“You said this was a fallen angel,” Thorn said. “How’s that different from a devil?”
Drego shook his head. “The two are completely different. Devils are tied to malevolent concepts – hate, fear, greed. What we’re dealing with is a radiant idol, an angel punished for pride by being imprisoned on Eberron. It still possesses its original appearance, more or less, and its powers are still tied to its original dominion.”
“So who are we dropping in on tonight?”
“Do not speak this name casually,” Drego said, and there was no trace of his usual levity. He traced lines in the air as he continued. “You must understand the sheer power of the being we face. He has likely influenced the lives of thousands of your countrymen, Thorn, and just speaking his name could draw unwanted attention to us.” He made a last flourish in the air, and Thorn could just make out a translucent pattern of rippling arcane energy that dulled all sounds beyond and kept Drego’s voice close. “Tonight we shall destroy Vorlintar, the Voice of the Innocent and the Keeper of Hopes, Fifth among the Fallen of Syrania.”
The shimmering glyph burst into flame, burning without substance, and then it was gone.
“Call him by his titles,” Drego said, “But do not speak his name.”
“Keeper of Hopes?” Brom said, and his chuckle echoed off the walls. “He doesn’t sound so terrible.”
“And he wasn’t, when he was a force for light. Now he holds to his dominions, but he has become a force for evil. He is indeed the Keeper of Hopes – the hopes that he has stolen from all those who fall under his sway. He devours innocence, leaving pain and despair. As we draw closer to his throne, you will feel his talons tearing at your mind. You must be strong and hold him at bay, for a clean death is far better than a life without hope.”– From The Son of Khyber
The Sharn: City of Towers sourcebook introduced a new threat to the Eberron campaign setting: the radiant idol. Sharn is closely tied to Syrania, and we thought it would be interesting to introduce a new sort of fallen angel cast out of the sky. The Sharn book has this to say…
A radiant idol is an angel that has been banished from Syrania and condemned to spend eternity on the Material Plane. Not all radiant idols are evil, and none are as thoroughly corrupt as the fiends of the lower planes. Their greatest sin, as a rule, is the desire to be worshiped by the humanoids they consider lesser beings, and most gather cults of devoted humanoid followers on the Material Plane—thus giving rise to their common name.
I expanded on this in Exploring Eberron, noting…
Many sages believe that touching Eberron’s ground makes angels vulnerable to the influence of Khyber and the overlords, while others theorize that mortal worship—the positive energy that sustains the Undying Court—is like a drug to the dominions. Whatever the cause, dominions who interact with mortals run the risk of becoming corrupted. Such immortals crave mortal adoration and often seek to dominate mortals by exercising the power of their sphere. Not all dominions fall prey to this corruption, but once one does, there seems to be no way to undo it. Even if the angel is destroyed and reforms, the corruption remains. It’s unlikely that such an angel would be met in Syrania itself; typically, these corrupted angels are forever stripped of the power of flight and condemned to walk the Material Plane as radiant idols.
For me personally, a radiant idol brings a few interesting elements to a story. They have no connection to the major factions; they aren’t aligned with the Lords of Dust, the Daelkyr, or the Dreaming Dark. They don’t care about the Draconic Prophecy and they aren’t trying to take over the world; they just want to be adored. In a world where gods don’t walk the earth, it can be fun to have a cult where you can actually beat up their deity. Radiant idols are going to be a problem whenever you encounter them, but an idol is a problem you can solve—something that’s typically intensely regional. They make good monsters. And beyond that, they work well with the overall noir vibe of Sharn and Eberron overall… fallen angels; addicted to mortal worship; glorious and beautiful but bound to dirt and grime.
There are a many ways to base an adventure around a radiant idol…. here’s a few options.
