IFAQ: Working Without Lore, Sovereign Images, Nagpa and Princess Marhya!

Every month I answer interesting questions posed by my Patreon supporters. Here’s a few more from April!

What details do you start with when trying use a Eberron location with no lore? Sometimes I get blank page paralysis.

First of all, what’s the nation? If it’s Aundair, is there something interesting going on with everyday magic or fey? If it’s Thrane, how does the faith in the Silver Flame manifest? If it’s Karrnath, is it more influenced by Seekers or by Karrnath’s martial traditions? Can you feel the weight of the Code of Kaius? If it’s Breland, is there crime? Do they support the monarchy or the Swords of Liberty? Outside the Five Nations, is there a manifest zone? Is it tied to a daelkyr or an overlord? Is there an interesting resource or an unusual creature?

Another thing to consider is the stories people tell. For example, in Frontiers of Eberron I dealt with Whitehorn Woods for the first time, which raised the question “Why do people call it Whitehorn Wood?” So, I decided that the people in the region tell stories of Whitehorn, a massive horned bear. Essentially, if a place has a name, there’s surely a reason for the name—what’s a logical explanation you can come up with?

Beyond that, I will often ask my players to help flesh these things out. If I was running a game tomorrow in the Whitehorn Woods, I’d start by telling people about the bear, and then I’d ask each player “Tell me something you’ve heard about the Whitehorn Woods.” I did this in Threshold just recently, when I asked players to tell me something they’d heard about the Byeshk Mine. I didn’t USE all those answers—not every story has to be true—but it was a useful source of inspiration.

How concrete are the appearances of the Sovereign Host — particularly at the local level. While canon has called out they have different appearances, is this a matter of everyone at one church holding a common image of Dol Arrah, or is it rather a more personal choice and imagining for each Vassal?

There’s two important things to consider here. The first is that the Sovereigns appear in many different cultures and with many different variations. Clearly Banor of the Bloody Spear, Bally-Nur, and the Pyrinean Balinor won’t all look the same; one’s a giant, one’s a halfling, one isn’t locked into any one species. Even within the Five Nations, you have many subsects within the broad Pyrinean tradition—the Church of the Wyrm Ascendant, the Restful Watch, Aureon’s Word, the Order of the Broken Blade, the Three Faces, and so on.

The second important point is that on some level, the exact appearance of the Sovereigns doesn’t matter, because the idea of the Sovereigns is that they aren’t going to appear and interact with you physically, but rather that they are with you at all times, offering guidance.

Is there art depicting the myths of the Sovereigns? Absolutely. But the key is that there’s no absolute agreement on what they look like, so instead what’s crucial is symbols. The first of these is called out in the original ECS: Dragons. Each of the Sovereigns is associated with a particular dragon; the blue dragon is a symbol of Aureon, while the silver dragon is used to represent Dol Dorn. Beyond this, each Sovereign has a particular iconic symbol, suggested in Faiths of Eberron; Aureon can be recognized by his book, while Arawai holds a sheaf of wheat. The ECS also assigns a favored weapon to each Sovereign, but I didn’t choose these and I strongly disagree with some of the choices. As Sovereign of the fields, it would make sense for Arawai to be associated with a farming implement, such as the flail or the scythe; instead, she’s canonically tied to the morningstar (which is sometimes depicted as a ball-and-chain, but definitely not a farming implement). Balinor is the Sovereign of the Hunt but is canonically tied to the battleaxe, hardly a traditional choice for a hunter. With that in mind, I’ll suggest kanonical alternatives befow.

With all this in mind, the point is that artwork depicting the Sovereigns focuses on SYMBOLS. There’s no one universally accepted depiction of Dol Dorn, but he’s always muscular and carries a longsword, often crossed over a shield. Dol Arrah holds her halberd with the sun rising behind her; if that doesn’t fit in the image, she’ll have a rising sun worked into her clothing. The humanoid models vary by sect and region, and often use historical or living figures considered to exemplify that Sovereign’s traits. For example, there may be a church in Sharn with a mural that depicts war heroes Khandan the Hammer as Dol Dorn (wielding a longsword instead of his famous hammer) and Meira the Huntress as Balinor. If you’re Brelish, you know Khandan as a warrior renowned for his strength and courage, and this combined with his pose, his obvious strength, and his sword and shield make it clear he’s representing Dol Dorn; if they really wanted to lay it on, they could add a silver dragon in a pennant or a brooch. Meanwhile, Meira the Huntress would be recognized as Balinor by her bow, by the antlers mounted on her helm, and by the fact that she’s clearly a huntress. It doesn’t matter that Balinor is considered to be male, because what this picture is truly depicting is Balinor acting through Meira—because THAT is how you’ll actually encounter the Sovereigns in the world. In using real people as models for the Sovereigns, these images remind us that the Sovereigns are with us all.

