an Overlord is to follow a particular path of the Draconic Prophecy. The Lords of Dust seek to drive the world down these paths, while the dragons of the Chamber work to identify and negate Prophetic paths that could release an Overlord. Prophetic paths are very specific; it’s not simply Queen Aurala must die — something a rakshasa could easily do on its own — it’s that The seventh son of the Great Kraken must slay an innocent queen with the Blade of Sorrows, in the belief that doing so will save the world. The rakshasa can’t do this alone. But to make it happen, they need to make sure the following things happen…

  • Aurala becomes Queen.
  • Someone becomes “The Great Kraken” (probably a Lyrandar heir) and has seven sons.
  • That seventh son acquires the Blade of Sorrows.
  • The seventh son is convinced that killing Aurala will save the world, and successfully carries out this assassination.

In setting this up, the Lords of Dust also want to use a light enough touch that they aren’t noticed by the Chamber. The key point here is that a rakshasa may end up helping player characters. They want this Lyrandar heir to become a champion who would try to save the world, and they want him to acquire the mighty Blade of Sorrows. So for a time, the rakshasa would actually be acting as a patron for the group.

Of course, there’s two forces that might interfere: the Chamber and other Lords of Dust. As I mentioned before, the circumstances that release one Overlord might block another; while killing Aurala might release Sul Khatesh, it could be that Tul Oreshka needs Aurala to marry the Seventh Son of the Great Kraken and to have a child who will then be sacrificed. Meanwhile, if dragons of the Chamber identify this particular thread, they will try to find a way to block it… which could range from keeping the Great Kraken from having children, hiding the Blade of Sorrows, or simply killing the Seventh Son. This all ties to the fluid nature of the Prophecy. There are so many possible threads that the Chamber doesn’t know them all — and any time an equation is altered, the Prophecy shifts to account for it. There will ALWAYS be a Prophetic path to release Sul Khatesh. If the Chamber kills the Seventh Son of the Great Kraken, a new path to release will be established… but it will take time for her prakhutu to discover the new path, and it could be decades or centuries before that path can be fulfilled.

So the point here is that the path to releasing an Overlord is generally something that will have been in motion for a long time, and if it connects to player characters, it may involve a series of events: gaining power, killing an enemy, acquiring an artifact, falling in love, etc, etc. If you want quick action, choose a path that can be resolved quickly. If you want things to be more dramatic, let PCs discover that they have a long-term role that has yet to play out. Say two PCs become romantically involved. What happens if they learn that their (as yet unconceived) child is destined to release Rak Tulkhesh?

All of this ties to the idea that the Dragon-Fiend conflict is a long term cold war. It involves the most epic threats to the world… but it’s something that can’t be rushed by demon or dragon, and a struggle that plays out over the course of decades and centuries.

The Fraying of Bonds

RELEASING an Overlord requires the completion of a Prophetic Path. However, there’s a range of options between absolute release and total imprisonment, and this is where Overlords like Rak Tulkhesh and Bel Shalor live.

When the Overlords were first bound, they were in absolute torpor, unaware of their surroundings and influencing the world only incidentally. But each Overlord embodies an idea. when people within a certain vicinity of the Overlord’s prison embody that idea, it strengthens the Overlord. As the Overlord gains strength, it becomes more aware and more able to actively influence events. If this goes far enough, you can even posit a partial release — the Overlord might not be able to exercise its full power, or to venture far from its prison, but it could manifest a physical form and cover a larger radius with its effect. This is what happened with Bel Shalor, who obtained a partial release and exerted influence over Thrane for a year before being rebound by the sacrifice of Tira Miron in what is now Flamekeep. You could even present a story where partially releasing an Overlord and rebinding it is desirable, because its bonds have frayed severely and rebinding it is the only way to strengthen them.

While Bel Shalor remains bound an unable to physically manifest, he has a stronger connection to the Silver Flame and is able to tempt anyone who heres the Voice of the Flame. He doesn’t have actual coercive power (…yet…) but if people fall prey to temptation, that gives him strength and frays his bonds. Likewise, it’s been suggested that Rak Tulkhesh has vessels spread across Khorvaire and that his agents are actively aggession and hatred to strengthen their master. And of course, you could decide that this kind of fraying is all that is required to achieve a partial release, or that this is tied to the Prophetic condition of the bonds. If Rak Tulkhesh requires a specific sort of war to be released, the stronger his influence, the more chance he can help to trigger that war.

Beyond this: what about those vessels? I’ve already said that shattering a vessel doesn’t release the Overlord… it just spreads their influence. So… is that a GOOD thing? Is there any negative to the Overlord? Yes, certainly. The smaller the vessel, the more restricted its influence is in range and effect. An overlord with a singular prison might be bound to a Khyber shard the size of a small whale. This might have a powerful effect across a radius of miles and absolutely overwhelm weak-minded people in its immediate vicinity. By contrast, a shard of Rak Tulkhesh embedded in the hilt of a sword might empower and influence its wielder, and might have a minor effect in their vicinity (encouraging aggression in a 120 radius, say), but it’s not the same. On the other hand, it lets the Rage of War draw strength from a wider area. So breaking up a vessel sacrifices concentrated power for a wider net. If an an Overlord is truly released, its essence will be drawn from all its shards. So it’s not a requirement for its agents to reassemble a shattered prison; if it was, ALL prisons would have been shattered and scattered.

Other Ways To Use This

Obviously the endgame of plots involving the Lords of Dust can generally involve an Overlord. But what else can you do with the Lords of Dust or Overlords that doesn’t involve that epic conflict? Here’s a few points.

Trouble with Vessels. The vessels of the Overlords take many forms. Khyber crystals are common… and if those crystals are shattered, every shard has a link to the Overlord. So you could have a static, immovable prison that influences the region around it. You could have a shard of an Overlord’s vessel embedded into an object — creating a powerful (and potentially useful) item, but one that spreads the Overlord’s influence. A sword bearing a shard of Rak Tulkhesh would surely be powerful in battle… but it might cause conflict to break out in its vicinity, or drive the bearer into a rage. With either static or mobile vessels, you might also say that the influence is amplified under certain circumstances. The effects of Katashka’s vessel might be amplified when Mabar is coterminous, and the sword of Rak Tulkhesh could grow stronger with every battle in which it is used. Consider the ideas of “The Fraying of Bonds”, above. 

A Piece of a Puzzle. Releasing an Overlord is a long term project. PCs could be caught up in an early stage action — rakshasas or their agents seeking to steal an artifact, assassinate someone, manipulate someone. Success or failure won’t obviously alter the fate of the world, because it’s so far down the road… but it gives an immediate action to deal with.

Ancient Feuds. PCs could be caught up in conflict between servants of different Overlords, or even manipulated by one fiend into fighting another.

Spreading Influence. When Lords of Dust aren’t specifically working to release their masters, they may seek to strengthen the Overlord by encouraging the behavior tied to their sphere. Mordakhesh, the speaker of the Rage of War, encourages conflict across Khorvaire. Hektula might (in disguise) spread arcane knowledge — whether aiding an enemy cult or mentoring a player character — because the discovery of arcane secrets forges a bond with Sul Khatesh. Again, this doesn’t enable the RELEASE of the Overlord, but it increases their awareness and ability to affect the world from within their prison.

Active Agents. Setting the Lords of Dust aside, you can have mortals working directly with the Overlords. A barbarian berserker’s rage could come from a bond to Rak Tulkhesh; the fiend grants them great power, but will they some day demand a price? Likewise, Overlords are great patrons for warlocks, and you can find an Overlord for almost any pact. It could be that the Overlord begins with requests that seem harmless — for example, asking the warlock to battle the agents of other Overlords, so hey, they’re just fighting bad guys, right? Or perhaps the warlock believes that THEIR Overlord is actually just misunderstood; Sul Khatesh just wants to share knowledge the Silver Flame seeks to keep from humanity! You can certainly have a story where the longer it goes, the more questionable the requests get… or you could decide that while the Overlord is EVIL, their power can be used to achieve good things. The main thing here is to make sure the player is on board with the direction you’re going in.

Another option is to say that the power of the PC is drawn from the Overlord, meaning that the PC is actively weakening the Overlord by using that power — so the warlock isn’t doing the bidding of the Overlord, they are actually working against them and using their own power to do it. This is back to the Fraying of Bonds. Such a warlock isn’t significantly weakening the full immortal power of the Overlord, they are simply limiting its ability to perceive and influence the world. 

Agents of Darkness

A quick point, but an important one. It may be that you just don’t like rakshasa. That’s fine. Rakshasa are the most common native fiends, and they are well suited to subtle manipulation. But as noted in this article, any sort of fiend can serve an Overlord. And as noted above, you can likewise have mortal agents who are in some way empowered by an Overlord — with or without any sort of connection to the Lords of Dust. Some Overlords are called out as NOT associating with rakshasa; Tiamat and Dral Khatuur are two such fiends.

Good vs Evil

One question has come up a few times, essentially: why are the forces of evil stronger than the forces of good? Why aren’t there benevolent equivalents of the Overlords? If the rakshasa can’t be killed, how come the Couatl were sacrificed?

There’s two basic answers to this — one ground in mythology, and one based on game design.

Mythologically, consider the most basic lesson of the Progenitors. Khyber (immortal evil) treacherously defeated Siberys (immortal good). Eberron (mortal life) contains Khyber and holds it at bay. Siberys is dead, but his gifts — magic — empower the children of Eberron to fight the children of Khyber. The Silver Flame reflects this same metaphor: The couatl sacrificed themselves to create the Silver Flame, and now they can’t fight evil themselves — but through the Silver Flame empowers mortals to fight evil. Eberron is founded on the principle that evil used treachery to gain a strong position, but that mortals can triumph over it.

From a game design standpoint, one of the fundamental principles of Eberron is that it is a world in need of heroes. If everything is in balance — if the forces of good were as strong or stronger than the forces of evil — then heroes wouldn’t be as vital. If a rashasa is doing something evil, a couatl isn’t going to just show up and smite it, because that doesn’t involve YOU. Instead, the Voice of the Flame will give you a vision of the threat and the spirit of a couatl will empower you through divine channeling… but YOU are still the critical component.

So the short form is that we WANTED evil to be stronger than good, because that’s why the world needs YOU. There’s no all-powerful force of good that can solve the problem without you. With that said, the couatl weren’t destroyed. They sacrificed their existence as individuals in order to create a gestalt force of immortal energy with the power to bind ALL THE OVERLORDS. It’s simply that they can’t exercise that power on their own; they need mortals to be their champions. But that force for good is there. Anything that the Overlords can do can be undone by mortal heroes. There’s always hope; it’s just that there’s never an ABSOLUTE victory. There will always be threats for the heroes of the next generation to deal with.

Random Questions

Here’s a few questions that touch on this subject. If you have questions, ask in the comments!