Cult Mystery. The idol is actively recruiting and adventurers run across its spreading cult. Perhaps a friend or ally has a sudden change in behavior. The key question with a radiant cult is whether the cultists are being compelled supernaturally—forced to take a blood oath and terrified that the idol will torture or kill them if they reveal its presence, or simply compelled by charm—or whether they have simply been compelled by its innate charisma (and possibly dreams!) and truly believe in the idol. Perhaps they believe the idol will turn the world into a paradise. Perhaps they believe it will protect them from their enemies in exchange for their faith. In one adventure I ran, the idol convinced its followers that it could give the souls of people killed in a particular way eternal peace as opposed to the dissolution of Dolurrh, in a paradise far more pleasant than the grim lives they were living… compelling these cultists to murder their own loved ones believing the idol would preserve their spirits in a form of paradise (this is a variation of Kotharel the Harvester, an idol canonically imprisoned in Dreadhold). One of the things that distinguishes such a radiant cult from daelkyr cults is that their beliefs are usually very concrete: they interact directly with the source of their faith, whether it’s compelled by a blood oath or freely chosen. Daelkyr cults are typically driven by irrational belief; cultists of Dyrrn’s Transcendant Flesh will never meet Dyrrn and don’t even KNOW their group is tied to him; they are simply gripped by the belief that their flesh could be better. Members of Sul Khatesh’s Court of Shadows may revere the Queen of Shadows, but they will never MEET her. Radiant cultists interact directly with their idol. Which means that in a cult mystery story, the adventurers aren’t just investigating the cult; they can track it directly to its source and face the radiant idol. A few cult mystery points to consider…
- What does it WANT? Radiant idols thrive on mortal adoration. But within that, what is the idol actually driving its cultists to DO? Are the actions of the cult something that must be stopped… or at the end of the day, are the actions of the idol harmless or even potentially beneficial? Vorlintar consumes hope. The Harvester drives people to murder their loved ones. These are things that should be stopped. On the other hand, the actions of an idol could be largely harmless—a Dionysian cult that engages in ecstatic raves, as the idol bathes in joy, but that doesn’t FORCE people to participate; or the idol could even be using its powers to protect or aid its cultists. Of course, there could be a twist even here; the idol has never used the blood oath to torture or kill its followers, but it could. So the initial investigation could suggest that the cult is benevolent… until the adventurers find proof that the idol has been using the blood oath to kill any cultist who does try to leave. Or perhaps the idol is broadly benevolent but has to kill a cultist every week to maintain its alter self. Essentially, there could be layers to the cult the adventurers have to dig through.
- The Power of the Oath. The blood oath is a distinctive aspect of a radiant cult. The idol can scry upon its cultists, and torture or kill them if they defy it. So a friend could come to an adventurer saying “I’ve made a terrible mistake. The Blessed One, he’s not what he seems. The blessing—no, no, I feel him watching—aaaaagh!’ and die suddenly and horribly. Can the adventurers find a way to save those bound by a blood oath?
- Perhaps to Dream… If you follow my (and 3.5’s) guidelines, a radiant idol has access to the dream spell. This can be used to recruit followers by manipulating their dreams; as a way to communicate with minions without directly interacting with them; or also as a way for the idol to confront adventurers without physical danger. If the adventurers are getting close to solving the mystery, the idol could appear in their dreams to warn them off—the “monstrous and terrifying” form of dream. This can also be a fun false flag for people familiar with the quori!
- Office Hours. How often DO the cultists interact with the idol? Does it personally lead them in daily services, or does it mainly communicate through dreams and through its dominated high priest? Does the idol move around the city or does it remain in its anchor point?
- Is it a Threat? A radiant cult can be a terrible thing. Vorlintar consumes hope. The soul-consuming idol in the example above encourages people to murder their loved ones. The blood oath can be used to torture or kill cultists. But some idols only want worship, and have gifts to offer in exchange. It can be an interesting twist to a cult mystery to discover that the cult isn’t actually a threat… something I’ll explore further below.
Visible Cult. Rather than being a mystery that needs to be slowly unraveled, a radiant cult could be an active force within its community that adventurers will encounter openly. It could be recognized as a fringe religion, with outsiders failing to realize the idol is real—the people in Tumbledown have some weird beliefs… don’t go there on a festival day, is all I’m saying. Or it could be that the idol backs a force that adventurers may not initially identify as a cult. A violent new street gang starts fighting Daask and Boromar thugs in Callestan, guided by a War idol. A district has a volunteer police force that’s picking up the slack from the corrupt Sharn Watch. If they’re doing a good job, does it matter that they worship an Order idol? Adventurers come to a small agricultural village and find it thriving due to the influence of a Nature idol. But does this “Father of the Harvest” demand some sort of price from its followers? This is a solid option for a Children of the Corn scenario. But the interesting point here is is the idol actually a threat, or is it helping its followers? If the Father of the Harvest demands that people kill their parents and use their remains to fertilize the soil, that’s a problem. But what if it doesn’t do that? What if it just wants them to sing its praises and dance in the fields? What if that Order idol is making peoples’ lives better with its volunteer force? Is the idol of Joy actually harming anyone with its dionysian revels? Personally, I like radiant cultists to have a dark twist—as I’ll discuss further below, I like to call out that idols are fundamentally corrupted even if their core concept is pure. But even with that twist, there can still be the question of whether the adventurers are right to interfere. Imagine a Life idol who uses its ability to raise dead to resurrect slain members of its cult… but because of the balance of life, they must pay for the resurrection not with diamonds, but with another life. Perhaps they actually take volunteers—an old man sacrificing himself to give life to a child who died young. Perhaps they impose a death penalty on criminals within their community—do adventurers have the right to interfere with this? Or perhaps they murder travelers to buy life for their own. But again, the idol isn’t forcing them to do this… so what do the adventurers do when they find out?
