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.
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?
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!
This was the first Eberron article I posted on this site, nearly six years ago. I’m juggling a host of deadlines at the moment and don’t have time to write an entirely new article this week, but this seems like an idea that’s worth revisiting.
Eberron takes a different approach to alignment, dropping the idea that draconic alignment is color coded, that orcs are always evil, or that clerics have to match the alignment of their deity. In designing the setting, how did you end up deciding against alignment constraints?
There’s a place for clear-cut struggles between good and evil, and it’s why we have forces like the Emerald Claw in Eberron. However, in my home games I’ve always preferred to challenge the players to think about their actions – to have things be less clear-cut than “We’re good, they’re evil, beating them up is the right thing to do.” From the start, film noir was called out as a major influence of Eberron, and a noir story relies on a certain level of moral ambiguity and shades of gray. It shouldn’t always be easy to decide who the villain is in a scenario… or if killing the villain will solve a problem.
Beyond this, one of the underlying principles of Eberron is that it is a world in which magic has been incorporated into society. Detect evil exists. In 3.5, paladins can use it at will. Stop and think about that for a moment. If evil was a tangible thing that could be positively identified – and if everyone who was identified as evil was unquestionably a monster with no redeeming features, while everyone who’s good is noble and pure – how would evil still exist? Over the course of two thousand years, wouldn’t we turn to paladins and alignment-detecting magic to help us identify and weed out the bad apples until we had a healthy tree? Consider our own history of witch-hunts, inquisitions, and the like. If we had an absolute yardstick and if we knew the people who failed the test were truly vile, what would happen over the course of centuries?
Removing alignment completely was never an option. It’s a concrete part of the D&D ruleset. So instead, it was about taking an approach to alignment that could work with the noir story and take into account the existence of paladins and other alignment-linked effects – to justify a world in which good and evil people can work and fight side by side, where the existence of the value that can be identified with detect evil is accepted within society.
There’s four elements to this.
Alignment is a spectrum. Round up ten “evil” people and you’ll find that their behavior and histories are radically different. Consider the following.
- A sociopathic serial killer who will kill or rob anyone that crosses his path without any hesitation or remorse.
- A soldier who takes pleasure in torturing citizens of enemy nations – even civilians – but who is willing to lay down his life to protect his own people, and abides by the laws of his homeland.
- An innkeeper who consistently waters down his ale and pads the bill a little whenever he thinks he can get away with it.
- A repo man who ruthlessly reclaims goods on behalf of his employer, regardless of the circumstances of his victim and how the loss will affect them.
In my campaign, all four of these people will read as “evil” for purposes of detect evil. They all hurt other people on a regular basis and feel no remorse for their actions. Yet the innkeeper would never actually kill anyone. And the repo man is just doing a job and doing it well; he won’t interfere with anyone who hasn’t defaulted on their payments. In my eyes, one of the key elements of alignment is empathy. All four of these people are capable of performing actions that hurt others without remorse because they don’t empathize with their victims. But again, they vary wildly in the threat they pose to society. The serial killer is a dangerous criminal. The innkeeper is a criminal, but not a violent one. The cruel soldier is a danger to his enemies but protects his own people. The repo man has turned his lack of empathy into a productive tool. All of them are evil, but they are on different points of the spectrum.
Another important example of this for Eberron comes with clerics. Eberron allows clerics to have an alignment that is different from that of their divine power source. But it is again important to realize that an evil cleric of a good faith can mean different things. One evil priest of the Silver Flame may be a hypocrite and liar who is secretly allied with the Lords of Dust or abusing the faith of his followers for personal gain. However, another may be deeply devoted to the faith and willing to lay down his life to protect the innocent from supernatural evil – but he is also willing to regularly engage in ruthless and cruel acts to achieve this. The classic inquisitor falls into this mold. He truly is trying to do what’s best, and in a world where demonic possession is real his harsh methods may be your only hope. But he will torture you for your own good, and feel no sympathy for your pain. This makes him “evil” – yet compared to the first priest, he is truly devout and serving the interests of the church.