Do the big bads of other settings have a place in eberron? Tiamat, jubilex, demogorgon…

Certainly. If the entity in question has godlike power, the logical approach is to recast it as an Overlord, and this is exactly what was done with Tiamat; see Dragons of Eberron for more information. If the entity is powerful but not THAT powerful — such as Demogorgon — there’s a few options. One is to place them in one of the outer planes, if there’s a good match. Another is to make them lieutenants of an Overlord, because remember, it’s not ALL about rakshasa. Orcus could be the prakutu of Katashka, if that fit your vision of him. The third option is what I suggested for Demogorgon when I converted the Savage Tide adventure path: to make the demon prince ruler of a realm within Khyber itself. As I talk about in this post, my vision is that Khyber is filled with demiplanes, which larger fill the role of layers of the Abyss. So Demogorgon could rule a realm within Khyber. Throughout most of history, he has simply dwelled within his realm — perhaps held in check by the Ghaash’kala or other agents of the Silver Flame. Now something has changed and he is reaching out to affect the mortal world.

Are there any Overlords imprisoned on Sarlona? Any ancient wielders of the Silver Flame (the human equivalent of the Ghaashkala?) Or do the Inspired maintain the barriers themselves?

Yes, there are Overlords in Sarlona. Secrets of Sarlona says  “Scholars sifting the legends of the Age of Fiends believe that three rakshasa rajahs are bound in Sarlona—one within the heart of Korrandar in Adar, one beneath the yuan-ti ruins of Syrkarn, and a third in the Krertok Peninsula of the Tundra.” The ancient human kingdom of Khalesh is presented as having had a bond to the Silver Flame and the Shulassakar; Khalesh fell during the Sundering, but a secret order of adepts might survive. But the Adarans act to contain the fiend in Korrandar, and the Inspired have an elite order known as The Edgewalkers who are trained to deal with this sort of thing.

Are denizens of other planes aware of the Overlords? What effect might a freed Overlord’s influence have on manifest zones, can effects of its dominion bleed through to other planes?

This answer goes both ways. Every plane has powerful entities that could match an Overlord. But these spirits are bound to their planes just as the Overlords are bound to Eberron. A manifest zone would be a beachhead that could give such a bring influence in another plane, but by default, the native powers of the plane will trump interlopers. On Eberron, Tul Oreshka has more power than il-Lashtavar; if Tul Oreshka extended herself into Dal Quor, the Dreaming Dark would put her in her place.

But that’s the default, and as always, the real question here is “What’s the story you want to tell?”

What could be some other ways that the Bleak Council can use the Draconic Prophecy against the Dragons (and all of Eberron as well) ?

The Draconic Prophecy is a series of complex If-Then statements. If (X) happens, (Y) will happen. It can predict the release of an Overlord, the death of an individual, a natural disaster, the rise of a cult, or anything else. If X happens, a massive volcano will detonate in the heart of Argonnessen. If X happens, manifest zones to Syrania will be cut off and the towers of Sharn will collapse. If X happens, an avatar of Tiamat will cause a civil war among the dragons. Generally these are all things that could happen. It’s not that doing the thing suddenly makes a volcano appear in Argonnessen; there’s a dormant volcano already there, and it COULD suddenly become active, but if this path is enacted it WILL happen. You are taking a possible path of the future and locking it in.

Is there any motives other then breaking free that a overlord could have? More concretely, how could a non-evil warlock constructively work with a patron that was revealed to be a overlord (at first seemed to be a elven tairndal ancestor)?

This is covered by my point above. They could be interested in something that will help them break free… in two centuries. Is the PC warlock concerned about helping start a path that won’t be resolved for generations? The could be interested in any sort of action that is logically within their sphere, because this theoretically strengthens them. Or for the simple answer, they could want the PC to fight the agents of other Overlords, enacting some old grudge.

Can you tell us more about Sakinnirot, the Scar that Abides? Any advice on how you can show Sakinnirot’s influence in and around Stormreach?

According to page 157 of City of Stormreach, the Scar That Abides is “patron to all those who plot bloody revenge, reveling in the gratification of a grudge satisfied. Its following is the cult of an injury savored, and wounds of both a physical and spiritual nature are left to fester in its name.” That same page calls out that Sakinnirot enjoys conflict between the Dragonmarked Houses, especially if that conflict ends in violence or ruin. Sakinnirot’s domains are Passion and Destruction.

Sakinnirot is clearly a cousin to Eldrantulku and Bel Shalor, who also specialize in sowing discord. But each are still distinct. Bel Shalor focuses on drawing good people to evil action. Eldrantulku specializes in pure strife and chaos. Sakinnirot is about lingering hate and resentment that builds to destruction… the infection that remains hidden until it is far too late to be cured. So the first and simplest way to reflect Sakinnirot’s influence is an increase in violent vendettas and feuds. This begins with people taking bitter offense at any possible slight, and nursing that hatred until it bursts into a violent flame. This can start small — an increase in murders, an innkeeper poisoning customers because they don’t appreciate her hard work — but it could build to dramatic tensions that threaten the city. Consider a Romeo & Juliet scenario where members of two Dragonmarked houses fall in love, resulting in the death both of the lovers and a few other members of the houses. This leads to further retaliatory measures and murders, which escalates to open, violent conflict between members of those houses, along with demands on other local houses and powers to take sides. It seems ridiculous to throw the city into chaos over such a thing — yet neither side will relinquish their burning hatred for the other. This is one example, but you could likewise see bitter rivalries between the Coin Lords and their followers, or open violence between followers of different religions. We’re back to the convergence of Passion and Destruction… the city becoming a haven for hate in all its forms, passion that leads to destruction.

Should Sakinnirot’s power grow, you could also play up the physical aspect of lingering wounds that won’t heal. Healing magics could begin to falter, initially healing for only half the usual amount… and if the effect continues, possibly failing altogether.

If one was to try to stat out The Scar that Abides, what would you theme his abilities around?

Follow up on the ideas suggested above. Wounds that won’t heal. The ability to amplify existing tensions… if I can identify a grievance between two people, I can use a suggestion effect to amplify this and force them to turn on one another. You can also play up the idea of bloody revenge, saying that Sakinnirot can return any injury done to him with even greater effect. And, of course, you can use the abilities of the Passion and Destruction domains as inspiration. Beyond that, like any Overlord, he’s a being of immense raw power.

In Eberron what is the difference between a Devil, Demon, and Yugoloth?

In many settings these beings are affiliated with a particular plane. In Eberron these classifications are much like “Elf” or “Dwarf” — they inform you about the basic nature of the fiend, but not its CULTURE… which is defined by its plane of origin. As a general rule, demons embody concepts of chaos and evil; devils concepts of law and evil; and yugoloths, just evil. This is discussed further in this post — in short, a devil from Shavarath is above the organized and evil implementation of WAR, while one from Fernia is about FIRE, and one from Khyber might just be about corruption and strife. In Shavarath, you have an endless bitter struggle between devils, demons, archons and more — but the devils of Shavarath don’t care about the demons of Fernia.

How would you Imagine an Eberron Campaign themed around thwarting the LOD to play out, how would you start it off and what direction/ story elements would you introduce to make for an exciting long term campaign?

Laying out an entire campaign arc is the sort of thing I’d want to devote an entire article to. There’s no one simple option. Are you focusing on pulp or noir? Are your players big damn heroes? Are they researchers who dig too deeply? This ties to the fact that the choice of Overlord would have an ENORMOUS effect on the flavor of the campaign. If I choose Rak Tulkhesh as my big bad, then I might have the players be former soldiers and have the campaign focus on their dealing with the scars of the Last War and the tensions that are driving towards a second war. Whereas if my Overlord is Sul Khatesh I’d want a strongly arcane part dealing with new arcane revelations. And if the Overlord is Katashka, I might do something more straightforward like the Age of Worms or a zombie apocalypse. I don’t have time to go into all these sort of options in depth. But the point is to start by choosing your Overlord and to consider: What are the actions that help her followers fray her bonds? What are the visible effects of her greater influence and awareness? What is the nature of her vessel? If it’s singular, where is it? If it’s split, how might the players encounter a fragment of it? If she could be released, what are the Prophetic conditions of her release? 

That last one is a big deal, because it’s something that the players should be driven towards and it’s something they would have to slowly piece together… even if they can’t stop it, the slow revelation of it would be an important part of the campaign. You’d never want to say “Surprise! You released an Overlord!” You’d want to say “Remember how that mysterious old man helped you get the Blade of Sorrows? How you all thought that was a little weird? Now you know why.”

So: I’d want to figure out the Overlord. I’d want to decide how their growing influence would be reflected in the campaign. I’d want to come up with the Prophetic seal and figure out how meeting that condition would be spread across the campaign. I’d want to come up with a “seasonal arc” that the characters are going to deal with at low levels — the Overlord and their Prakhutu may be the big bads, but what’s a compelling storyline — that may or may not have any connection — to start things off? So maybe the early bad guy is going to be ann Aurum greedhead who’s collecting Khyber shards. Eventually it will become an issue that’s he’s stupidly been bringing together shards tied to a particular Overlord. But initially he’s just a low-level bad guy who might start off hiring us to get shards, and who we can then clash with once we discover he’s bad, and that gets us a little ways and a little power before we start to realize there are greater powers at work.

That’s as much as I have time for now, but hopefully you get the idea.

I feel that there are two kind of Overlords: the ones that involve “moral corruption” and the ones that involve physical threats like killing cold. Do you agree that the first one are more interesting for a campaign? How is an Overlord of cold campaign different from one involving the plain of cold? 

There’s a number of different things to unpack here. First: I agree that the more subtle Overlords are generally more interesting for a campaign… but not every Overlord has to be part of a campaign. Dral Khatuur was created for use with a backdrop in the Frostfell, and was intended to justify the powerful magic and supernatural threats that explorers encountered in that place. She wasn’t intended to drive a campaign; she was intended to drive a short, horrific story arc. Thus it helps for the threat she poses to BE more concrete and obvious, because the players don’t have time to be drawn into a larger and more complex storyline. Tied to this, Dral Khatuur is called out as not having a faction among the Lords of Dust. She’s an Overlord, but she serves a different sort of story purpose. Her story included the possibility that if freed, she would reach out to strike Khorvaire or other lands, but that wasn’t the primary context in which she was presented. This same principle holds true of other Overlords. Tul Oreshka, the Voice in the Darkness, is an Overlord I’d be more likely to use as part of a short arc dealing with madness and revelation than as the big bad of an entire campaign. Katashka the Gatekeeper could be the main arc of an entire campaign, but I’d make that campaign about the dead rising to prey on the living, a blend of zombie apocalypse and ghost-story horror… and it would again be far more obvious and physically dangerous than the subtle machinations of Bel Shalor. And yet, that could be a tremendously compelling campaign if the players were in the mood for it.

How is an overlord of cold different from an elemental? And if all it wants is freezing and killing, how does he shows his immense intelligence?