Hidden Monster. In the story that opens this paragraph, Vorlintar is simply a monster. He is anchored in a desolate place most people never go. He pulls innocents into his orbit and drains them of hope. It’s not a story of slow investigation, and he’s not in a place the adventurers would ever normally go; instead, they learn of his presence and must go to him, entering his lair and discovering the horror he’s been perpetrating in this forgotten corner of the city. This is a simple way to introduce a powerful foe, and the idol could easily have something the adventurers need—a book or blade brought down from Syrania, an angel’s tear… or it could just be that the idol is anchored in a place the adventurers need to be, drawn to a point of power that the adventurers have a different use for.
Power Player. I tend to have my idols anchored in a particular location; a spider lurking at the heart of its cult web. But you COULD have an idol… say, an idol of Trickery… who is less interested in direct worship and more in being part of the game. It needs to be part of a web of deception and intrigue to feel alive, and it’s playing all sides and perhaps stirring up new conflicts within the criminal underworld of Sharn or the rivalries of Aurum Concordians. It could be that it has its own small cult within this tapestry—a few agents in every faction bound by its blood oath—or it could be content to just manipulate on its own. A question here is whether the idol itself is walking around Sharn, using magic to appear human (and having to be careful not to crash skycoaches with its flightless aura)… or if it is acting through a dominated host most of the time, only appearing personally when it needs to exercise its full force. Keep in mind that when it DOES act directly it can use alter self to appear as the person it usually dominates. So you could have a fun twist where the adventurers see the idol using powerful magic and are baffled later when they confront the “idol” and find them to be mortal.
Mechanically, radiant idols have no limitations on their movement. Just because they are often dropped in Sharn doesn’t mean that they have to STAY there. Sharn: City of Towers suggests that there can be up to six radiant idols in Sharn at a time, but it doesn’t explain why six is a magic number. In my campaign, it’s a territorial thing; idols can feel one another and if there’s more than six in one place if feels crowded, even if it’s a huge city and they aren’t stumbling over one another. So my murder-your-loved-ones idol was in Korth. The Father of the Harvest could be in a little farming village. Idols often start in Sharn but they don’t have to stay there. HOWEVER, I personally like my idols to have an anchor point—a place of power and security. They’re immortal embodiments of ideas, and their motivations aren’t like those of mortals; with the exception of “power players” as I described above, I see idols as wanting to sit on their anchors and bask in the adoration of their cultists. In Sharn, an anchor could be where they first appeared in the material plane. Or it could be a place that particularly resonates with their domain. So Vorlintar, an idol that consumes hope, is anchored in a ruined temple in the desolate distract of Fallen. It’s a double dose of despair, a place where faith failed to protect the people of the distract from a terrible calamity. An idol of war might be anchored beneath the Cornerstone of Sharn, drinking in the aggression of the duels and matches in the arena above… or in a district wracked by gang warfare. Where Vorlintar dwells in the lower city, I could imagine an idol of the tempest who is anchored in a high spire in Upper Sharn that draws lightning. Likewise, there could be a reason the Father of the Harvest has chosen a particular farming village as his anchor… what is it?
Mechanically, you could play up the place of power idea by giving an idol lair actions in its anchor point… or perhaps limiting it, saying it can only cast its highest level spells in its anchor. The 3.5 idol has greater teleport, and I like to allow an idol to teleport 1/day… but I only allow it to teleport to the location of either its anchor. So an idol that ventures out into the world can slip back to its anchor… but if you face it in its anchor point, there’s nowhere to run.
Appearance and Personality
The first thing she saw were the angel’s wings – outspread and glorious, with long feathers as dark as a moonless night. Now the source of the chimes became clear, for there were chains attached to every feather. Strange weights were bound to the ends of the chains, weights of many shapes and sizes, engraved with symbols Thorn didn’t recognize. Their purpose was clear; for all his glory, Vorlintar could not rise from the ground.
Radiant idols embody ideas. As presented in Sharn: City of Towers, each idol has a domain. But WAR or LIFE or NATURE are broad concepts. Exploring Eberron suggests that most idols began as dominions of Syrania, and a dominion has a focus within a domain—a dominion is the Angel of Swords, not the Angel of War. This article discusses immortal personalities and might be spark some ideas. “Swords” may be too broad a concept, but with an Idol of War I could imagine…
- The Lady of Lightning, She Who Guides The First Strike. This idol knows all of the moments in history in which mortals made preemptive strikes. She enjoys seeing conflict unfold, but she revels in guiding the stroke that brings down an enemy before they have a chance to prepare. Her cultists will act with stunning precision, striking without warning and melting away. She could potentially pose as Dol Arrah, focusing on strategic precision and claiming that the targets they are sending their cultists to fight are servants of evil.
- The Lord of Sacrifice. As an angel, this one watched over those who laid down their lives to protect others. Now as an idol he wants to drive people to sacrifice their lives in his name. Again, he is an idol of War; he doesn’t want his followers to simply die, he wants them to make heroic sacrifices. He may drive them to stir up conflicts in the region; his cult could be a neighborhood watch he’s driving to fight organized crime, or he could subvert a Boromar cell and drive them to doomed battle with Dassk… Or something more ugly, like forming a cult among Cyran refugees and driving them to doomed acts of defiance as they seek to “win the Last War for Cyre.”
