As time permits, I like to answer interesting questions posed by my Patreon supporters. Here’s a few of the questions that came up this month!
In our world, some fairy tales heroes deal with/encounter undead: Ghosts, wraiths, skeletons, headless horsemen, etc. On the material plane, the hero would encounter them in manifest zones to Dolurrh or Mabar, but how would that story be told in Thelanis? Are there any fey in Thelanis that have to do with undead or necromancy?
First of all, you can find almost anything in Thelanis if it fits a story archetype. There’s a barony in Thelanis with a massive dragon in it, and a barony filled with ghosts. But the key point is that those ghosts were never living mortals, and that dragon likewise isn’t mortal (it’s an archfey!) and has no connection to Argonnessen or the dragons of Eberron. If a ghost story is about a ghost that lingers because of unfinished business, it’s likely tied to Dolurrh. If it’s about an aggressive undead being who consumes life or hope, it’s likely tied to Mabar. If it’s more about the abstract idea—a story that can be found repeated in many cultures, that’s more about the allegory than the specific actions of a historical undead creature—then it could be tied to Thelanis. You can have devils in Fernia, Shavarath, and Daanvi, but they’re very different from one another; likewise, you can have ghosts in Mabar, Dolurrh, or Thelanis, but they’re very different from one another. Thelanian undead aren’t actually the remnants of mortals; they’re the IDEA of remnants of mortals. It’s up to the DM to decide whether these creatures should even be considered to be undead for purposes of magical effects, or if they are in fact fey. personally, I’d probably be inclined to make Thelanian ghosts both undead AND fey; they ARE fey, but they react like you’d expect undead to react, because that’s the story.
Who is Lady Dusk of the Crimson Covenant?
The article on the Crimson Covenant notes that members of the Covenant “guide and protect other Seekers. The Crimson Covenant are the oldest and most powerful of these undead champions, some of whom were guiding the Seekers before Erandis Vol even knew the faith existed. ” It’s also long been noted that Seeker communities donate blood which is kept in barrels of preserving pine to sustain vampire champions. This practice began with Lady Dusk, believed by some to be the first human vampire in Khorvaire. Given her age and the secrecy with which she shrouds herself, few facts are known about her. The most common of these is that she was the daughter of a warlord in the first days of Karrnath; recent scholarly work suggests that she was a member of the House of the Ram, one of the warlord dynasties that would eventually merge into House Deneith. When elf refugees came west fleeing the destruction of the Line of Vol, the lady gave them shelter and fell in love with one of these refugees. When her family decided to exterminate these elves, Lady Dusk fought alongside them. She was executed by her family… but, according to the story, her lover had already shared her blood and Dusk rose as a child of the night.
Ever since then, Lady Dusk has followed the path of the undead champion—acting to guide and protect the Seekers of the Divinity Within. She’s the model of an undead champion of the faith and the reason communities began storing reserves of blood. With that said, this is dangerous work; over the centuries, most of her peers—including her lover—have been destroyed, and Dusk herself has narrowly escaped many times. As such she rarely acts openly; she disguises herself and works from the shadows. If something is threatening a Seeker community, she won’t just charge in with fangs bared; she will try to organize mortal resistance. It’s the idea of teaching someone to fish instead of fishing for them; Lady Dusk is a GUIDE, and those she assists may never know who their mentor was.
What do the Carrion Tribes of the Demon Wastes eat to survive? Do they make use of Shadow Demiplanes for resources in the same way as the Ghaash’kala?
There’s flora and fauna in the Demon Wastes, it’s just highly aggressive and often poisonous or infused with fiendish power. Over many generations the Carrion Tribes have developed resistances to these natural and supernatural toxins, and they can eat things travelers can’t safely eat—though in part because of this diet, members of the Carrion Tribes have a very low life expectancy and their numbers remain relatively low. The Carrion Tribes aren’t as disciplined or well equipped as the Ghaash’kala and also rarely retain institutional knowledge; for all of these reasons, they don’t harness demiplanes as effectively as the Ghaash’kala. Essentially, there’s lots of things you can eat in the Demon Wastes, if you don’t mind hosting infernal parasites, shortening your lifespan and suffering hallucinations and severe mood swings; for the Carrion Tribes, that’s just a typical Tuesday.