ArawaiBronzeFlailSheaf of Wheat
Dol ArrahRedHalberdRising Sun
Dol DornSilverLongswordShield
Kol KorranWhiteMaceGold Coin
OlladraBlackDaggerDomino or Dice
OnatarBrassWarhammerHammer and Tongs

Where would the Nagpa from Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foe fit into your Eberron?

I’ve never used the Nagpa. As I understand the story, the idea is that they’re mortal wizards who were cursed by the Raven Queen for meddling in a war between gods. Now they plot in the shadows, but presumably on a smaller scale than, for example, the Lords of Dust; they are still cursed mortals.

The first thing I’d do is to drop the Raven Queen and evaluate the core overall story. Mortals meddle, are cursed by a wrathful being of deific power. Playing to the idea that they “interfered in a war between gods” the most obvious answer to me is that they weren’t HUMAN wizards… they were DRAGONS. They interfered in the first war—the conflict between dragon and overlord—and were cursed by Ourelonastrix, forever bound to these pathetic, humanoid forms. Powerful as they are, they’re still feeble next to the glory of a greatwyrm, and you can see how their state would be a considerable humiliation. With this in mind, they can then have been present in EVERY disaster that’s come since. They could have played a key role in Aureon’s Folly; perhaps it was one of the Nagpa who urged the giants to use the Moonbreaker. Rival Nagpa could have helped different mazes in Ohr Kaluun, or Khunan. A key point would be that unlike the Chamber or the Lords of Dust, the Nagpa aren’t driven by the Prophecy and don’t know what the long-term impact of their actions—they just enjoy sowing chaos and causing trouble for all sides. If I didn’t want to do that, the next approach that comes to mind is to make them cursed acolytes of Sul Khatesh, twisted by their devotion to the Queen of Shadows—cursed with ugly immortality until they can unlock some particular arcane mystery. This could be tied to her release—making them allies of Hektula and an adjunct of the Lords of Dust—or they could just be an entirely separate faction which, again, has no knowledge of the Prophecy and are purely devoted to pursuing their own selfish problem. Another option would be to work with Thelanis, as the whole “cursed wizard” story sounds very Thelanian. But personally, I’d either go with cursed dragons or ancient Khorvairians.

You’ve mentioned Princess Marhya ir’Wynarn of Cyre a number of times, but if she’s in any canon sources, I cannot locate her. Is there anything more you can tell us about this youngest daughter (or possibly granddaughter, again referring back to the Oargev’s suitors article) of Queen Dannel? I’m not looking for anything mechanical here.

A few years back, my friend Dan Garrison—the co-designer of Phoenix: Dawn Command—ran an Eberron campaign called “The Fall of Cyre”. It began in Metrol on the eve of the Day of Mourning, at the celebration of Princess Marhya’s betrothal. That was the night we danced the Tago with knives! Marhya was the younger sister of Oargev, which in my current view would make her a granddaughter of Dannel. My character in that campaign was the warforged envoy Rose, who was built to serve as a companion to the Princess; Rose is depicted in Exploring Eberron and mentioned in the article on Oargev’s suitors.

In Dan’s campaign, Marhya was betrothed to Prince Jurian of Aundair… though of course, this isn’t canon. Marhya was competent, trained in statecraft and with the sword, determined to do what she could to ensure peace and safety for her people. In that campaign, Metrol was also sucked into Mabar, but more in the typical Hinterlands way—so apocalyptic chaos rather than the dystopia of Dread Metrol. Marhya was the natural leader who needed to unite the survivors and find a way out of the nightmare. Good times!

As with most IFAQs, I won’t be expanding further on these topics, but feel free to discuss them in the comments! If you have questions of you’re own, I’ll be posting a new call for questions for my Patreon supporters soon!