Alignment versus Motivation. Alignment reflects the way the character interacts with the world. Empathy is an important factor, along with the degree to which the character is willing to personally engage in immoral actions. But what it doesn’t take into account is the big picture. Let’s take two soldiers. Both joined the Brelish army of their own free will. The “evil” soldier hates the Thranes, and given the chance he will torture and loot. He wears a belt of Thranish ears. Yet he loves his country and will sacrifice his own life to defend it. He’s “evil” because he is willing to carry out those atrocities; but he’d never do such a thing to a Brelish citizen. On the other hand, the “good” soldier will kill Thranes on the battlefield, but will not condone the mistreatment of prisoners or civilians. He hates the war but feels sympathy for the civilians on both sides; he further recognizes that the enemies he fights are just protecting their people, and treats them with respect. Both soldiers have the exact same goal and will fight side by side on the battlefield; alignment simply provides insight into how they may act.
Expanding on this: one of the rulers of the Five Nations is a good-aligned monarch who seeks to restart the Last War. Another is an evil leader who seeks peace. Restarting the war will result in the deaths of tens of thousands of people – how can a “good” monarch support that? Again, in Eberron alignment doesn’t represent someone’s actions on a global scale: it reflects the manner in which they pursue those goals. The good ruler believes that a just war is possible and that a united Khorvaire will prosper under her rule. She won’t condone torture, the mistreatment of civilians, and so on. She will treat her prisoners and emissaries fairly. Of course, her ministers and generals may engage in evil behavior in the name of the war; she will be horrified when she hears of it. Meanwhile, the evil king pursuing peace has a noble goal, but will do absolutely anything to achieve it. Torture? Oppressive martial law? Assassination? Anything. He’d kill members of his own family if he had to. So in both cases, the personal alignment tells you how they conduct their personal affairs, but nothing about the big picture.
People know these things. If a paladin walks into a tavern and scans ten people, he may find that three of them are evil. This doesn’t require any immediate action on his part, and while disappointing it isn’t a surprise. In The Empire Strikes Back, Yoda looks at Luke and says “There is much anger in him.” Luke hadn’t done anything bad; but what Yoda could sense was his potential to do evil. That’s what the paladin gets from detect evil. He doesn’t know where you lie on the spectrum. He doesn’t know your motivations. He knows that you lack empathy for others and may be selfish or narcissistic; that you are capable of hurting others without remorse; but he doesn’t know if you have or ever will. This is a key point with the Church of the Silver Flame. They are devoted to fighting supernatural evil: demons, undead, lycanthropy, etc. These are the things to fight with sword and spell. HUMAN evil is something that should be fought with compassion, charity, and guidance. Per Flame creed, you defeat mortal evil by guiding people to the light, not by killing them.
So – once you accept this version of alignment, you can find many jobs in society that are actually better suited to evil people. A repo man who has too much sympathy or empathy for his targets is going to have a difficult time doing his job. A tax collector may be the same way. An evil politican who’s willing to play the game of corruption in order to get things done may actually be the best hope of a city – providing that his motivation is towards the greater good. Knowing someone’s alignment is a piece of a puzzle – but it doesn’t tell you everything and it doesn’t end the story.
One side note: you may look at some of these things and say “I’d probably just make the repo man neutral/unaligned.” And that’s a reasonable approach. With Eberron, I specifically narrowed the spectrum of “neutral” while broadening the spectrum of “evil,” because again, the less concrete evil is the easier it is for it to be incorporated into society. If evil people can contribute to society in a positive way, then knowing someone is evil doesn’t lock in a story… while if only villains are evil, it automatically becomes a villain detector.
A secondary element to all this is fact that in Eberron many creatures that are traditionally bound to a specific alignment aren’t. By and large, creatures with human intelligence are as capable of choosing their own path as humans are. You can have good medusas and evil gold dragons. However, there are exceptions to this rule, and the most notable of these are celestials, fiends, and other spiritual entities. These beings are in essence physical embodiments of ideas. A fiend is evil personified… and as a result, it is both always evil and a much purer evil than you tend to see in mortal creatures; on a scale of one to ten, it goes to eleven. It is possible for the angel to fall or the demon to rise (as shown by the Quori bound to the kalashtar), but in these cases the spirit will typically physically transform to reflect this change. An angel that falls from Syrania will become a fiend or a radiant idol, for example. So when you meet a devil, you can generally be pretty sure it’s lawful evil, because that’s what it means to BE a devil.
It’s 2018. How does this apply to Fifth Edition?
Fifth Edition is closer to Eberron in a number of ways. The description of clerics places no concrete limit on alignment, and also calls out that clerics are rare and that most priests aren’t clerics — a radical idea when Eberron first presented it. The entry on paladins specifically calls out the idea of a paladin whose alignment is at odds with their oath:
Consider how your alignment colors the way you pursue your holy quest and the manner in which you conduct yourself before gods and mortals. Your oath and alignment might be in harmony, or your oath might represent standards of behavior that you have not yet attained.