How do you imagine the curriculum at Arcanix to be? Is the goal of classes specifically to teach how to cast spells in a practical manner, in which case I’d imagine most courses don’t go beyond the Third Circle, or are there classes in which the theory of higher level magic is studied even if the spell can’t be cast by the students? Accompanying this, I’m curious if there’s a presence by Wizard Circles in Arcanix similar to companies at universities trying to recruit talent near graduation.
The Strixhaven book coming out in a month is sure to have lots of suggestions about this topic, so I’m somewhat loathe to discuss it now. But first of all, arcane magic is a form of science, so to begin with, consider how any form of science is taught. You’re going to have base entry-level classes that teach the principles of Arcana along with the basics of arcane science and history. These will advance into practical magic, from there into study of specific schools of magic, from there into specialized topics within that field. Most students of Arcanix don’t become wizards, and there are some who can cast perform ritual magic that’s beyond the Third Circle, just more limited than what a wizard can do; so yes, there are definitely classes dealing with magical THEORY that goes beyond the practical limits of 3rd level spells. Keep in mind that Arcanix is always driving students to push beyond the limits of what’s currently possible; Third Circle may be the practical limit of everyday magic TODAY, but the students of Arcanix intend to change that.
Many of the students of Arcanix will never cast spells as a wizard or sorcerer does. However, Aundair has the highest percentage of wandslingers and war wizards in the Five Nations. Thus you have the War College within Arcanix, which focuses on practical battlefield magic. It’s here that you will get direct training in combat cantrips, arcane sparring, drills to hone concentration, and so on, along with classes in tactics and strategy.
Meanwhile, wizard circles aren’t COMPANIES. The equivalent to companies would be the dragonmarked houses or the Arcane Congress, both of which do send recruiters to Arcanix. But wizard circles are essentially fraternities; they don’t simply have recruiters at Arcanix, they have CHAPTERS at Arcanix.
How do the magic tattoos from Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything fit into Eberron?
Like all magic items, magical tattoos are a set of mechanics, which can be flavored very differently based on the story and cosmetic elements associated with them. There’s no single form of magic tattoo or single culture associated with them; instead, there are a number of different forms of magical tattooing. Sigilry is the field of arcane science that is used to create scrolls, and master sigilists can create magical tattoos infused with arcane power. On Khorvaire, the Mark of Scribing has given Sivis the edge in creating magical tattoos, but Thuranni and Phiarlan also have a limited tradition of arcane tattoos. But magical tattoos can also be created using divine magic—such as the couatl tattoos of the Ghaash’kala, which I mentioned in a recent article. Such tattoos are in part empowered by the faith of the bearer and can usually only be attuned by a person who shares the faith of the creator. There’s also a primal tradition of tattooing, employed by the shifters of the Towering Wood; Races of Eberron discusses these tattoos, which shift in appearance when the bearer activates their shifting trait. So it’s the same way that many different cultures use wands, but the design of the wand and the powers channeled will vary based on the culture and their magical tradition.
What do the Valaes Tairn do when they aren’t fighting? Would there be a reason for a group of warriors to be in Sharn besides looking for an artifact of some kind?
What they do when not fighting depends on their patron ancestor. Tairnadal seek to emulate their patrons at all times, not just in battle; so what was their patrons known for? Were they explorers? Entertainers? Arcane researchers? With that said, as long as it doesn’t directly oppose what their patrons would do, Tairnadal can also pursue their own interests when there’s no clearly mandated path. So a group of Tairnadal in Sharn could be looking for work; they could be tourists passing the time between mercenary assignments; they could be pursuing a rogue Tairnadal who betrayed their warband; they could be following the example of their patron. There were grand cities in Xen’drik at the time of the elven rebellion; perhaps their patron was known for protecting the innocent in the shadows of the greatest city of the age. The Tairnadal have identified Sharn as the closest equivalent and are fighting crime in Lower Dura!
That’s all for now! If you have an infrequently asked question, I’ll be taking another round soon on my Patreon!
A wizard walks into a tavern with a raven on his wrist. A Cannith heir is close behind, followed by her gleaming steel defender. The Eldeen ranger is waiting for them, with his wolf curled up under the table.