- The Giver of Strength. As a dominion, this angel watched over bullies and those who used their strength to dominate others. Now they encourage this behavior, and punish those who fail to live up to their standards. If the idol is lurking beneath Cornerstone Arena, it could offer blessings to those who fight as it wishes—perhaps granting the benefits of heroism to its chosen champions—but punish cultists who fail to live up to its standards with torment or death. So adventurers could investigate a general rise in the brutality of a small group of Cornerstone champions… along with the unexplained deaths of those defeated in nonlethal matches in the arena. This idol could potentially masquerade as Dol Dorn (or as a servant of Dol Dorn). Alternately it could drive aggressive behavior among a cult elsewhere in town, creating a district where might makes right. Here again, they could use dominate person to run things through their chosen champion, with the adventurers only discovering the true source of the cruelty on deeper investigation.
These are three ideas I made up ON THE SPOT, and I’m sure I could do better. But it gives that point of a narrow aspect of a broad domain. Beyond that, while it is not in any way required, *I* like to have a radiant idol reflect a slightly corrupted, greedy aspect of its core idea. As in the opening story, Vorlintar has gone from observing hopes to stealing them. The Lord of Sacrifice is pushing cultists to make unnecessary (if heroic) sacrifices. The Giver of Life needs someone to die before it can raise dead. I like the fact that all radiant cults aren’t automatically vile—again, the idea of the Giver of Life using its abilities to cure wounds and raise dead to protect its cultists, creating an idyllic healthy community—but that even there, you’ve got the ethical twist of that health comes at a cost.
So the first question with an Idol is what is its defining concept and personality. For me, its appearance flows from that. When in its true form, the key elements of a radiant idol are that it inspires awe—that high Charisma and Aura of False Divinity—and that it can’t fly, and that there is something suggesting it has been cast down. The simplest way to represent this is with maimed wings—severed, broken, withered, burnt—but there are other options, like Vorlintar’s weighted chains. The key point is that an idol is an idea; when someone sees it they should understand what that idea is. Of course, this is the point to idols having disguise or alter self; they can HIDE their fallen nature.
A last point here is that while it’s easiest for idols to use an existing clerical domain, that shouldn’t be an absolute limitation. There’s no Domain of Hope for Vorlintar. Likewise, I think JOY is a great domain for a radiant idol, inspiring bacchanalian frenzies. It could be that these could be linked to existing domains—Joy could be based on Peace or Life—but a DM can always just make up a spell list that fits a concept that doesn’t match a domain.
Immortality and the Idol
In Eberron, immortals can’t be permanently destroyed, and this is as true for radiant idols as it is for any other immortal. Notably, when an idol is destroyed and reforms, it is still a radiant idol; if their corruption could be undone by death, they’d be killed instead of cast out of Syrania. So radiant idols can’t be permanently destroyed. But we never say HOW QUICKLY THEY COME BACK. Part of what I like about idols is that they are a problem that can be solved. With that in mind, I’d consider the following options.
- Slow Return. An idol will return—either to its anchor point or to the point in which it was cast down—but it takes centuries, possibly even millennia. This is a reflection of the fact that it was cast out of Syrania and doesn’t really belong anywhere. So even when adventurers encounter an idol that is JUST STARTING A CULT that doesn’t mean that it was only just now banished from Syrania; it could have been banished ten thousand years ago, and it’s only just reformed from the last time it was destroyed during the first days of Galifar. This is the approach I’d use as the default, though I’d add the option for cultists to be able to speed its return through rituals—so you do want to make sure you deal with the cult as well as the idol.
- Lingering. An idol doesn’t return unaided, but its spirit lingers at its anchor point. Perhaps it can still cast dream or have other minor mystical effects. It can only reconstitute itself if mortal cultists perform rituals to summon it back… so it will try to push people to do this through dreams, or by guiding them to lore of its cult.
- Swift, Unless… An idol will return in days or weeks of being destroyed, unless it is destroyed in a particular place—using a particular weapon, at a particular time, by a person meeting a particular condition. Essentially, it’s a minor prophecy path. If it’s destroying properly, its return will either be slow or lingering.
- Binding. Idols aren’t actually THAT powerful, and I could see allowing them to be bound in iron flasks or similar forms of binding. They aren’t overlords!
This can vary by idol! Canonically, the radiant idol Kotharel the Harvester is sealed in Dreadhold because while it was defeated, it simply could not be destroyed. I could imagine an idol of Life who drains the life of an oath-bound cultist every time it’s dropped below 1 hit point; you can’t defeat it until you free its cultists from their bonds!