Dral Khatuur isn’t an embodiment of the natural concept of cold. She embodies mortal fear of the cold and the darkness. She is the winter that steals the sun, the terror you feel when you hear the icy wind howling in the night. She can trap the spirits of those she kills; if that icy wind sounds like screaming, it may be the tortured cries of Dral Khatuur’s victims. She can even craft simulacrums of her victims out of frost, and send them back to prey on their friends… so if a comrade of yours disappears for a time in the icy dark and then returns, are you sure that it’s still your friend? In short it’s the same as a lycanthrope; it resembles a natural phenomenon, but it is embodying mortal fears as opposed to an actual, natural concept. This comes back to the fact that Dral Khatuur was designed to drive a suspense/horror story arc as opposed to a long term campaign.

How much is the undying court aware of the Overlords? What do the various groups in Eberron know about this story? I assume the general populace of Khorvaire knows often warped mythology, but do the sages of Arxanix know what rests underneath their island-towers? Does the Library of Korranberg have records on the Age of Demons? What do Phiarlan, Thuranni, and to a lesser extent, Medani know about this? What has the Silver Flame pieced together? Does Dariznu, for instance, know that a shard of Rak Tulkhesh’s essence lies below Thaliost? Do the Carrion Tribes know what exactly they worship?

I’ve lumped these all together, because it all ties together. The basic concept of the Overlords is common knowledge. Followers of the Sovereign Host assert that the Sovereigns defeated mighty demons in the dawn of the world; the Church of the Silver Flame is founded on protecting the world from fiends. So the GENERAL story is common knowledge: there were mighty demons, they were defeated and bound, and there are still lesser fiends out in the world seeking to prey on innocents and free their masters.

Now: the specific names and attributes of those fiends? Where they are bound? Much more obscure. It’s not simply that it’s unknown; it’s that accurate information is buried in massive amounts of inaccurate myths and outright lies. Aside from knowledge just being clouded by time, consider that throughout human history you’ve had agents of the Lords of Dust intentionally spreading misinformation. If Korranberg had a tome that was truly a threat to the Lords of Dust, they’d either have it destroyed or discredited. So this is the point of making a skill check. Say you set the difficulty of a check at 25. That doesn’t mean that if you get a 24 you know NOTHING — it means that you know an assortment of conflicting stories, or slightly inaccurate information.

The basic point here: in my Eberron, the cold war between the dragons and the Lords of Dust is the ultimate high level story. The Dreaming Dark and the Daelkyr have been causing trouble for a few thousand years; the Lords of Dust have been here since the dawn of time. They have literally been pulling the strings of history. The only reason they don’t rule the world is because that would be a boring waste of time. In MY Eberron, this is why I’m going to usually have some OTHER villain in the spotlight. You THINK the bad guy is the Aurum, or the Emerald Claw, or even the Dreaming Dark. It’s only as you work through these battles that you may discover that all of your previous actions — heroic though they were — were all leading down a particular path of the Prophecy.

But beyond all of that, in my Eberron it’s important to me to have the players at the heart of things. Does Dariznu know about Rak Tulkhesh’s influence in Thaliost? Well in MY campaign, either he doesn’t and the players may be able to help things by discovering this… or he knows about it and if someone keeping it secret and using it for his own ends, and the PCs may discover THAT. Same goes for Arcanix and Sul Khatesh. Surely it’s not a coincidence that Arcanix was moved to a location within the influence of the Keeper of Secrets. The question is if it was arranged by a human who hopes to gain arcane knowledge… or if one or more of the masters of Arcanix are agents of Ashtakala. So SOMEONE knows, sure… but I’d make it something the PCs need to discover, not anything like common knowledge.

With that said, I might have SOME locations that have been identified by the Church of the Silver Flame over the years. It’s just back to the core question: will it make a better STORY for the knowledge to be known, or is it more interesting for the players to uncover a secret.

As for the Undying Court, they surely know OF the Overlords. But their power — and interest — is limited beyond Aerenal. I’m sure they are very focused on protecting Aerenal from the Lords of Dust — just as they protect it from Argonnessen. But in my Eberron they aren’t actively out in the world fighting the Lords of Dust… because again, that’s the job of the PCs.

Thanks as always to my Patreon supporters, who make this blog possible!

Dragonmarks: Planar Q&A

I’m working on a post about Phoenix for next week, but today I’m going to address a few more questions about the planes of Eberron. Like much about the planes, most of these topics have no answers in canon material, so what you’re dealing with are my current thoughts and opinions, and NOT canon.

Did the effects of the Mournland bleed into other planes where Cyran manifests zones existed?

In Dragon #408 I said “The devastation of the Mourning had repercussions across the planes. Perhaps the grievous wound to Eberron was felt across her creations.” That article presents Baator as a demiplane where corrupted spirits are imprisoned and asserts that on the Day of Mourning the wards holding the prisoners faltered — so in this version of Eberron, the devils have only been in control of Baator for a few years. Given this, it’s logical to think that other planes could also have felt similar impacts. We haven’t suggested major transformations, but I think it’s interesting to explore pockets of the planes that have been transformed in unpredictable ways.

Is there any connection between Siberys and the Silver Flame? The latter seems too embedded in the material plane.

The Silver Flame is embedded in the material plane, as are the fiends that it holds at bay. The Silver Flame was created by the combined spiritual energy of the couatl — Eberron’s native celestials — in order to bind Eberron’s native fiends. In a way it can be seen as a parallel to the myth of Eberron and Khyber; Eberron couldn’t destroy Khyber, but she could bind her. It’s commonly asserted that just as Khyber is the source of Eberron’s fiends, Siberys was the source of its celestials, so in that way the Silver Flame IS tied to Siberys. This is also something of an explanation for why the celestials of Eberron aren’t as powerful as the Overlords; after all, Khyber killed Siberys, so the balance between celestial and fiend started off poorly.

There’s nothing strange about having a divine power source based in the material plane. The demons it binds are based in the material and the champions it empowers are in the material. The Undying Court is another divine force based entirely in the material.

How do celestials relate to the Sovereigns? Do the celestials associated to the Sovereigns believe in them like the mortal races do? Are they formed from the faith of the mortals? Are there any celestials that don’t believe in any deities other than the Progenitors?

Looking at the last three questions, the answer is “yes.” When a cleric uses planar ally an outsider answers the call. There’s three possible reasons ways this could happen.

  • The ally is manifested on the spot from the energy of the divine power source. Once its job is done it will be absorbed back into the source. This is particularly logical for the Silver Flame, which as described above has no roots in the outer planes. Given that, if I DID have an angel respond to a Silver Flame caster’s spells, I might use angel stats but I’d likely give it couatl features — rainbow wings, feathers instead of hair, etc. Essentially, a celestial of this sort is a pure embodiment of the faith and should have whatever trappings are appropriate for that.
  • The ally is an existing immortal who is devoted to the faith. In Fourth Edition material we suggest that there are angels (which in 4E is a broader class of celestial than in previous editions) who are devoted to the Sovereigns. The account is essentially that the Sovereigns at one point were present in the planes before ascending to a higher level of existence (which lines up with the Draconic Thir view of the Sovereigns). The angels have no direct line of communication with the Sovereigns, but have absolute faith that the Sovereigns exist and are part of the machinery of reality, and that my carrying out their functions the angels are following the plans of the Sovereigns. This is also in line with the idea of Radiant Idols — who are essentially angels who have become jealous of the worship the absent Sovereigns receive and want such worship themselves.  
  • But you could just as easily say that the angel in question doesn’t believe in the faith and that this doesn’t matter. When a cleric of Dol Arrah calls for a planar ally, they might get an angel from Irian who is devoted to protecting life and inspiring hope. Or they might get an archon from Shavarath who embodies combat fought for a just cause. Neither of these celestials cares exactly what the mortal believes; they are responding to the justice of the cause. It’s clear that this is aligned with their purpose… and that’s all that matters.

If I ever get to write a sourcebook on the planes, I’ll have to decide which of those last two answers I’ll run with. But both are plausible.

Can spells call on planar allies from sources like the Path of Light or the Becoming God that haven’t become Sovereign or Planar dominating yet?

Sure: either the first or third options I share above apply to this situation. The Path of Light is divine power source. Therefore the planar ally could be manifested on the spur of the moment from that source. It doesn’t have a truly independent identity and existence; it comes into being to fulfil the needs of the caster and vanishes once it’s done. If you’ve seen Rick & Morty, it’s a Mister Meeseeks. The third option is the idea that you’re just drawing an outsider who supports what you’re trying to do, even if they don’t share your faith.

Where do the fiendish/devil/demons conjured by evil clerics come from? Can you do some examples as you did for celestial creatures?

All the premises given for divine casters summoning celestials apply to fiends as well. They’re either formed directly from the divine power source, immortals devoted to the force in question, or immortals who approve of the general principle of the call. Mabaran fiends are generally happy for an opportunity to cause loss or crush hopes. Demons of Shavarath enjoy savage bloodshed.

We know of Mabar and Irian crystals, and dusk and dawnshards have been mentioned, are there other planar shards or crystals?

Certainly. There are a host of minerals and vegetation infused with planar energies or shaped by exposure to those energies, and this is true of every plane. Such things are most typically found in manifest zones, where they are shaped by long-term exposure to planar energies. In the case of plants, they usually won’t grow outside such zones… or they’ll grow, but will lack their remarkable properties. This is why covadish leaves (ECS 91) are only found in Aerenal; they are specifically found in certain manifest zones tied to Mabar, which are most common in Aerenal.

So: there are many different forms of planetouched minerals and plants. Many of these serve as components for spells and the creation of magic items; we’ve just never called these things out. For example, in the Thorn of Breland books Thorn uses Mabaran nightwater when disarming mystical wards. In my opinion, this wasn’t a special magic item that was giving her extra bonuses; it’s that nightwater is part of a rogue’s basic toolkit when dealing with magical traps. Likewise, while the core PHB might suggest that a fireball requires sulpher or guano as a component, in Eberron wizards might instead use a pinch of Fernian firedust. This is no more difficult to acquire than sulfur would be in another setting; it’s simply that it’s a resource unique to the world.

When it becomes possible to create new Eberron material, I’d love to put together a more substantial list of such things — both those background items like nightwater and firedust and things that are rarer and have more dramatic uses.

Do dragonshards operate differently on other planes?

We’ve never suggested that they behave in unusual ways when taken to other planes, and at least in the novels we have planar travelers who don’t experience any unusual behavior with dragonshards or dragonmarks. 

Eberron has various Ages in its history, are there any planar milestones tracked on other planes?

Sure, but I can’t give you specific examples until there’s an opportunity to develop the planes in more detail. The Turning of the Age in Dal Quor is an example of this established in canon. Perhaps Fernia has a similar cycle — it’s currently mildly evil-aligned and thus dominated by the malevolent aspects of fire, but perhaps at other times it’s been mildly good-aligned and more positive. The Endless Night has cycles of absorption and assimilation. I have thoughts about how milestones might unfold in Shavarath — but it’s something that will have to wait for a longer article. 