All three of these are plausible player characters in an Eberron campaign. But how do these things—familiars, animal companions, homunculi—fit into the world? How do people react to them, and what do people know about them? Would any of them actually be allowed in a tavern, and would a typical person actually be able to tell the difference between a familiar and an animal companion?
Familiars, homunculi, and animal companions play different roles in the game and in the world, and I want to explore each one of them. But to begin with, let’s answer the quick questions. In the Five Nations…
Familiars are most common in Aundair and (previously) Cyre, but they have been employed throughout the Five Nations for centuries. They are also found in Zilargo and the Eldeen Reaches.
Even beyond these four areas, people are familiar with the basic idea of familiars and most people know at least some of the following facts: Familiars can communicate with their companion; their companion can see through their eyes; familiars can potentially channel touch spells; they can be easily dismissed and resummoned; they can be resummoned if killed.
People generally assume that familiars are extensions of a spellcaster (discussed in more detail later in this article) and don’t consider them fully independent beings. Along with homunculi, they are seen as tools. In the eyes of the law, a character is responsible for the actions of their familiar/companion/homunculus, and you can’t get away with murder by casting the killing spell through your familiar.
While most people can’t tell the difference between a familiar and an animal companion, most know that familiars are usually limited to tiny forms. The common assumption is that a tiny animal companion is a familiar, and a small or larger animal companion is a beast.
If an establishment allows patrons to carry weapons, it will generally allow well-behaved familiars, homunculi, or animal companions, unless the creature seems especially unsanitary or aggressive. In part, this is a metagame conceit: we are still playing a game, and the Beast Master ranger or Battlesmith artificer shouldn’t be crippled every time the adventurers go indoors. But it also ties to the idea that people recognize these things as tools. So in my opinion, any place that will allow the barbarian to carry his greataxe will allow the battlesmith to bring her steel defender… And conversely, a fine restaurant like the Oaks in Sharn isn’t going to let you bring your axe or your steel defender to your table.
Most people know that a spellcaster can spy through the eyes of a familiar, just as they know that someone with the spell beast sense (druid, ranger, Vadalis heir) can see through the eyes of a mundane animal. People don’t assume that every rat is a spy, but they know it’s a POSSIBILITY… so tiny animals showing up in highly secured areas or behaving in a clearly unnatural manner may be dealt with as if they’re spies.
In major cities with a significant population of magewrights or arcane universities, you may find businesses that cater to characters with familiars—the bring-your-own-sassy-magical-cat cafe.
While most people assume familiars are extensions, they also recognize traditional imps and quasits as fiends. Having a quasit as a familiar isn’t ILLEGAL, but it definitely makes a statement; even if you’re not actively associating with fiends, you’re choosing one to represent you. Some people will see that as cool and edgy, some people will see it as a sign that you’re a scumbag, and some people will see it as pretentious— “LOOK AT ME! I CONSORT WITH DEEEEEMONS!” It will definitely be noticed, and it’s up to the DM to decide how people will react. But again, people see familiars as tools, so they aren’t going to burn you just for having an imp; but it’s similar to whether your fighter has a greatsword of plain steel or whether he’s carrying a rune-carved sword that moans softly. You can’t get arrested for it, but people will make judgements because of it.
So key takeaways: People are familiar with the idea of familiars and homunculi. They largely see them as tools and will treat them accordingly. If a tiny animal behaves in an unusual manner, people may assume that it’s a familiar or otherwise being manipulated by magic. With those general things settled, let’s take a quick look at the differences between these three categories of companion…
Mechanically, familiars have a common foundation—the find familiar spell. Warlocks, wizards, and druids all acquire their familiars by using this spell, and this establishes the core rules that all familiars follow—shared senses, telepathic communication, can be dismissed and resummoned, and so on. But while this provides a concrete baseline for the mechanics of a familiar, from a story perspective the familiars of a wizard, a warlock, and a druid may be very different. While this isn’t an exhaustive list, here’s three important categories of familiar.
The most common form of familiar—the form used by most wizards and magewrights in the Five Nations—is an externally manifested aspect of the spellcaster’s personality. A few aspects of this…
As an extension of you, your familiar doesn’t know anything that you don’t know—but it’s drawn from your subconscious, and may know things you’ve forgotten or draw conclusions you haven’t consciously made.