Gifts of the Idol
Radiant idols may claim to be gods, either Sovereigns or unique gods; alternately they could claim to be servants or representatives of Sovereigns. But they AREN’T gods. You can’t actually gain the powers of a cleric from a radiant idol. However, there’s a few possible loopholes. If a radiant idol impersonates a sovereign—the Lady of Lightning claiming to be Dol Arrah—then her cultists could be clerics or paladins of Dol Arrah, because they have faith in Dol Arrah; the power is still coming from a divine power source, it’s just not the idol itself. The point here is that the idol can’t take those powers away from them because it’s not given them the powers. Another option is to allow the radiant idol to cast its domain spells through cultists who have sworn a blood oath—so a Life idol could cure wounds through the hands of a cultist. The power is entirely controlled and drawn from the idol, but the cultist APPEARS to cast spells. I would also consider allowing an idol to produce a warlock following this same principle; the warlock’s powers come from the idol investing a fraction of its immortal essence in its servant.
Beyond this, I have no issue with allowing idols to break the rules to fit their story. As I suggested earlier, I’m fine suggesting that the Giver of Strength can give the benefits of heroism to anyone who’s sworn its Blood Oath. Each idol could give unique gifts to its cultists. But purely on a power level, radiant idols can’t create paladins or clerics; the best they could do is take advantage of someone’s faith, claiming credit for divine power that’s flowing from an actual divine power source.
A radiant idol could also be a source of magic items. Perhaps the idol’s blood acts as a magical potion (or a drug!), and it gives this to its cultists. In my adventure where the idol wanted people to murder those they cared about, it gave its cultists amulets they had to give to their victims, to ensure their spirits were channeled to the idol. I could see an idol of fire that could turn weapons into flame tongues by engraving its name on them… but when the idol is defeated, those things would likely lose power.
In both 3.5 and fifth edition, a radiant idol has a challenge rating of 11. They are powerful, yes, but not THAT powerful. In general, this is something I like about them. They’re powerful enough to be exciting, but weaker than daelkyr, the prakhutu of the Lords of Dust, or even powerful Inspired. However, that’s a base level, and radiant idols can be as powerful as you want them to be. In 3.5 canon Kotharel the Harvester is a 30 HD radiant idol who literally cannot be destroyed, hence his being stored at Dreadhold. The description of Vorlintar at the start of this article likewise suggests a level of power beyond the default radiant idol; radiant idols don’t generally have the ability to scry on people who speak their names, and Vorlintar also has what amounts to a feeblemind attack where he tears hope out from his victims and leaves them in a vegetative state. Just as Dyrrn and Belashyrra are more powerful than the generic daelkyr presented in the 3.5 ECS, you can create radiant idols that are more powerful than the base model. You can use a Planetar or Solar as a foundation for creating a more powerful radiant idol, shifting spell lists if necessary and adding the unique traits of the idol (including those I describe below)—Aura of False Divinity, Blood Oath, Flightless, Domain, Guide Thrall.
Let’s Talk About Stat Blocks…
Last but not least… The radiant idol was introduced in Sharn: City of Towers. There’s a stat block for radiant idols in Eberron: Rising From The Last War, but it doesn’t incorporate a lot of what I consider to be the defining elements of the 3.5 radiant idol—ideas I’ve mentioned often in this article. Let’s take a look at those.
INNATE MAGIC. Per Sharn: City of Towers, radiant idols had the following spell-like abilities: At will—alter self, charm person, dream, heroism, nightmare, rage; 3/day—confusion, greater dispel magic, mind fog, slow; 1/day—dominate person, eyebite, hold monster, song of discord, greater teleport (self only). Let’s consider the function of these spells. Alter Self gives the angel the possibility of moving among mortals, and it can reduce itself from large to medium; alternately, it can simply shift its appearance to better fit the image it is creating for its cult, concealing its disfigurement and adding details that fit its God of ____ storyline. Dream and nightmare (which in 5E were combined into a single spell) allow it to influence and lure followers from a distance, as well as giving missions to its loyal cultists; it’s a small-scale Dreaming Dark, and potentially a fun surprise for the player who immediately assumes that when they stumble on someone being manipulated by dreams that quori are responsible. Confusion, mind fog, hold monster, song of discord, and mind fog all play to the idea of the idol’s supernatural charisma and its ability to overwhelm mortal minds, while dominate person is a great way for the idol to directly control a cult lieutenant. Keep in mind that in 3.5 rules, dominate person had a duration of 1 day per caster level; it’s interended to be a long term effect, again, the sort of thing they’d use to telepathically control a minion. Radiant idols also have the inherent power of glibness, which provides a +30 bonus to Deception checks made to convince someone of their honesty and makes them immune to any magic that would force them to tell the truth or reveal the truth of their words.
DOMAIN. S:CoT gives radiant idols a special gift:
Each radiant idol chooses one cleric domain to represent the portfolio it claims in its masquerade of divinity. The radiant idol gains the granted power of that domain, and can use each spell up to 6th level in that domain as a spell-like ability. It can use 1st-level spells at will, 2nd- and 3rd-level spells three times per day each, and 4th- through 6th-level spells once per day each.