I’d love to read about how the gith survive on Kythri. With how chaotic it is, how do permanent establishments exist?

First of all, I think Kythri is more complex than the previous description gives it credit for. Its layers are symbols of chaos, change and uncertainty; that doesn’t necessarily mean that the entire plane is literally formless, churning chaos. The Githzerai might have drifting monastaries that ARE constantly changing and evolving — but they never stop being monastaries, and the change occurs over hours or days, not seconds. The Githzerai are comfortable with this constant change; like a zen garden, they meditate on the shifting form and how it reflects reality. It may well be that it’s the mental discipline of the Githzerai that imposes this relative stability; if the monks were to abandon their monastary (or if they were killed) it would dissolve into the greater chaos.

If you have questions or thoughts about the planes, post them below! And thanks as always to the Patreon supporters who keep the blog going.

Dragonmarks: Aasimar

Recently I polled my Patreon backers for questions related to the Planes of Eberron. There’s still a lot of questions I’d like to address, so I’m going to keep talking about the planes for the rest of the month; I’ll hold a poll on Patreon soon to determine next month’s topic.

Have you done any thinking on the role of aasimar in the setting? I’d love an example or two of uniquely Eberron takes on them.

First of all, you might want to check my previous posts on using exotic races and tieflings, since many of the concepts overlap. I haven’t personally used aasimar in Eberron in the past. The Kalashtar already fill the role of “race touched by noble celestial force” and they have a well-established place in the setting; beyond that, we also already have the shulassakar as a race of divine champions touched by the Silver Flame.

Of course, aasimars don’t have to be an entire race. They can easily be individuals shaped by exposure to divine forces… or literally planetouched, altered by the energies of one of the planes. Here’s a few quick takes.

SHULASSAKAR

Do you want to be a member of a hidden race touched by divine power and devoted to fighting the forces of darkness? Then the shulassakar might be right for you. As described in this Dragonshard, the ancestors of the shulassakar were human; but after generations of serving the Silver Flame and the couatl, they have evolved into something new. They are described as being similar to yuan-ti, but as specifically having couatl traits instead of general serpent traits. Like the yuan-ti, the degree of this mutation varies. Transcendent shulassakar are equivalent to yuan-ti abominations. Flametouched shulassakar are similar to the malisons of 5E. And Flamesworn shulassakar are much like yuan-ti purebloods… nearly human, with just a few twists that reveal their true heritage and connection to the Silver Flame.

In playing an aasimar in 5E Eberron, one of the simplest options is to be a Flamesworn shulassakar. Your celestial guide is the spirit of a couatl, and your radiant racial powers reflect your connection both to the couatl and the Silver Flame. If you choose the Protector subrace, the wings you manifest are the rainbow-feathered wings of a couatl. As a Scourge you unleash the radiant power of the Silver Flame. The other racial features are all sound enough; as a Flamesworn shulassakar you don’t have sufficient serpentine traits to require mechanical representation. Physically you should appear to be generally human, but you could have a few unusual cosmetic details to make life interesting. You could have a mane of rainbow feathers instead of hair. Less dramatically, you could have serpentine eyes… and your irises might swirl in a rainbow of colors. You could have patches of iridescent scales. But mechanically you can use the features of the aasimar.

In playing a shulassakar aasimar, one question is your connection to others of your race. The shulassakar are a true-breeding race, devoted to fighting darkness and demons. They are few in number and generally work from the shadows. Have you been given a particular mission by a leader of your people? Or perhaps your cell was wiped out by the Lords of Dust, leaving you the only survivor? You could have a concrete mission you’re trying to accomplish, or you could be relying on your couatl mentor to guide you towards your destiny.

THE MIRON GAMBIT

When Bel Shalor threatened Thrane, a couatl contacted Tira Miron and guided her on the path to bind the demon. This was more than the typical tie between a cleric or paladin and their divine power source; Tira received direct guidance and power from a spiritual emissary of the Silver Flame. What does that look like if it happens today? Take a human; add the ability to communicate with an emissary of a divine force; say that this connection gives them an infusion of radiant energy and the ability to manifest this power; and you have an aasimar. The point is that this isn’t genetic; this is about destiny and faith. You weren’t born an aasimar; you were chosen to become one. Most likely you appear entirely human except when you use your radiant racial abilities; at these times you might be surrounded by a halo or similar dramatic effects. Why were you chosen? What is your mission? What is your spiritual guide?

The concept here is that an aasimar is someone that has a direct connection to a celestial and a mission from one of the primary faiths of Eberron. The Silver Flame is easy; you manifest radiant fire. If you’re tied to the Sovereign Host, the manifestation of your abilities might be reflected by the Sovereign you’re tied to. If you’re connected to Arawai, your radiant power might be a verdant green, and plants might flower when you touch them. If you’re tied to Olladra, you might have minor manifestations of good fortune — if you walk through a casino, the slot machines hit jackpots. The radiant manifestations of an aasimar tied to the Blood of Vol might be blood-red flames.

The critical question is what your celestial guide is like. If you want to have a mentor relationship with your guide — if it’s someone that you can TALK to — then it shouldn’t be a Sovereign or the Flame; instead it should be a celestial devoted to that force. So if you’re tied to Arawai, you don’t talk to HER; instead you have an angel from Irian who guides you in Olladra’s name. As an aasimar tied to the Silver Flame, you’re guided by a couatl (just like Tira Miron was). The strangest idea is that of the aasimar of the Blood of Vol, whose spiritual guide could be their own divine spark — the piece of divinity that exists within them and knows what they could become. Alternately you could have the aasimar receive visions or pronouncements that might come directly from a Sovereign. But following the general principle of Eberron that the divine is mysterious, you shouldn’t be able to just chat with a Sovereign; they would communicate in visions and intuition.

PLANETOUCHED AASIMARS

Aasimar are often described as “planetouched.” In Eberron, that’s an easy thing to be. If you want aasimar to be a thing that exists within the world in significant numbers, an easy option is to say that an aasimar is the result of a child being conceived in a powerful manifest zone or during a coterminous period tied to a generally positively aligned plane. A few obvious options are Irian, Syrania, Shavarath or Fernia.

 

  • Irian is the plane of light and life, and the easiest option for the classic Aasimar. You might have luminous eyes and a vibrant, healthy glow. Your celestial mentor would encourage you to fight the forces of darkness and to give hope to the hopeless.
  • If you’re tied to Shavarath, you have a connection to the Archons that embody just conflict. You should naturally be aggressive, quick to fight for any just cause and quick to assume that conflict can be the best response to a problem… though equally bound by principles of honor and chivalry. Your hair or even skin might be the color of steel, and you are most comfortable with a weapon in your hand.
  • Syrania is the plane of peace and contemplation. As a Syranian aasimar you would be driven to be a mediator, to settle disputes and bring people together. Given Syrania’s aerial aspect, the Protector aasimar is the logical path for a Syranian aasimar. Alternately, your celestial guide could be the divine spark of an Angel banished from Syrania after becoming a Radiant Idol; the angel has fallen, but the spark of its original nobility is with you… and perhaps it’s your destiny to find a way to reunite that spark with the Idol and redeem the fallen angel.
  • Fernia is a slightly odd choice, but noble spirits of Fernia embody the positive aspects of fire: the light that keeps shadows at bay and holds off the killing cold. The Scourge aasimar is the logical choice for Fernia; I might further replace any “necrotic” racial abilities with “Fire”, and the Scourge ability might inflict fire damage instead of radiant. Note that this is different from a Genasi because you’re not about elemental fire; you are about the idea of fire as a positive force in the world. As a Fernian aasimar, you might have a mane of cold fire instead of hair, or burning eyes.

 

The critical question with planetouched aasimar is how many of them exist? If your Fernian aasimar with the burning hair walks into a bar, does anyone know what you are? And of those who do, are you considered to be blessed, or are you a freak? Sharn is in a Syranian manifest zone and since it’s not full of aasimar, presumably it takes more than proximity alone to produce one… unless you decide that your Sharn IS full of aasimar, in which case people are probably fairly familiar with them!

OFF THE WALL

As long as we’re considering crazy ideas…

  • You’re an experiment by House Vadalis. You HAVE a connection to the Silver Flame, but it’s artificially engineered, not driven by faith. You escaped from the house and they’re hunting you — if they can isolate your connection, they can harness the power of the Flame for the Twelve.
  • Same idea, but it’s the Lords of Dust who are behind it. The divine power that’s tied to you is the prison of a specific Overlord; the stronger you grow, the weaker his bonds become.
  • You’re one of nine aasimar born at the same time. Each one of you hears the voice of a Sovereign guiding you. As you gain power, you could BECOME an avatar of that Sovereign. Is this a natural process, something that happens every so often? Or has this been engineered by a Daelkyr or by the Blood of Vol — incarnating the Sovereigns so something can be done to them?

If I was a player and interested in something like this, I’d probably just tell the DM to surprise me. Anyhow, hopefully this has given you some ideas to play with. Share your questions and thoughts below! And thanks again to my Patreon supporters.

Planes of Hope, Peace and Order

All of the Planes of Eberron have stories to tell and things to offer a campaign. Unfortunately, we never had time to explore them in depth. Until Eberron is unlocked for 5E, there’s a limit to what I can do. Yesterday I posted a long article about the Endless Night, but even that only scratches the surface. I’d love to delve deeper into the denizens of the Night and schemes that could drive adventures, and to develop unique creatures or treasures that could be found there. Hopefully this will be possible in the future. 

Some planes have generated more requests than others. In particular, Daanvi, Irian, and Syrania have all come up. Some people have said they don’t know what to do with them, that they’re too benevolent or too abstract, or simply that they have no touchstones to base them on. I don’t have the time to explore all of these with the same focus as the Endless Night article. But here’s some quick takes that may inspire ideas. As always, bear in mind that this information is not canon for Eberron and could contradict canon Eberron sources; this is what I’d do in my own campaign.

THE ETERNAL DAWN

Yesterday I explored the Endless Night. The Eternal Dawn is its opposite in all ways. The Dawn embodies both life and hope. It’s the dawn that inevitably overcomes the darkness, the spring that will eventually triumph over even the coldest winter. It is the wellspring of positive energy, which is the foundation of light, life and love.

The Eternal Dawn is also filled with layers, but its layers are about beginnings. These include fertile realms untouched by cultivating tools, but also budding towns or new villages, or the capital of an empire in its first days of glory. So: how does such a capital differ from a fortress in the Battleground? How is a virgin woodland any different from something you’d find in the Twilight Forest? The issue is the theme, which is always felt throughout the plane. In the Battleground, you will never escape the presence of war and strife. There are always archons drilling for battle, the scent of blood and smoke in the air, constant preparation for the next struggle. By contrast, the Amaranthine City in the Eternal Dawn is suffused by a sense of optimism and opportunity. There may be guards, but you won’t see armies; there may be fortifications, but they don’t feel worn and they don’t dominate things. The landscapes of the Twilight Forest emphasize the primordial power of nature; in the Eternal Dawn the focus is simply on vibrance and fertility. And yes, the Amaranthine City at the heart of the Dawn shares its name with the city at the core of the Endless Night.