All familiars must obey the spellcaster’s commands. An extension doesn’t resent this; they’re part of you. If they do have any personal goals, they’re likely things you actually want, even if you haven’t consciously realized it.
When an extension is dismissed or slain, it returns to your subconscious. This isn’t unpleasant for the familiar, and most extensions don’t resent being dismissed.
An extension is drawn from you. Most extensions have the fey creature type; in many ways, they are manifested stories. Extensions would only manifest as celestials or fiends if they are tied to remarkably virtuous or deeply vile people.
If you wish, you and your DM could decide that the familiar represents a specific aspect of your personality, which could in turn flavor its personality and demeanor. This could also be reflected by its shape, which you can change by casting the spell. It could be that as a cat it reflects your curiosity, while as a hawk it’s your courage and as a weasel it’s your cunning. A secondary question is whether each of these three would present themselves as having different names—if they essentially identify as three familiars—or whether they maintain a single identity even though their shape and personality changes.
In many ways, an extension is like a character in your dreams. They have distinct personalities, you can have interesting conversations with them, they FEEL real—but ultimately they’re a manifestation of your own mind. This doesn’t stop them from being fun and interesting individuals; it could be that your rat familiar embodies your sense of humor! But they can’t be killed because they’re a part of you; and conversely, if you die, they will die with you.
Extensions are the most common form of familiar in the Five Nations. They are a product of arcane science. On some levels (especially in Aundair), a familiar is both a tool and a status symbol for an accomplished spellcaster; wizards are rare, but some magewrights and demi-wizards manifest familiars for this reason. However, the most common users of familiars in the Five Nations are falconers. This is a magewright specialty that masters a narrow form of find familiar. A falconer can only summon a single shape of familiar—so if they can summon a hawk, they can’t turn it into a cat—but they can maintain telepathic communication and a sensory link with their familiar over a far greater distance than usual. The typical range of a falconer is one mile, but an exceptional falconer can go even farther. Falconers typically served as scouts and skirmishers in the Last War, and as the name suggests, most summon birds (typically hawks or falcons, though owls and ravens are also used). There are other magewrights who use this specialized form of find familiar in different ways—ratcatchers who conjure cats, even assassins who can conjure poisonous snakes. All of this ties to the basic point that people see extensions as tools—you learn to manifest an extension because you have a use for it.
When a warlock acquires a familiar, it’s generally not an extension of the warlock—it’s an emissary of the warlock’s patron, an independent entity whose services are granted to the warlock as a gift. However, this can also be an appropriate choice for a conjurer wizard or any other character who has made bargains with a powerful supernatural being. Important details about emissary familiars…
An emissary is an independent spirit with its own history and agenda. It’s up to the DM to decide exactly what that agenda is. It may be that the emissary is entirely benevolent and has been sent solely to assist you and protect you. But it could be that the emissary is sent to watch you—to see if you’re living up to expectations, to remind you of agreements you’ve made with your patron, or to serve as an intermediary for communication; the patron might temporarily possess the familiar when they want to communicate with you.
Tied to this: an emissary familiar has to follow your orders when it comes to taking physical actions, but it doesn’t have to share all of its information with you. Unlike an extension, an emissary may have knowledge you don’t have—but it’s only going to share that information with you if it serves the interests of the patron.
The creature type of the emissary will generally reflect the creature type of the patron. If you’re working for Sul Khatesh she’ll give you a fiend, while a celestial warlock channeling the power of the Silver Flame will have a celestial familiar. A DM may choose to tweak type and details to fit a particular patron. For example, an efreeti patron could give a warlock a familiar that’s mechanically an imp, but with the elemental type and knowledge of Primordial instead of Infernal; they might even say that its sting inflicts fire damage instead of poison damage, causing the victim to burn from within. An undead patron could likewise give an “imp” that’s got the undead type and inflicts necrotic damage with its sting.
Emissary familiars CAN assume a mundane animal form, but even those that take the form of animals may have a “natural” form that reflects their origins. A raven gifted by an efreeti could choose to appear as a tiny phoenix wreathed in cold flames, or just as a mundane bird.
It’s up to the DM to decide what happens to the emissary when it is dismissed/killed. It may be that it returns to the domain of its patron; if this is the case, it may actually WANT to be dismissed occasionally to go and take care of its own business. Or it may be that as long as it’s bound to you, it is bound to your spirit and retreats into you when dismissed. If this is the case, it may still be aware of what is going on around you, even if it can’t take any actions.