Likewise, the detect good & evil spell and the divine sense of the paladin doesn’t actually detect ALIGNMENT; it detects aberrations, celestials, elementals, fey, fiends, and undead. Essentially, it’s the perfect tool for the Silver Flame: it tracks supernatural threats, not mortal behavior. This actually addresses many of the issues called out above, because there is no simple way to alignment-check someone. It also calls out that “Few people are perfectly and consistently faithful to the precepts of their alignment.” And it concretely calls out one of the core principles of Eberron regarding immortals:
Alignment is an essential part of the nature of celestials and fiends. A devil does not choose to be lawful evil, and it doesn’t tend toward lawful evil, but rather it is lawful evil in its essence. If it somehow ceased to be lawful evil, it would cease to be a devil.
Where the two part ways is that core 5E is more comfortable enforcing alignment on mortal creatures. Eberron has always had the principle that immortals have fixed alignment and that creatures such as undead and lycanthropes have alignment set by a supernatural force, but that natural creatures are able to choose their own path. 5E asserts that humans and demi-humans have this choice, but that OTHER races are shaped by gods and lack choice: Most orcs share the violent, savage nature of the orc god, Gruumsh, and are thus inclined toward evil. Even if an orc chooses a good alignment, it struggles against its innate tendencies for its entire life.
You can see my thoughts on orcs in Eberron here. I like calling out that orcs are not human and have a different sort of mindset — having a nature driven to strong passions and emotions — but not one that is inherently driven to evil. To me, this comes back to the story you want to tell. As I’ve said before: in Eberron, the Order of the Emerald Claw exists as the bad guys you know are bad — the force you KNOW you can feel good about fighting. This is what 5E is trying to do here with orcs and evil dragons. I just prefer that when you meet an orc in Eberron, you don’t know if she’s a cruel cultist of the Dragon Below or a noble Gatekeeper Druid.
Anyhow, that’s all for now. Feel free to share your thoughts and questions about alignment in Eberron below! And thanks as always to my Patreon supporters, who keep this blog going!
How could a good follower of the Mockery or the Keeper be in Eberron? How could a good adventurer justify following the precepts of the Dark Six?
I have a half-written article about the Dark Six and their role in the setting, and that will delve into this subject in depth. It’s very difficult to have a good-aligned character dedicated specifically to the Mockery, because the Mockery embodies the cruelest aspects of war: deception, terror, dishonorable combat. The Mockery is about victory by any means necessary. But this comes to the conflict between personal alignment and long-term motivation. Someone dedicated to the Mockery should be evil… but they could be fighting for a just cause. When swords are drawn they will behave dishonorably, because they believe the idea of honor in war is stupid. But they may be fighting for the greater good. I’ll call out that one group that includes the worship of the Mockery is a sect called the Three Faces of War, which embraces Dol Arrah, Dol Dorn, and Dol Azur (the Mockery) as the three forces that govern the battlefield, encouraging followers to understand them all.
So essentially: the Dark Six embody frightening and dangerous behaviors: pursuing dark magic, dishonorable conduct on the battlefield, the destructive power of nature, wild emotion and passion, change and chaos, death. But someone can embrace one of these concepts as a positive tool for their community. I’ll get into this more deeply when I write the full article, but I can see heroes and villains tied to any of these concepts.
Why the Blood of Vol is an evil religion in 3.5? In my opinion, it doesn’t have anything inherently evil in its precepts… it´s about protection of the community and unlocking your true potential. That seems pretty neutral to me. In fact, in 4th edition the cult was categorized as unaligned…
In 3.5, every faith has a divine power source. The alignment of the divine power source, among other things, determines whether a cleric turns undead or rebukes them. The Blood of Vol has a friendly relationship with the undead and thus channels negative energy., hence the power source is “evil.” The evil alignment was also a holdover to the idea that “people who associate with undead must be evil.” This reflects the general view of the people of Khorvaire: because the Blood of Vol associates with undead and many of its followers hate the Sovereigns, they must be evil. Ever since the original ECS — in the Sharn sourcebook, Faiths of Eberron, 4E — the Blood of Vol has been presented in a more positive light, clarifying that despite channeling negative energy, the faith itself isn’t inherently evil. I’ve written about this at length in this article.