It is believed that whenever the Endless Night seizes a fragment of reality, a new seed appears in the Eternal Dawn – a realm that grows as its counterpart in the Night is consumed, ultimately flowing away from the Dawn to fill the vacant space and restore the balance of energy in the wounded plane.

The Eternal Dawn is a constant source of hope and positive energy. Its celestials and Lumi rarely intrude directly on other planes, because they don’t have to; just as the Gardeners of the Endless Night cultivate despair without ever leaving their plane, the powers of the Dawn promote hope from beyond. With that said, the celestials of the Eternal Dawn are those most likely to help mortals. In Eberron, the celestials of Irian are the spirits that commonly respond to planar ally and similar mystic requests from divine casters tied to the Sovereign Host. Some of these celestials are devoted to the Sovereigns; others are simply happy to answer the call of someone in need. (In my opinion, the Silver Flame usually generates temporary celestials out of the raw energy of the Flame… but there are certainly spirits in Irian who would be glad to support Templars facing forces of darkness.)

Here’s a few other ways the Eternal Dawn could touch a campaign.

  • While the Dawn rarely intervenes, occasionally one or more Lumi will venture to the material to strike darkness directly. The PCs could encounter a group of vigilantes backed by Lumi. A Lumi could appear and announce that it’s here to help the PCs with the darkness that has targeted them… which is a way for a group to discover that they’ve been targeted by darkness. Do they embrace the Lumi and follow its lead? Or do they think the celestial is crazy?
  • A PC injured by dark magic has a wound that seemingly will never heal. But the Waters of Life in the Amaranthine City can cure any ill; they may be the only hope for the victim.
  • There is a manifest zone tied to the Eternal Dawn between two villages on a national border, and both villages lay claim to this region (which amplifies fertility of both plants and animals). This feud is on the verge of breaking into open conflict… can the PCs resolve the situation?
  • A paladin is presented with a weapon, shield or tool that holds the essence of a celestial from the Dawn. Can they live up to the expectations of the spirit?
  • A planar scholar believes that the power of Irian could restore the Mournland. Will the PCs travel to the Amaranthine City and implore the Dawn Emperor for aid? Assuming the Emperor has the power to direct the restorative powers of the Dawn to this purpose, what will he require?

THE AZURE SKY

Crystal spires floating in blue sky. Farms are spread across soft banks of clouds. It is breathtaking, serene, and above all, peaceful. The Azure Sky is the realm of peace and of those things that flourish in peaceful times, such as abstract knowledge and commerce.

It is virtually impossible to conceive an aggressive thought while in this plane. For this reason, it has become a crossroads for planar travelers, both immortal and otherwise. The Immeasurable Market hosts artisans and merchants from across realities. While the Market includes beings from many planes, most of the floating towers of the Azure Sky are home only to angels engaged in serene contemplation. Some of these angels are scholars studying a particular topic. Others are philosophers who contemplate a particular concept. Others simply embody an idea. This can overlap with other planes in strange ways. You could have an angel of Hope in the Azure Sky, but this is very different from a celestial from the Eternal Dawn. The angel in the Azure Sky doesn’t INNATELY embody hope; rather it is about the idea of someone seeking to embrace and understand hope… and beyond that, it is the only angel in the plane who has this role. You can even have an angel who studies the arts of war; but it does so in an abstract and peaceful way, as opposed to the active aggression of an Archon of the Battlefield.  

As a rule the Azure Sky doesn’t meddle in the affairs of other realms. But here’s a few ideas.

  • An angel could venture into the material plane seeking to prove a thesis related to its field of study. This could require interaction with (or manipulation of) player characters. Alternately, the angel could intend to be present only as an observer but instead be drawn into a conflict.
  • An unusual merchant might have a back door that opens onto the Immeasurable Market, where they trade mundane things as exotic curiosities.
  • A traveling merchant selling goods from the Immeasurable Market could cause chaos, innocently or intentionally.
  • PCs could require specific knowledge known only to an angelic scholar or goods only available in the Immeasurable Market. Or perhaps they are pursuing a fugitive who has managed to flee to the Azure Sky… how do you capture this villain in a realm where conflict is impossible?

THE PERFECT ORDER

As with many other planes, the Perfect Order has levels and layers that embody different aspects of the ideas of Law and Order, Discipline and Civilization. Unlike the other planes, in the Perfect Order these layers are carefully laid out and connected by a clear and simple system of portals — of course, you have to follow the proper protocols and be authorized to USE those portals. There are districts where Formians endlessly toil over perfectly maintained fields. There’s an endless series of courts where Inevitable tribunals judge the actions of mortals, chronicling every crime every committed; in some instances judgement is passed instantly, where other cases can last a mortal lifetime. All laws, systems of government, and violations of these laws are recorded and filed away in the Infinite Archives, catalogued and managed by a seemingly endless hierarchy of modrons. There are districts that are prefect models of utopian societies… and districts where the law is a brutal and oppressive force. Order is powerful, but it’s not innately good; the Perfect Order thus embodies law as a force for justice as well as the crushing weight of an oppressive system.

This is a slight twist from the depiction of Daanvi in The Eberron Campaign Setting, which focuses on order purely as a dispassionate force for an abstractly general good. In my mind, the Perfect Order should be entirely as diverse as Shavarath, and with the same dichotomy: the nature of an outsider reflects whether it represents Order as a positive or negative force. Formians, Inevitables and Modrons are neutral, and they reflect the dispassionate imposition or law and order outside of judgement of good or evil. But then you have devils embodying the harsh imposition of order and the use of laws as a tool of oppression – with celestials embodying the noble aspects of law and order, the quest for justice and for a utopian society. In many cases an entire district will follow a particular theme, but there are surely districts where devils debate archons before impassive inevitable arbiters, engaging in cases that could last for centuries. I’d love to explore this in more depth — exactly what sorts of fiends and celestials would fill these roles? What are some specific examples of an oppressive district? — but it will have to wait until another time.

Here’s a few thoughts about ways to use the Perfect Order in a campaign.

  • It’s unusual for an inevitable to interfere with the material world. But there are oaths that can be sworn — mystical vows that enforce a bargain with the power of Daanvi. It’s no trivial thing to enact such a pact, but should it be broken the oathbreaker will be hounded by kolyaruts and other inevitable forces.
  • The Infinite Archive records all laws and transgressions since the dawn of time. Perhaps the PCs need to know the details of some ancient transgression… but can they work their way through the modron bureaucracy to get it?
  • The tribunals of Daanvi judge all crimes, but they don’t have the jurisdiction to punish crimes on the material plane. However, if a mortal comes forward and offers to serve justice against a heinous transgressor, the powers of Daanvi might provide tools to help this person enact a proper punishment. However, this would call the eye of Daanvi down onto this person and their allies, and place them under the jurisdiction of the Court… are they so sure they are without crimes of their own?
  • As with the Azure Sky, a fugitive could flee to the Perfect Order. The PCs need to apprehend this person quickly to prevent some sort of disaster. But when they get to the Perfect Order they discover that the villain is already on trial… but that this trial could last a decade. Can the PCs find a way to either extract their target or so speed up the justice of Daanvi?
  • Artifacts from the Perfect Order could have powerful effects with dangerous consequences. A stone could cause all creatures within a mile to always speak the truth. A scourge could purge all thoughts of rebellion from anyone struck with it. A crown could whisper advice to its wearer, guiding its bearer to rule a perfect kingdom – but is it just order, or cruel tyranny?
  • Whether by natural mishap or the actions of an enemy, PCs could suddenly find themselves in a brutally oppressive district in the Perfect Order. Can they survive and escape? Through their actions, could they even shift the balance of the district – replacing tyranny with justice?

QUESTIONS

If we wanted to place fiends on Irian, would it follow that fiends related to cancers and tumours (aka uncontrolled growth) would be appropriate?

Irian isn’t about the mechanical and scientific idea of life, which is really more tied to Lamannia. In a sense ALL diseases could be defined as being about life, as viruses simply seek to reproduce. More than anything, Irian is about positive energy and all that that embodies. It’s about life in opposition to death, creation versus destruction, hope versus despair – not the difficulties and complications that come with life. One quick thing to consider: Irian is the source of positive energy, which is the basis of all healing magic. In your Eberron, can cancer be cured with healing magic? If so, I see no reason why the concept of it would thrive in Irian. If not – which could be interesting – then maybe it would fit in Irian. But I generally see embodiments of disease being tied to Mabar (as things that decay and destroy) or Lamannia (as part of nature).

Of all the planes, Mabar and Irian have the strongest innate alignment towards “good” and “evil”, which is why I call our Irian as the source of most planar allies. Looking to Shavarath, Daanvi, even Fernia we generally look at the positive and negative aspects of the core concept. But Irian and Mabar ARE positive and negative. There’s not a lot of room for darkness in the Eternal Dawn.

Is there any connection or possible connections between warforgeds and inevitables?

I don’t see that being something we’d ever suggest in canon Eberron. While Inevitables look like constructs, they’re immortal outsiders — not living constructs like the warforged. And per canon sources, if anyone outsiders influenced the creation of the warforged it’s most likely to have been the pre-Dreaming Dark Quori (as hinted at in Secrets of Xen’drik and The Shattered Land). But if YOU want to play with the idea of the Inevitables inspiring or aiding the creation of the Warforged — and perhaps having the power to commandeer warforged bodies — it could be an interesting plotline.

What are the “eternal laws” that inevitables will enforce? Did somebody build them?

In my opinion, the Inevitables are immortal spirits that embody the idea of law and inevitable justice. They weren’t built, and they aren’t actually constructs in the same sense as warforged; they simply APPEAR to be constructs because that fits the concept of an utterly impartial agent of order.

I’ve suggested that the courts of Irian judge all mortal creatures — and my thought there is that they judge each creature according to the laws of its community. The Infinite Archive is a catalogue of all systems of law, and the tribunals of Daanvi impartially judge you based on YOUR laws. But that’s where they lack the jursidiction to enact sentences; they judge, but have no authority to punish. In my examples, I suggest that this is where a PC could potentially go to Daanvi and be a “process server” — but that in taking on this role, they’d better have a clean record. I could also see this as an excellent role for a paladin PC: they aren’t a paladin of a particular god, but rather acting as an enforcer for the justice of Daanvi.