The basic question between having an extension or an emissary is whether you want your familiar to be entirely loyal and reliable, or if you LIKE the idea that your familiar may have secrets and agendas you don’t know about. An extension may have a semblance of personality, but at the end of the day it really is a puppet; an emissary is a truly independent entity who is only working with you for now, and who could have their own significant role to play at some point in the campaign.
Emissary familiars are rare. You can go to school to become a falconer, but there’s no common magewright paths that teach people to make bargains with overlords. As noted above, people generally assume that familiars are extensions, so having an imp as a familiar doesn’t automatically mean you’re making deals with demons, but to a common person what it means is that THE PROJECTION OF YOUR PERSONALITY IS A FIEND and people will judge you accordingly. And if people DO realize that no, this is an actual emissary of Sul Khatesh and you are getting advice from it, that’s not going to be great; so usually, you’re going to want your imp to be in an animal form.
Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything introduces the Wild Companion feature, allowing a druid to cast find familiar by using a charge of wild shape. Such a familiar has the fey creature type. It’s worth noting that beasts summoned with the conjure animals spell also have the fey creature type. This doesn’t mean that they are from Thelanis. If you’re a Greensinger, they might be; but typically, these are primal spirits. These can be seen as native fey, in the same way the Lords of Dust are native fiends. They are essentially stories made real—the idea of a beast given temporary form. A few details…
Primal spirits don’t have individual identities in the same way as emissaries or extensions. They are more iconic beings. Your raven embodies the idea of “raven” and will behave as you expect a raven to act in a fable or folktale. A cat may be curious, a raven may be wise. But the cat embodies the idea of CAT, not of your personal curious Graymalkin.
Primal spirits generally only remain for as long as they are needed; when they die or are dismissed they simply return to the transcendent essence of Eberron.
Primal spirits generally have no desires other than to help the summoner. They don’t NEED anything and generally look forward to returning to the heart of Eberron.
Druids and rangers typically employ primal spirits to avoid placing living animals in danger. They don’t feel any compunctions about sending summoned animals or familiars to their deaths because they aren’t really alive; you can’t kill an idea, and ultimately that’s what they are.
Primal spirits are typically only found in communities with strong primal roots—the Eldeen Reaches, the Qaltiar drow, the Lorghalen gnomes. In such places, you may find the equivalent of Falconer magewrights—gleaners who can conjure a specific familiar spirit, and who can maintain their bond with it over an unusually long distance. Primal communities often also involve animal companions, but people working with living beasts will generally be much more conscientious about placing their companions in dangerous situations—whereas primal spirits suffer no lasting harm from death.
Familiars are the most common class of companion, and extensions are the most common class of familiar. Falconers and similar magewrights use familiars as practical tools, while arcanists use often familiars as companions and assistants. Emissaries are rare and thus rarely recognized for what they are, but most people won’t be thrilled if you reveal that your companion is an actual fiend given to you because you made a bargain with a malefic power.
HOMUNCULI AND CONSTRUCT BEASTS
A homunculus is a construct, typically created by an artificer or wizard. They notably don’t follow the rules of find familiar; a homunculus can’t be simply dismissed and recalled at will. The most common form of homunculus player characters deal with is the homunculus servant, which is created using an artificer infusion. The servant is a tiny construct, and notably the shape of the homunculus is up to the artificer. The intention of this is that the appearance of the homunculus should reflect the techniques of the artificer. A Cannith Traditionalist may create a steel dragonfly with crystal wings—a creature similar to a warforged, perhaps with metal threads or gears instead of root-like tendrils. An artificer from Pylas Pyrial may use Thelanian logic to create a flying teapot. And an alchemist who’s experimenting with daelkyr fleshcrafting techniques could create a tiny platypus with one eye and three wings. A Battle Smith artificer gets to create a more powerful homunculus, a steel defender. Again, what’s specifically noted is that the shape and design of the defender is up to the artificer, including the choice as to whether it has two legs or four. This reflects the idea that all of these homunculi are extremely unique. The fact that the artificer can only have one of each type of homunculus at a time reflects the idea these creatures aren’t entirely stable—that the artificer has to continue to maintain their companion and to maintain the reserve of arcane energy that sustains it. As noted, homunculi can’t be dismissed and resummoned with the ease of a familiar, but if one is destroyed it can be rebuilt.