For me, this is a crucial aspect of a radiant idol. It’s not just a generic idol; it is an idol of FIRE or an idol of LIFE. In Exploring Eberron I call out that Syranian angels have domains; this reflects that idea. It’s something that adds flavor but also means its idol has a distinct set of spell like abilities.
CULTISTS. The 3.5 idol has a number of powers that specifically tie to its role as cult anchor. FIts Aura of False Divinity afflicts enemies with despair, but grants allies within 30 ft the effects of Good Hope: Each affected creature gains a +2 morale bonus on saving throws, attack rolls, ability checks, skill checks, and weapon damage rolls. This plays up the idea that the idol FEELS DIVINE—that it feels awesome and terrible, able to crush or inspire hope just with its presence. A more dramatic feature is the Blood Oath. After an extended ritual, a radiant idol can form a connection with a cultist that allows them to locate and scry on the cultist, cause them pain, or even kill them outright. This oath can even be forced on unwilling participants, if they are restrained throughout the ritual and fail enough saving throws. This can create an interesting situation where a victim doesn’t believe in the idol, but knows that if the idol could be watching them at any time and that if they defy it, they could suffer pain or death. Which in turn means that adventurers opposing a cult need to recognize that the cultists they are fighting may be innocent victims just trying to save their own lives or the lives of people they care about.
FLIGHTLESS. Radiant idols cannot fly through any means. In addition, per S:CoT, Spells that grant flight to other characters fail within 30 feet of a radiant idol, as if it were at the center of an antimagic field, but only magic related to flight is affected. Magic items that grant the power of flight likewise fail. Even creatures with a natural ability to fly feel uncomfortable near a radiant idol.
HOW’S RISING STACK UP? The radiant idol in Rising From The Last War is a watered down version of the original idea. Its Aura of False Divinity can charm anyone within 30 feet. This is effective against enemies and implies supernatural charisma, but it lacks the original aspect of inspiring allies, which helps with the cult aspect of the story. There’s no mechanical aspect to being flightless; the idol doesn’t have a flying speed, but there’s nothing saying it can’t fly and nothing that stops other creatures from flying around it. Meanwhile, there’s some overlap in the spell list; the Rising Idol can use charm person at will and dominate person once per day, and mass suggestion is in the same sort of mood as dominate and charm, and replaces the nonexistent mind fog and song of discord. But then it has some very specific spells—raise dead, cure wounds at will, commune, insect plague. There’s no clear theme to these; raise dead is handy and insect plague is good for wrathful god, sure, but how do they relate to one another? Meanwhile, they notably lack dream, which is a great tool for a manipulative cult leader.
SO WHAT WOULD I DO? Without entirely redesigning the stat block, I’d change a few of its existing traits and add a few others, as outlined below.
- If the idol has an evil alignment, I’d change its creature type to fiend. In my campaign, the definition of “fiend” is “evil immortal”; there’s no such thing as an evil celestial or a good fiend. If the alignment changes, their type changes with it; they are incarnate ideas.
- Aura of False Divinity. Allies within 30 feet of the radiant idol have advantage on saving throws made to avoid being charmed or frightened by other creatures. Any enemy of the idol that starts its turn within 30 feet of it must make a DC 17 Wisdom saving throw, provided the radiant idol isn’t incapacitated. On a failed save, the creature is charmed by the radiant idol. A creature charmed in this way can repeat the saving throw at the end of each of its turns, ending the effect on itself on a success. Once it succeeds on the saving throw, a creature is immune to this radiant idol’s Aura of False Divinity for 24 hours.
- Innate Spellcasting. The radiant idol’s spellcasting ability is Charisma (spell save DC 17). The radiant idol can innately cast the following spells, requiring no material components: At will: alter self, charm person, dream, thaumaturgy; 1/day: confusion, dispel magic (6th level slot), mass suggestion, teleport (self only, only to anchor point). The idol may use alter self to assume the shape of a large or medium humanoid.
- Domain Powers: Choose one cleric domain to represent the radiant idol’s sphere of influence. The radiant idol can cast the domain spells associated with that domain, without requiring material components; its spellcasting ability is Charisma (spell ssave DC 17) It can use 1st-level spells at will, 2nd- and 3rd-level spells three times per day each, and 4th- through 6th-level spells once per day each. For example, a radiant idol of Life uses the Life domain and adds the following spell-like abilities: At Will: bless, cure wounds; 3/day: beacon of hope, lesser restoration, revivify, spiritual weapn; 1/day: death ward, guardian of faith, mass cure wounds, raise dead. As I’ve suggested before, I might modify these spells to reflect the nature of the idol—as with the example of the Life idol needing to take a life to cast raise dead rather than needing material components. Idol spells could have unusually long durations, be able to be cast on oathbound cultists regardless of range, etc—though they could also be limited, perhaps ONLY being able to be cast on oathbound cultists, only cast at the idol’s anchor point, and so on.