As for when Inevitables will act directly, it’s up to you. In MY Eberron I don’t want Inevitables to be trivial or commonplace. I don’t want them to screw up my story (He just broke his word! Why don’t the inevitables show up to  punish him?) or to diminish the role of PCs. I want them to be exotic, frightening, and as a result RARE. So I’d say that Inevitables only act when they have jurisdiction… and they can only gain jursidiction when under the following circumstances.

  • When they are given jurisdiction by the target. As I suggest earlier, I think it should be possible to swear an oath that puts you under the eye of Daanvi. But this should be an actual magical ritual with expensive components, not something done trivially. A member of the Aurum could pull this out when demanding loyalty from PCs, but it’s not something you’re going to do with a common merchant.
  • The Inevitables could have jursidiction over actions taken in a manifest zone to Daanvi, or when Daanvi is coterminous with Eberron. So you may have the ancient oathstone where a tribe makes their vows (…and eternal justice will punish he who breaks his vow to the stones…) or a time when EVERYONE knows that you have to tread carefully when Daanvi is coterminous.

But as always in Eberron, what makes a good story?

So: how common are travelers in Syrania and Daanvi?

I think it’s very rare for extraplanar travelers to go to Daanvi. Among other things, anyone going to Daanvi is going to have to deal with all the various restrictions and regulations, with serious consequences if you transgress.

Syrania, on the other hand, is a place that is welcoming to planar travelers. You still may not have many travelers from Eberron, but there are certainly some; you might have a dragon from the Chamber consulting angelic scholars or a Night Hag browsing the Immeasurable Market. But I certainly think you have a mix of mortals and lesser immortals from other planes, along with a few powerful spirits. The question is WHY a powerful spirit would choose to leave its home plane. One point is that Syrania is a place of absolute peace; perhaps opposing generals in Shavarath might meet in Syrania as an absolute neutral ground, or a Thelanian wizard might share arcane notes and stories with a counterpart from Xoriat. All of these things would still be rare — but again, if that’s the story you want to tell, Syrania is a good place for it to play out.

Dragons have power for dimensional travel and are mortals. But it looks like they don’t do it very often even if it could be a great resource against demons. Why?

Powerful dragons are certainly potential planar travelers. But it’s not necessarily as great a resource as you might think. As a rule, planar travel is dangerous. You’re dealing with powerful beings driven by alien logic and odds are good you don’t understand their worldview. Very few of them are interesting in helping you, and those who are will need an excellent reason. On the whole, the archons of Shavarath don’t care about the dragons’ current squabble with some demons, because the war the archons are fighting themselves is more important and is, in their opinion, defining the balance of the entire universe. Essentially, by fighting their war the Archons believe they ARE already helping everyone on Eberron and they don’t have time for your petty, small-minded mortal problems: they’ve got to get back to the war. A Syranian scholar may be willing to take some time to talk to you, but again, their contemplation is more important than your mortal problems — and if you expect to get much of their time, you’d better have something interesting to offer them.

But in short: dragons MAY be engaging in dimensional travel. A Chamber agent might have access to a sword forged in the Eternal Dawn or a treasure from the Immeasurable Market. We don’t know about it because we know next to nothing about what dragons are doing in their struggle against the Lords of Dust. But they aren’t bringing in hordes of allies from Shavarath (or other planes) because the immortals aren’t interested. I’ll talk more about the motivations of celestials tomorrow.

Would you have any idea about the kind of things a host of angels from the Azure Sky would like to keep secure, that may kindle envy from an outsider (be it a NPC or, for that matter, PC in a different context)?

Given the theme of commerce, it could literally be anything, because it could have come from another plane. But looking to something with a concrete tie to the plane…

  • A gemstone that is believed to hold an entire reality within it. The gem serves as a source of power for divine spells, as the attuned bearer can draw on the devotion of an entire world.
  • A crystal that is the essence of an angel, who engaged in contemplation so deep that they condensed into this form; it’s unknown if they will one day reform, and if so what revelations they will bear.
  • A cloud seed. If activated, it will extrude an island-sized mass of solid (but floating) cloud-matter that can serve as a foundation for buildings. This region is also treated as a manifest zone to Syrania; this could have the same properties as the Sharn zone, or it could have an additional enforced peace effect.
  • A coin with which you can purchase anything. Anything that can be bought can be purchased with this coin; its irresistible magic compels the owner to make the trade. In the process this means you’re giving them the coin, so you only get to use it once. But you can buy anything that can be bought with it.
  • A book scribed by a since-fallen angel that is the absolute source of knowledge on something. A particular Overlord or type of demon. An epic spell that could have catastrophic effects if cast. Some secret lore about one of the planes. If you want to take things a step farther, the angel could have “fallen” into Xoriat; this book holds some secret about the nature of reality so fundamentally destabilizing that realizing it shifted them into being a spirit of madness.

I wish that I had more time to explore these things, and I hope that someday I will. Share your thoughts and ideas in the comments. And as always, thanks to everyone who’s supporting the site on Patreon; the more support we have, the more I can do with it in the future.

The Endless Night

And on the pedestal these words appear: ‘My name is Ozymandias, king of kings: Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!’ Nothing beside remains. Round the decay of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare the lone and level sands stretch far away.

Percy Shelley, “Ozymandias

A sea of liquid shadows laps against black sands and basalt cliffs. A skull lies half-buried in the sand, empty sockets gazing into the roiling mist. The bone isn’t sun-bleached, for there is no sun here; only a faint glimmer from the deep violet moon that hangs in the sky. If you’re playing in Eberron, this is the plane of Mabar. If you’re playing Phoenix: Dawn Command it could be a realm of the Fallen in the deep Dusk. For now, set aside specific system and setting and consider the Endless Night.

Those who know little of what lies beyond common reality often assume that the Endless Night is the plane of “darkness” — that this physical trait is its defining concept. Though the plane is shrouded in shadows, this eternal gloom is just a symptom of the true nature of this place. Even the brightest day will eventually end in darkness, and the Endless Night embodies this idea. It is the shadow that surrounds every island of light, patiently waiting to consume it. This isn’t the place where the souls of the living go after death, but it is the plane of death itself — the hungry shadow that consumes both light and life. It is entropy, hunger and loss — embodying the idea that all things will eventually end in darkness.

ENVIRONS

Like many of the planes, the Endless Night isn’t one contiguous landscape. Rather, it’s layers of reality, each one a different vision of desolation and inevitable decay. In one layer a desert of black sand is broken by jagged obsidian peaks. In another layer, a once-fertile valley has wasted away; crumbling farms are scattered amid withered fields. Another layer is a single vast city. The fountains are dry, the walls are cracked, but rotting tapestries and chipped mosaics speak of an age of wonders. The critical thing to understand is that this cities has ALWAYS been a ruin. This is what Mabar is: the end of things embodied. When mortals pass through, the idea of decay may manifest dramatically – a bridge collapses, a floor gives way – but come back in a week and there will be a new crumbling bridge ready to fall. These layers are symbols of inevitable entropy and lost glory; the precise details may evolve and change, but the net effect remains the same.

While the stage varies — a desert, a ruined city, the withered remains of fertile farmland, or anything else you can imagine — the story is always about loss, entropy, despair, and death. Feel free to add anything that ties to these themes. A massive battlefield filled with the intertwined bones of dragons and giants. Ossuaries and catacombs. Crumbling memorials, with names just too faded to read. Barren orchards and dried riverbeds. And tombs… from tiny unmarked crypts to the death-palaces of fallen rulers, necropolises filled with traps and treasures. And this being the Endless Night, some of those dead rulers still dominate their domains, whether they take the form of undead or simply malevolent will.

These layers aren’t bound by the laws of physical space. They can be tiny, or they can be seemingly infinite. A desert may wrap back upon itself, and the alleys in a city could twist in impossible ways to always return you to the main square… or you could just come to an absolute edge, where everything falls away into an endless and all-consuming void. To move from one layer to another you must either employ spells of your own or find a portal that connects the two realms. Sometimes these are fairly obvious: a massive gate standing alone in the desert, a pit filled with swirling shadows. In other cases, the connection could be entirely abstract. If you are in the valley of the Bone King and you want to get to the desert of the Queen of All Tears, the answer is simple: all you have to do is sincerely cry, and the tears themselves will take you there.

Of course, if you want to explore the Endless Night there are problems you will face no matter where you go. The realm itself constantly consumes light and life. In 3.5 D&D terms it is minorly negative dominant. Unless you’re protected by some form of warding magics, the Night will continuously drain away your life energy, ultimately consuming your body and leaving nothing but a shadow. Even if you’re protected against this effect you must still deal with the darkness. All light sources in this plane are reduced to dim light. The radius of illumination doesn’t change, but no light can banish the perpetual gloom. Spells that use negative energy will be maximized (variable die rolls such as damage and healing have the maximum possible result; this doesn’t affect attack rolls or saving throws), while spells that rely on positive energy are minimized.

THE CONSUMING DARKNESS

Many of the layers of the Endless Night are purely symbolic. These ruins have existed for as long as the plane itself. Many… but not all. Most of the planes don’t interact with one another. The armies of the Battleground endlessly battle each other — they don’t lay siege to the Realm of Madness. The planes are self-contained and focused on their own slivers of reality. But the concept that defines the Endless Night is the hunger to consume light and life, along with the inevitable downfall of all things. And when all the forces align just perfectly, fragments of other planes can be pulled into the Endless Night. These fragments are caught on the edge of the night, the same way mortal dreams drift around the heart of the Realm of Dreams. Over time, they are drained and pulled closer to the core, until ultimately they are fully assimilated into the plane as a new bleak layer. Typically mortals will be transformed into shadows or other forms of undead; immortals might become yugoloths, or twisted into dark mockeries of their former selves.

The Drifting Citadel is just such a layer. This floating tower was once a library; in Eberron it was part of Syrania, while in Phoenix it was created by the Faeda Concord. Now it drifts through a icy void, grand windows shattered and books fallen from their shelves. Shadows of sages clutch at books with insubstantial fingers, never able to turn a page. The angelic librarians are now tormented spirits who hunger for knowledge, draining the memories from any creature unfortunate enough to fall into their grasp.

With this in mind, as you create layers of the Endless Night, consider the history of the layer. Is it a symbolic layer that has always been desolate? Or is it a place that once knew light before it was consumed by the Endless Night? Beyond this, you can also explore the fragments that are in the process of being consumed. Fragments of outer planes might understand what’s going on and be trying to find a way to fight it… but pieces stolen from the material plane may have no way to know what’s happening to them. So you could have a small kingdom ruled by a tragic lord who wields great power and yet is being consumed by darkness… an inescapable realm shrouded by mists, seeming cut off from the rest of the world. All of which is to say that this would be an easy way to add Ravenloft into a setting, as a piece of reality that is under siege by the dark powers of the Endless Night. In Eberron, the Mourning could be what happens when a piece of reality is consumed… in which case Queen Dannel could still rule over a version of Cyre that is being consumed by shadows. It could be that this wound will never heal, and that the Mournland is now a permanent part of Eberron; or it could be that given time restorative power will flow from the Eternal Dawn to restore the blighted land, creating a new Cyre. These unassimilated fragments don’t have the negative dominant trait, and can contain living creatures… but the consuming hunger of the Endless Night should always be felt in some way.