If Eberron assumes that there may be persons that fail to live up to the ideals of a group or ideology (e.g. as happens with the Silver Flame) or dark sides to good persons/groups and vice versa, what are the dark sides (if any) of the Kalashtar and the gray parts of the inspired. I have the feeling that they are portrayed as archetypes of good and evil aspects, respectively. Am I wrong?
You are in fact wrong. But it’s complicated.
The Inspired are mortal vessels directly possessed by Quori. As a result, you know that the Inspired are evil. However, as noted above, that’s personal alignment – which doesn’t tell you anything about their long-term motivation or the impact of their actions. The Dreaming Dark is an agency that is carrying out an evil agenda, and Inspired agents of the Dreaming Dark are reliably evil. But the majority of the Inspired are ambassadors and administrators maintaining an empire. A typical Inspired overseer feels no empathy for his human subjects and would feel no remorse if he had to slaughter them; but most of the time he DOESN’T have to slaughter them, and furthermore he knows that the best way to help his people accomplish their goals is to keep his subjects content. Subtlety and charisma are the greatest weapons of the Quori; they are masters of propaganda and manipulation, of tricking you into thinking you want to do what they want you to do. Which means that while they may BE evil, most Inspired appear to be benevolent rulers. They provide for the needs of their people. They will not tolerate crime or disobedience, and they will act ruthlessly and swiftly to enforce this. Nonetheless, those Riedrans who are content to follow the path assigned to them needn’t worry about food, shelter, or security. The Inspired see to their needs and protect them.
What this ultimately comes down to is that the Inspired have done a good thing: they have created a stable society whose people by and large need not worry about crime, war, disease, hunger, or even bad dreams. However, they have accomplished this by doing an evil thing – stripping people of freedom and choice. The typical Riedran doesn’t want to BE free of the Inspired… because they’ve created a society where he doesn’t have that choice. On the other hand, a Riedran farmer is likely to live a far more comfortable, stable, and secure life than his counterpart in Breland or Karrnath. So… are the Inspired purely evil? If you destroy them, you’ll throw Riedra into chaos and civil war, unleash famine and plague… is that a good act?
Now let’s look at the kalashtar. The race was created when rebellious Quori of good and neutral alignment fused with human hosts. However, that was well over a thousand years ago. Unlike the Inspired, the kalashtar aren’t directly possessed by their Quori spirits; they are merely influenced by them, and that influence comes through instinct and dream. An Inspired will always match the alignment of its Quori spirit, because it literally IS the Quori spirit. Kalashtar, on the other hand, aren’t required to match the alignment of their Quori. If the alignment of the kalashtar is radically different from that of its bound Quori spirit, it will create emotional dissonance that will result in mental instability or outright madness… but that can still make for a very dangerous villain. This is especially relevant for orphan kalashtar who know little or nothing of the history or origins of their people; the Quori voice is part of what will shape their character, but it’s not alone. This is discussed in more detail in Races of Eberron.
So first of all, you can have literally evil kalashtar. Beyond this: Just as the Church of the Silver Flame and the Blood of Vol have groups of extremists whose actions soil the fundamental principles of their faiths, there are extremists among the kalashtar as well. Overall, the Adaran kalashtar live by principles of patience and perseverance, confident that through their actions they are pushing the cycle closer to the turn of the age and destruction of the Dreaming Dark. Overall, they have avoided acts of aggression against Riedra, not wanting to harm innocents in their struggle with the Dreaming Dark. But there are exceptions. There are atavists who believe that they must take the offensive against il-Lashtavar – even if that means killing or torturing the innocent pawns trapped in the web. They will and should stand out because this behavior is so unlike the kalashtar norm, and it may create mental dissonance. But it’s still there. Beyond this, there are kalashtar who actually envy the immortal Inspired, and want to actually become like the Quori themselves. So in the end you can find darkness among kalashtar – even among the followers of the Path of Light – and there are Inspired whose lives are devoted to ensuring the comfort and survival of civilians.
You speak of good and evil immortals as metaphysical good and evil. But do you see a space for metaphysical neutrality? I think that something like that could be the Inevitables, but they could as well being bad if you depict evil as lack of empathy.
Lack of empathy is described as ONE of the factors for setting alignment; it’s not supposed to be the absolute measure. The article begins by noting that there is a place in Eberron for moral absolutes — the idea that you always know you’re doing the right thing by opposing the Emerald Claw — and this is the role of immortals. They aren’t about shades of grey; they are incarnate symbols of extreme ideas. An evil immortal isn’t just slightly evil — the evil of performing a minor cruel act without empathy — they are dramatically evil.