- Glibness. The radiant idol has advantage on Charisma ability checks and is immune to any magical effect that would allow a creature to determine the truth of its words or that would force it to tell the truth.
- Flightless. A radiant idol cannot fly by any means. No spell intended to grant flight (even levitate) functions with a radiant idol as its target. A spell (such as polymorph) that changes a radiant idol into a form with the natural ability of flight works normally, but the radiant idol cannot fly in that form. If changed into a form that has only a fly speed (no land speed), the radiant idol can only move along the ground in that form. Spells that grant flight to other characters fail within 30 feet of a radiant idol, as if it were at the center of an antimagic field, but only magic related to flight is affected. Magic items that grant the power of flight likewise fail. (This is verbatim from Sharn: City of Towers.)
- Blood Oath. A radiant idol has the ability to perform a ritual of initiation that binds cult members to its service.This requires 24 hours of preparation, and the ritual itself lasts for 2 hours plus an additional 10 minutes for each initiate involved. If a participant wishes to resist the connection, they may make a Wisdom save (DC 19); however, the idol knows whether or not the bond was properly formed. Once a bond is established, it can only be severed by the use of greater restoration on the victim or by the destruction of the idol. As an action, the idol may invoke one of the following powers, targeting a creature on the same plane that is bound by its oath. These saving throws are Charisma-based.
Locate Cultist. This functions as locate creature, with unlimited range.
Scry on Cultist. This functions as scrying. If the target wishes to resist they can make a Wisdom saving throw (DC 24); if they succeed, the idol cannot observe them in this way for 24 hours.
Torture Cultist. The victim must make a Constitution saving throw (DC 17). If they fail, they are wracked with pain and poisoned for 1 minute.
Kill Cultist. The victim must make a Constitution saving throw (DC 17). If they fail, they are reduced to zero hit points. If the save is successful, the victim takes 3d6+6 necrotic damage.
- Guide Thrall. Once per day, the radiant idol can cast dominate person on a creature bound by its blood oath. The idol doesn’t have to see the victim, but must be on the same plane of existence. This ability doesn’t require concentration and lasts until the idol uses the ability again or until the victim makes a successful Wisdom saving throw (DC 17, Charisma based). The victim may attempt a saving throw when the effect is first used, and then again at dawn or whenever they take damage. Once it succeeds on the saving throw, a creature is immune to this radiant idol’s Guide Thrall for 24 hours.
Roll twice on the name column and combine the names together: Ranrael, Kastar-Ular. The wings column describes why it can’t fly but also suggests general appearance. Domain and Cult Focus gives a broad domain and a possible cult direction.
|Order. The cult seeks to bring order to the idol’s sphere of influence, stopping violence and crime, but also enforcing a dress code and restricting free speech.
|Forge. The cult is building a monument or weapons—or a monument that is also a weapon—that honor the idol.
|Death. The idol promises a peaceful eternity to victims killed in a ritual manner; their souls are contained within the idol, preventing resurrection until the idol is destroyed.
|Life. The idol uses its magic to provide perfect health to its cultists—but for every cultist it heals, an innocent person suffers the malady removed.
|Peace. Cultists of the idol exist in a state of perfect, serene peace; however, they are incapable of taking any remotely aggressive action, even in the most desperate situations.
|Trickery. The idol yearns to see intrigues unfold in the community, and dispatches its cultists to infiltrate factions and guilds to sow discord.
|Knowledge. The cultists of the idol cannot lie and others find they cannot lie to the cultists. What chaos will this bring to a community that has a lot of skeletons in its closets?
|Nature. The idol can provide a community with bountiful crops and healthy stock… but there is a price for this supernatural prosperity.
When I have time I answer questions from my Patreon supporters, as this support is what allows me to continue to create Eberron content. Here’s a few questions patrons posed on this article.
In Sharn the presence of Radiant Idol cults seems fairly prominent. With Idols being Large and likely not having subtle falls from grace, how does the city handle this eventuality? Are members of the Blackened Book prepared to handle a “live idol fall” or is their cast to the material more subtle? Does the Sharn Watch have methods of detecting the gravity well the Idols generate, etc?