Overall, it might seem like this is something the powers of other planes would try to stop. But the it cannot be stopped, and they know it. It is part of the machinery of reality. The Endless Night consumes and fragments are lost. Those pulled into the darkness can fight against it, but the ultimate outcome is inevitable. Were it not for the Eternal Dawn, it would eventually consume everything. But as the Night consumes, the Dawn restores, and so balance is ultimately maintained. The question a GM must decide is whether the fragments that are consumed are random… or whether the Empress of Shadows has some discretion over this. It might not be possible to fight the coming of night… but it could be that planar emissaries come to the Amaranthine City to negotiate with the Empress of Shadows and turn the hungry darkness in a different direction.  

DENIZENS OF THE ENDLESS NIGHT

The most numerous inhabitants of Mabar are shadows. These semi-sentient spirits linger in places where you might expect to find people, forlornly pantomiming the roles of the absent inhabitants. You’ll find the shadows of children playing on the corner of a Mabaran street, or the shadow of a priest silently praying to an absent and unknown god in a shattered temple. Many sages who study the planes believe that these shadows are tied to mortals… that every sentient mortal creature has a shadow in the Endless Night, a manifestation of their darker impulses. These shadows don’t speak and are driven by impulse and instinct. They hunger for the lifeforce of mortals, and if planar travelers aren’t protected by magic they may be swarmed by hungry shadows.

The more desolate planes are home to nightshades. These powerful creatures are conduits of negative energy. In the obsidian desert, massive nightcrawlers lurk in the dark sands while nightwalkers lay claim to the ruins and rule over the shadows. Nightshades often attack fragments, feeding on the energy of the fragment and accelerating its assimilation. In these attacks, nightcrawlers may rely on raw force which nightwalkers may lead armies of undead. While intelligent, nightshades are more alien and primal than the yugoloths and rarely negotiate or converse with outsiders.

If the Endless Night has a heart, it would be the Amaranthine City… a metropolis that fills an entire layer. Nothing flourishes in this plane; banners are tattered and gardens are withered. But it is still wondrous in the scope of its cyclopean towers and grand fortifications. It is the capital of an empire in decline, and yet the hint of what it was at the height of its glory makes it wondrous even when faded. And it is no empty shell; it is a city alive with activity. This is the seat of the Empress of Shadows and her people; in D&D terms, these are the yugoloths. These are spirits of darkness, embodiments of hunger, despair and death. To all appearances, the yugoloths are citizens of a vast empire; they maintain that all things were once in darkness and eventually will be again.

Many yugoloths serve in the army. The Legion of Night lays siege to the fragments of planes that have powerful inhabitants of their own. The yugoloths do battle with angels and devils trapped in their doomed fragments, until the fragments are ultimately fully drained, assimilated, and their immortal inhabitants converted to a form more suited to the Endless Night. It’s questionable if these battles actually speed up the assimilation, or if they are simply a way for the fiends to pass the time; certainly, they enjoy these struggles.

Other yugoloths are gardeners… but what they cultivate is darkness. Most gardeners work with shadows. They search for promising shadows and use their abilities to strengthen a shadow in certain ways. It’s thought that this in turn feeds the darkness of the mortal tied to the shadow, potentially filling them with despair or driving them down dark paths. When the mortal eventually dies, the yugoloth can harness and refine the essence of the shadow, which can be used to create tools, elixirs, or works of art. While most gardeners work with shadows, some go into the fragments of the material plane that are being assimilated, twisting and tormenting the mortals trapped their in slow and subtle ways.

These are common paths, but there are many others. Some are philosophers and oracles who contemplate the nature of entropy and the way in which things will end. Some are artists and artisans, crafting shadow and spirit to create tools and weapons (which can cause death and despair should they make their way to the mortal world). And some serve seemingly menial roles in the Amaranthine City.

There are many other lesser inhabitants of the plane. Succubi are lesser spirits that embody emotional pain and loss. Some succubi are solitary and prey on mortals in fragments, while others live alongside the yugoloths and ply their wiles on them; the suffering of a fiend is just as satisfying to them as that of a mortal. Other succubi are gardeners, and some believe that a succubi can drain the love from a mortal heart by bleeding it from their shadow. And last but certainly not least, the Endless Night is home to undead. Most of the undead are symbolic: the endless skeletal armies of the Bone King aren’t actually the remains of mortal beings, and the Bone King himself, while he appears to be a lich, was likewise never mortal. Spectres and wraiths generally exist as predators, halfway between the Nightshades and the shadows. Some believe that when a vampire or lich is finally destroyed, its essence is pulled down into Mabar where it persists as a wraith… denied the eventual rest granted to other spirits of the dead, forever driven by the hunger of the night. Most are likely driven mad by this ordeal, but it’s possible that a vampire slain in a campaign could be encountered again as a spectral lord in the Endless Night.

TOUCHING THE MATERIAL: EBERRON

In an Eberron campaign, the Endless Night is the plane of Mabar. It affects the world in a number of ways: through manifest zones, coterminous periods, the actions of the plane and its denizens. Beyond this, some believe that Mabar is generally a source of despair and desolation, that it drains both emotional and physical energy from the world. While this is unproven, it is definitely the source of negative energy. Necromantic magics that sap energy or drain lifeforce draw on the power of the Endless Night. This is also the power that sustains most undead. Skeleton, vampire and wraith are all animated by the power of Mabar. This is the source of the vampire’s endless hunger and the draining touch of many undead. But even lesser undead innately draw life energy from the world around them. Typically this ambient drain is slight enough that there’s no mechanical effect; but this is why a haunted tomb will often be surrounded by dead plants and shriveled vines. The priests of Undying Court assert that negative undead are slowly destroying the world and that eventually this will cause irreparable harm; this is why the Aereni Deathguard seek to track and destroy Mabaran undead whenever possible.

One point here is the common confusion between Mabar and Dolurrh. Dolurrh is the realm of the dead, but it’s not the plane of death. Dolurrh is a place of transition. It is where the souls of the dead go after death, where the burdens of life are removed. So Dolurrh is where people go when they die; but Mabar embodies the idea of death, of inevitable loss and the end of all things.

COTERMINOUS AND REMOTE

According to the Eberron Campaign Setting, Mabar becomes coterminous for three days every five years. During these periods, there is a general increase in the amount of negative energy in the world. Shadows grow deeper and colder, and effects that rely on negative energy are strengthened. When one is alone in a dark place, this energy saps both strength and hope; solitary people are more likely to succumb to illness and despair. As a result, during these periods people generally come together to hold back the darkness. Communities gather around bonfires and sing or pray together; friends or families might gather into one abode for the duration, as bonds of love and friendship are a source of positive energy.

The Eberron Campaign Setting makes the consequences of the phase quite severe, stating “During the night and while underground, travel between the planes is much easier—simply stepping into an area where no light shines can transport a character from Eberron to Mabar, and barghests and shadows emerge from the Endless Night to hunt the nights of Eberron.” I consider this to be overstated for dramatic effect. Both of these things are possible, but here again, positive energy holds these effects at bay… and positive energy comes from light, life and love. So when Mabar is coterminous it is dangerous to go in the basement of the creepy abandoned house, or to wander alone on the moors at night. But if you’re in a house with your family and friends celebrating and singing around a roaring hearth, you don’t have to worry about being killed by a shadow when you go to the pantry. A child conceived during this period would have a chance to be born as a Mabaran tiefling… but in theory, if they child is conceived in love, that positive energy should prevent this.  

While it might be possible to be transported to Mabar by passing through a shadow in a desolate place during the coterminous phase, I wouldn’t have such an effect take you to the heart of Mabar, where the minor negative dominant aspect would kill a normal person within minutes; instead, I’d have them pass into a mortal fragment that’s currently on the edge of Mabar and being consumed. Which is, again, essentially Ravenloft. You go walking on the moors at night, pass through dark mists, and find yourself in a tiny and tragic kingdom besieged by despair.

On the other hand, when Mabar is remote effects that use negative energy are impeded; spirits are generally higher (though this effect is not as dramatic as a time when Irian is coterminous); and undead are often gripped with ennui.  

MANIFEST ZONES

All manifest zones to Mabar are strong sources of negative energy. Even if this doesn’t produce a direct mechanical effect, it is always the case that a Mabaran manifest zone is an excellent place to perform any sort of ritual that draws on negative energy. Other than that, here’s a few possible traits of Mabaran manifest zones.

  • Blighted or unnatural vegetation.
  • Low fertility and reduced resistance to disease. Creatures born in the region might be sickly, or you might get unnatural creatures (like Mabaran tieflings).
  • Psychological gloom: a tendency towards despair, hopelessness, and suicidal thoughts.
  • Presence of shadows, wraiths, or other undead. While these can be shades of mortals slain by other undead, they are typically just manifestations of Mabar itself – embodiments of consuming darkness.  
  • Skeletons or zombies might spontaneously animate from corpses. Such undead don’t have any of the memories of the body and will typically seek to kill any living creatures they encounter.
  • Unnatural darkness; light sources could be reduced, so even the brightest source only produces dim light. You could even have an area that is permanently shrouded in magical darkness.
  • Spells and effects that rely on negative energy could be enhanced or even maximized; undead could be strengthened.
  • Shadows could take on a life of their own without becoming fully formed aggressive monsters. It’s not that they exist independently of the things that cast them, but they might move in impossible ways or respond to actions around them.

Most of these don’t sound like very welcoming traits, and few people would likely choose a Mabaran manifest zone as a place to build their town. But there are reasons for doing it. We’ve established that in Karrnath, Blood of Vol communities often build temples in Mabaran manifest zones and perform rituals that help to contain the negative impact of the zone — and that some of the terrible famines in Karrnath were the results of soldiers seizing these towns and temples and failing to maintain these rites, resulting in sudden and dramatic blights. Beyond that, unnatural vegetation or minerals infused with Mabaran energy could have useful effects. In The Thorn of Breland books I talk about nightwater — water infused with Mabaran energy — as a common component used in disarming wards and magical traps.

So a Mabaran zone could be occupied by people trying to contain its effect or by necromancers channelling it; but often, they’re likely to be shunned areas in the wilds.

SCHEMES AND ADVENTURES

Do the denizens of Mabar ever have schemes that reach into Eberron? How could it play an interesting role in an adventure? One of the simplest ways is simply to work a manifest zone into a story. A necromancer has a tower in a blighted grove, and this empowers their magics and undead minions. The PCs take on the necromancer and defeat him. But when they return they discover that the necromancer’s work was holding the power of Mabar at bay, and the blight is spreading. Can they find a way to restore the balance? What if someone has to stay in the tower? Does one of the villagers have the talent? Or do they need to find another necromancer willing to hold the post – and can they trust her with this power?