And bear in mind that even a lawful neutral mortal can assert that the requirements of the law are more important that sympathy for another human; but that’s not JUST driven by a complete lack of feeling for others, it’s that there is another principle that is more important. This is where neutral immortals live: there is a guiding principle that drives them, and this outweighs any consideration of good or evil.
So yes, neutral immortals exist. Especially in Daanvi, Dolurrh and Syrania.
In Shavarath there is a perpetual war between good and evil, law and chaos. But how in this eternal war that nobody can win there is space for angels for being good, for devil for being evil? I even think that they know that no action can end the world and no opponent can be killed.
This is really a question that needs to be answered by an entire post an about Shavarath. But I’ll touch on it at a high level. First of all, the forces that fight the eternal war don’t expect to ever WIN. They believe that outcome of their war — the balance at any given moment between good and evil, law and chaos — is reflected across ALL REALITY. ANY victory or loss — seizing a keep, moving a battle line forward ten feet — will in some way be reflected across all of the planes. So for the archon EVERY victory matters, and the most important thing is to never falter and never let evil gain ground.
Beyond this, what’s been said before is that The three largest forces in Shavarath are an army of Archons, an army of Devils, and an army of Demons. The Archons embody the concept of just battle and war fought for noble reasons. The Devils reflect violence in pursuit of tyranny and power. And the Demons are bloodlust and chaos, random violence and brutality. There’s two things to bear in mind. First, for these immortals acting in a good or evil manner isn’t a choice; it is the only way they know how to act. Again, they are SYMBOLS as much as anything else. But how does this manifest? That brings us to the second point. There are civilians in Shavarath. An archon reflects war fought for just cause, protecting innocents. A demon embodies brutality and cruelty. As a result, there are innocent, noncombatant spirits in Shavarath — because there HAVE to be so that the archons can protect them, the demons can torment them, the devils can enslave them. This goes back to my post about Thelanis: you have the Archfey and greater fey who embody stories, but you also have the lesser beings who act as the set dressing. These beings may be immortal in the sense that if one dies, a new one will eventually appear to take its place… but it won’t be the same spirit. Memory and experience will be lost. The same is true of lesser archons, devils, etc. The mightiest spirits will return with their personality intact, but for lesser immortals, death IS death of your identity; it’s just that you know a new spirit will rise to take your place. So the archon who places itself at risk to save an innocent IS making a noble sacrifice, even if a new archon will always emerge to take its place should it fall.
Beyond that, this is definitely a discussion for an article about Shavarath, so I’m not going to go into further detail on this.
To what extent are quori evil? In some ways the dreaming dark behave as more as LN than LE. They don’t indulge into cruelty, they are just terribly cold, desperate and efficient.
There’s a number of factors here. The first is that the fact that the Quori don’t engage in needless cruelty in Riedra isn’t an act of kindness; it is a calculated form on psychological manipulation, which the Quori excel at. They need a docile population. Rather than enforce their rule with force and terror—things that breed defiance and resistance—they have manipulated their victims into embracing their conquerors. And as others have noted, they did this by inflaming wars, manipulating fears, and utterly destroying a number of cultures. What they’ve done is a trick. They’ve created a cage and convinced their victims that they WANT to be inside it. It’s not kind; it’s just that a prison with golden bars is more effective than one made of barbed wire.
We then come back to one of the main points of this article: That personal alignment may be at odds with the actions a character takes. An evil person can do a good thing. The Quori have created a peaceful society because it serves their purposes; that doesn’t make them good. The Quori are sculptors of nightmare who feed on negative emotions. Tsucora quori feed on mortal fear. Here’s a quote from the 3.5 ECS: When they are not serving in the great cities of their nightmare realm, (tsucora Quori) hunt the dreaming spirits of mortals. Most tsucora are cruel and calculating; they enjoy having power over others. So first of all: the Quori love manipulation and control, and that’s something that comes out in Riedra, even if that manipulation appears to be peaceful. Second, a quori doesn’t HAVE to indulge its appetite for cruelty in the waking world, because any time it goes back to Riedra, it can take a break and torment a few mortal dreamers.
So the quori are definitely embodiments of evil. They love manipulating and tormenting mortals. It’s simply that their long-term goals—ensuring their continued survival—take precedence over indulging their inherent cruelty.