In my Eberron, they aren’t that obvious. Being “cast down” to the material plane doesn’t mean they literally fall from the sky. In my game they appear in a place that’s suited to their nature—IE, the Giver of Strength might have appeared under Cornerstone, while Vorlintar appeared in Fallen. So you don’t have weather-oracles saying “There’s a 50% chance of falling idols today.” Likewise, I tend to have their cults manifest in places that aren’t all that obvious; the point of Vorlintar in The Son of Khyber is that no one cares about Fallen and so the cult goes unobserved… or in the case of the Giver of Strength, it could be that it takes a player character to notice the strange pattern of deaths. This ties to my general point that the world needs heroes—I want ADVENTURERS to deal with idols, not to have them just make a sending call to the Blackened Book’s Idol Squad. Canonically we know that Kotharel the Harvester was defeated by the Knights of Dol Arrah—which in my opinion was a legendary order of champions who might just as well have been player characters. Essentially, if a idol is too obvious in its manifestation and is causing havoc crashing lifts and skycoaches, the city could send the Redcloaks and Blackened Book to deal with it—but first, that’s why most idols WON’T be that clumsy and obvious and second, that’s going to be a tough fight for the forces of the law. This is a job for Harryn Stormblade, or at least the Harryn Stormblade of today, and that’s all of you. Regarding size, this is where magic comes into play. Rising stats only give them disguise self, but 3.5 let them alter self—which, in 3.5 allowed you to shrink a size category. So ORIGINALLY they were supposed to be able to move among humans unnoticed. I’d personally allow still them to do that; and if I didn’t, that’s the point of Guide Thrall, allowing them to telepathically control a cultist who can serve as their hands and eyes among the common people.
I certainly think that the Blackened Book KNOWS about radiant idols and has records of idols that have threatened the city in the past. But I don’t think that they are aware that there’s six idols in Sharn at any given time. And if you go to the Blackened Book and say There’s a radiant idol in Fallen! in my game, they’ll say Thank goodness it’s somewhere where we can ignore it! Last time one of those things turned up, it wiped out an entire watch station and it was only stopped when Boranel himself came and punched it into Dolurrh. Likewise, the Silver Flame has records of radiant idols, but in Sharn Ythana Morr will probably ask how much you’re willing to pay to have it dealt with (What? It’s in Fallen? Why would anyone even care?) while Mazin Taza would WANT to help you deal with this threat, and might even try to take it on himself… but he doesn’t have the power to deal with a radiant idol, and trying will just get him killed. This is on you, adventurers!
How do other cultures deal with radiant idols, either cases like the Mror or the Zil that may view them differently or outlying cultures like the Dhakaani?
Radiant idols aren’t COMMON and I think it’s entirely plausible that there’s never been a radiant idol in the Mror Holds. If there has been, odds are good that it was JUST ONE — something that spawned a particular story about the bold deeds of Mroranon crushing the wingless angel, but not that has created a cultural attitude.
With the Zil, I could go in one of three very different directions. The first would be to say that the Trust would swiftly identify an idol and eliminate it as quickly as possible whenever it appeared. Why do I say this is possible in Zilargo when it’s beyond the Blackened Book in Sharn? Because it’s THE TRUST, and that’s kind of the point of the Trust; they are terrifyingly efficient and effective, and they are scarier than an idol. The second option is to say that an idol of Knowledge or Trickery might actually find a comfortable home in Zilargo — that a particular Zil family could have a symbiotic relationship with a hidden idol, providing it the adoration it craves in exchange for its knowledge or gifts. Again, I see most idols as having a maximum effective range; they aren’t TRYING to conquer the world, and a radiant cult could happily thrive in a particular village for centuries without ever being known to the outside world. So there could easily be a Zil family who has worked out a decent arrangement with “Grandfather”… as long as you don’t reveal the secrets, he won’t kill you through your blood oath, and everyone’s happy! The final option is to combine the two: the Trust is aware of radiant idols and THE TRUST has absorbed idols of either Knowledge or Order and made them part of their whole system. Are adventurers about to interrogate a Trust agent with amazingly important secrets? Too bad, Oversight just activated his blood oath and killed him.
The Dhakaani have absolutely dealt with radiant idols, because Sharn is a nexus of idols and Sharn began as a Dhakaani city. Part of my point is that defeated idols may take centuries to reform… and have reformed and been destroyed multiple times throughout the history of the city. So there could be Dhakaani tales of Vorlintar or the Giver of Strength, and their appearances in the present day are just their latest of many incarnations.
How do radiant idols clash with other supernatural forces? For instance, how do bonded cultists interact with daelkyr influence, and how do radiant idol dreams conflict with quori dreams?
Radiant idols are unique individuals. They have no particular means to be aware of daelkyr influence or quori schemes, or to be given special treatment by these greater powers. The idol’s ability to influence dreams is the dream spell, no more or less. So if both the quori and an idol are trying to influence the same person, both can; it’s going to be frustrating for both of them realizing that they are playing tug of war. I think it’s quite valid for a party of adventurers to be tipped off about a radiant idol by a Dreaming Dark agent who wants them to get rid of this immortal interloper who’s stumbled into their sandbox. Likewise, there’s no rules or limits regarding what the daelkyr can do. You could have a cult that’s both influenced by a daelkyr AND bound by an idol’s blood oath. You could say the daelkyr influence breaks the blood oath. Or you could have Dyrrn twist an idol and create something horrible and new, blending the traits of the daelkyr and the idol.
That’s all for now! Feel free to discuss the topic in the comments, but I won’t be answering further questions. Thanks again to my Patrons for making these articles possible!