Manifest zones could inspire many stories or interesting encounters.

  • Shadholt is a small village hidden in the woods of Karrnath… a village populated almost entirely by Mabaran tieflings. The tieflings harvest vegetation and dragonshards infused with Mabaran energies and can make interesting elixirs and items. Perhaps they simply wish to be left alone… but an encounter with superstitious foresters could lead to a conflict with the local warlord. What side will the PCs take? Are the tieflings innocent, or are they using the powers of Mabar to prey on their enemies? Or is Shadholt the source of an addictive drug that’s been spread ing across the region?
  • Passing across a moor, the PCs are set upon by the shadows of wolves and hawks. The following dawn, they discover that one of the PCs is missing their shadow… it’s been lost in the manifest zone. Do they need to go back and find it? If so, how? If not, what does it mean that the character no longer has a shadow?
  • The PCs discover that House Thuranni is experimenting with the potential of the Mark of Shadows, seeking to channel the power of Mabar. There’s a research center in a Mabaran manifest zone. What happens if the experiments work? Are the elves in full control of their powers? Or are they consumed by their own shadows, leaving dark hearts cloaked in flesh wielding terrifying powers?

Overall, the denizens of Mabar have no interest in Eberron; they have everything they need in Mabar and its fragments. However, just like the Daelkyr or the Kalashtar Quori, you could have an individual or small group of spirits that take an interest in Eberron. Here’s a few possibilities.

  • A disguised succubus is a scholar of loss, subtlely engineering disastrous tragedies for the people of a small community in order to study their reactions. Alternately you could take the same concept but she could be targeting powerful, successful individuals — such as player characters — instead of a particular place.
  • A small group of Yugoloths are studying the world and choosing the next location that will be consumed by Mabar. The consumption will happen, even if the Yugoloths are defeated… but can the damage be minimized?
  • A yugoloth artisan crafts artifacts and sows them into Eberron to cause death and despair. A weapon forged in Mabar could be a literal demon — a battleloth — or it could possess great power but bring tragedy to the one who wields it. A villain could cause great havoc with this night-forged blade; once the villain is defeated, will a PC claim the blade or leave it be?
  • A nightwalker has broken through into Eberron, turning a Mabaran manifest zones into a gateway. The dead are rising in response to the nightshade’s call, and it has a force of nightcrawlers and nightwings. The Nightwalker has no agenda other than destruction, despair, and drinking in the energy of the world. Where is this gateway? What will it take to close it and contain this threat?
  • Queen Dannel’s Cyre has been pulled into Mabar. There’s no way to reclaim it and return it to Eberron, but the now-vampire Dannel has a bigger goal. In Mabar, everything must end… even the yugoloth order. Dannel believes that she can overthrow the Empress of Shadows and become the new immortal overlord of the realm… but she needs the help of epic-level PCs to do it. Will they help transform Cyre into the new heart of the Endless Night?  

The idea of the consumed fragments opens up another host of story possibilities.

  • Forced out into the wilds during a Mabaran coterminous period, the PCs find themselves in a strange land. This could be a familiar town that’s now suffering from dangers and threats; can the PCs figure out what’s going on, and if it can’t be stopped can they help friends escape? It could be a realm pulled out of history, time slowed by the process of assimilation — the last stronghold of Karrn the Conqueror or Malleon the Reaver. Or it could be something entirely new, like Ravenloft.
  • An angel of Syrania reaches out to the PCs. Something vital is trapped in a Syranian tower that was pulled into Mabar. If the angel goes to the fragment, it will be trapped there forever; but mortals could enter the fragment, retrieve the relic and escape. What is the relic? What else might they find in the lost tower?
  • Similar ideas could take the players into the heart of Mabar itself. What treasures are hidden in the tomb of the Queen of All Tears? What secrets lie in the scattered tomes of the Drifting Citadel?

All of these ideas are literally off the top of my head, and I’m sure you can come up with others. Share your ideas in the comments!

THE DEEP DUSK: PHOENIX DAWN COMMAND

Phoenix: Dawn Command doesn’t have the complex cosmology of D&D. The Dusk is the realm that lies between life and death, a realm of spirits and magic. When a Phoenix dies, they go to a crucible – a pocket realm within the Dusk where they can earn their way back to the Daylit World. But there’s more to the Dusk than most Phoenixes ever see. The greatest of the Fallen Folk may have their own domains within the Dusk, and there can be great mystical engines left over from the Old Kingdoms, or simply from the framework of reality.

Within Phoenix, there’s a few ways you could use the Endless Night. Perhaps the Phoenixes face a great force of darkness striking against a community of innocents — a Nightwalker leading a legion of hungry wraiths and animated corpses. Destroying this being requires the Phoenixes to join their power together, sacrificing all their sparks to drive it back into the dusk. But instead of waking in their crucibles, the Phoenixes find themselves in the Endless Night, pulled into it by the spirit they banished. Can they find a way to escape the Deep Dusk? And what happens if they die before they do?

You could also explore the idea of the hungry realm… to have a piece of the Empire pulled into the Endless Night while the PCs are defending it. The life is being drawn out of it, and shadows lash out at the innocent. Can they find a way to return this farm/village/city to reality? And again, what happens if a Phoenix dies in this place? Do they simply return to the Night? Are they seemingly gone forever… and if so, is this what actually happens or have they simply been returned to the Daylit World?

Another possibility is to explore the idea that the layers of the Endless Night are all pieces seized from the Daylit World. Perhaps the Endless Night was created as a way to avoid the doom of the Old Kingdoms, preserving communities in some fashion (albeit a dark one); now the threat of the Dread has brought this old magic back to life, and it’s going to start stealing cities anew.

Q&A

How do Mabar and the Plane of Shadows both exist in the same cosmology while remaining distinct? What is the difference in themes between these two Planes? Can the Plane of Shadows have its own Manifest Zones?

This is spelled out on page 92 of the Eberron Campaign Setting. The entire reality of Eberron — including its thirteen planes — is enfolded by the astral plane; the ethereal and shadow planes encompass the material plane but don’t touch the other planes. The easy way to think of this is that the Shadow Plane is the darkness that lies between realities. It has no meaning as Mabar does; it is simply a dark space outside of reality. Spells like shadow walk let you use it as a shortcut through space, or even in theory as a conduit to move between realities. But it isn’t part of the creation of the Progenitors. It has no meaning and it doesn’t shape reality. It’s not part of the planar orrery, and as such it never becomes coterminous or remote and it doesn’t create manifest zones; it simply is.

A minor qualm, but it seems that Mabar as portrayed here ultimately prevails when it exceptionally interacts with other planes, as Syrania in the post. Yet, using the same example, after night comes dawn…

That’s exactly the point. The night consumes every day… and the dawn eventually overcomes each night. The section on “The Consuming Darkness” calls this out: Were it not for the Eternal Dawn, (The Endless Night) would eventually consume everything. But as the Night consumes, the Dawn restores, and so balance is ultimately maintained.”

The Endless Night embodies the idea of despair and the inevitable end. But the Eternal Dawn — in Eberron, Irian — embodies the idea of hope and the indomitability of life. Anything Mabar can consume, Irian can restore… though both of these things take time. But yes, Mabar will ultimately prevail against any fragment it consumes because that fragment has been pulled out of its own concept and into the Night, which is defined by that inevitable defeat.

Is it possible for there to be Mabaran celestials, or good-aligned spirits from Mabar? For that matter, are there any Irian fiends, or evil-aligned spirits from Irian?

Certainly, in both cases. But the point is that any spirit of the Endless Night is about the concept of death, loss, despair. If you can find a way to make a being who’s a positive embodiment of these things, it could be good. For example, you could have Small Mercies — little spirits that kill those who are suffering unendurable torment. Technically they’re good; they are helping those who suffer. But their tool is still death. You won’t have a spirit in Mabar that seeks to prevent death, because that’s something that belongs in Irian. Look at Shavarath: you have noble celestials fighting vile demons, but they are all fighting; you’re not going to find a spirit from Shavarath that thinks peace is a good idea, unless it’s the peace that will come when we win our noble battle against the enemy.

So any spirit of the Endless Night will somehow embody death or loss, entropy or despair. If you can think of the positive aspects of this and personify it, that could be a Mabaran celestial. Conversely, Irian is about life and love, new beginnings and hope. If you can find a way that these things could be negative, you could have an fiend that embodies that. Perhaps there’s a spirit that spreads false hopes… though again, if its ultimate goal was to cause despair, it would belong in Mabar. Meanwhile, in a fragment of Irian being consumed by Mabar you can have the embodiment of hope that is struggling against despair; and within a fully consumed layer, it might still exist as the embodiment of crushed hopes and disappointment.

With all of that said: Bear in mind that just as celestials can fall, fiends can also rise. In the same way that an angel can become a Radiant Idol or rebel Quori can become Kalashtar, you could have a yugoloth who defies their nature and purpose. However, like the Kalashtar Quori and the Radiant Idol, if they want to maintain that identity they’d likely have to flee from Mabar.

If Mabar is indeed Death itself, then how to the Seekers argue their use of its powers. Logically, the Undying Court would be right; however, it is important to the role of the Blood of Vol that they too would have arguments. I like the idea that they do their part to contain the spread of Mabar’s power in its manifest zones, but why wouldn’t they agree with the Court that Mabar is basically a hostile plane and not to be meddled with?

It’s like fire, or nuclear power, or electricity. All of these are dangerous if you don’t know what you’re doing; when harnessed by someone who understands them, they can be used to do good. An educated priest of the Blood of Vol would certainly agree that the power of Mabar is inherently dangerous — as shown by their working to contain the danger posed by manifest zones — but that’s exactly the point: they can contain that danger. They believe that their knowledge and understanding allows them to use this dangerous power in a positive way, just as we are comfortable using electricity and nuclear power in our daily lives.

Looking to the Undying Court’s assertion that all use of Mabaran energy is a threat to the world, Aerenal is a fairly isolationist country and they haven’t blanketed the Five Nations with this view. Even if they did, it’s a perfect mirror to the issue of climate change. Aerenal has logic on their side: it’s energy from the plane of Death and look at what it does in manifest zones — why use it? The Blood of Vol takes the role of people who say that cleaner coal is the answer to climate change: they know what they’re doing, they’re not going to throw away a useful tool because of some crackpots, and they don’t see any proof that things are as bad as the elves say. Plus, given that the Undying Court eradicated the line of Vol they CLEARLY have a vendetta against the BoV and this argument is simply driven by that vendetta; they’re making up excuses to persecute the BoV. Don’t be misled!

Short form: Any cleric of the Blood of Vol will tell you the power they wield is dangerous, but generations of their ancestors have learned how to master that power and wield it safely. And any arguments that it’s poisoning the world are ridiculous — again, generations of their ancestors have used it safely.