So a key point is that the homunculi of player characters aren’t supposed to be as familiar as a raven or even an imp. They’re supposed to stand out; they’re reflections of the unique genius of the artificer character. Unlike familiars and falconers, there isn’t a class of magewrights that creates homunculi; again, familiars ultimately come from a 1st level spell, while homunculi are derived from an artificer class feature. They’re more exotic than familiars. At the same time, people understand the CONCEPT of homunculi. Sentient magic items exist. Constructs exist. The Clockwork Menagerie of Eston was one of the wonders of Cyre centuries before House Cannith perfected the warforged. And with that said, the Last War involved a constant escalation in the development of constructs leading up to the Last War. Animated weapons have been developed, ranging from the tiny arbalester to the arcane ballista. Warforged titans stormed across the battlefield decades before their smaller cousins. And House Cannith does create construct beasts; the iron defenders of House Cannith can be produced as autonomous constructs (though they are typically considerably weaker than the steel defender of an accomplished Battle Smith). These creatures are still EXOTIC, but they aren’t unheard of and people generally won’t be frightened by them. They’ll draw attention, certainly, but attention isn’t always bad. With that said, the daelkyr-inspired fleshcrafted homunculus will generate the same sort of reaction as the imp familiar; people may not run you instantly out of town for having a creepy homunculus, but they will judge you by the company you keep.
I’ll be posting a table of random ideas for homunculus servants on my Patreon as an exclusive bonus for Inner Circle and Threshold patrons later in this week, so if you’re a supporter, keep an eye out for that!
What about the ranger and his wolf? Well, beasts are a part of everyday life in Eberron. From horses and tribex to the giant owls of Sharn or the Valenar hounds, there’s nothing strange about seeing someone with an animal companion. Magewright falconers conjure their companions, but Vadalis farriers can cast animal friendship, speak with animals, and beast sense, and gleaners (primal magewrights) in the Eldeen Reaches also develop these talents. Many gnomes cultivate the gift of speaking with small beasts. Exotic beasts are often rarer in major cities simply because of the difficulty of maintaining them, but people aren’t especially SURPRISED to see a ranger with a wolf companion; the fact that there are people who can befriend and speak with animals is a simple fact of life, and has been for centuries.
Animal companions aren’t exactly tools in the same way as familiars, because they’re independent living creatures. A Beast Master can replace an companion that dies, but an animal still died… while familiars and conjured beasts can be put in harm’s way with no lasting risk. Nonetheless, to the world at large they are still largely seen as tools and treated accordingly, so the same rule applies. If the ranger is allowed to bring his sword and his bow into a place of business, he’s probably allowed to bring his wolf; and if the wolf bites someone, the ranger will be held responsible, just as if he’d stabbed the victim with a sword.
Some might wonder if the existence of speak with animals would drive an overall greater wave of ethical behavior regarding the treatment of animals. Sadly, this is not the case in the Five Nations. Speak with animals exists, but MOST people can’t cast it. People will still take a tribex-drawn carriage down to a restaurant where they’ll eat a steak, without stopping to think “Was that tribex happy? Did the cow I’m eating live a good life?” The general attitude of House Vadalis is that they’ve been granted dominion over beasts, and it is their right to exploit that power. This is quite different in wide primal societies—such as the Eldeen Reaches and Lorghalen—but in the Five Nations beasts are still primarily treated as property and tools.
That’s all for now! Thanks to my Patreon supporters for helping to choose this topic and for making these articles possible.
My last article discussed the impact the long lifespan of elves has on the elves of the Five Nations. This brought up a few other points I’d like to discuss.
Elves are Old for a Long Time
The elves of Aerenal devote decades or centuries to intense, focused study. In the previous article I said that the elves of the Five Nations don’t do this because the infrastructure doesn’t support it; a Brelish elf is going to the same school or university as a Brelish human, and there’s no decades-long classes in the Brelish core curriculum. This raised the question of whether that means the elves of the Five Nations are more versatile than the Aereni… and if so, if combining greater versatility with longer life meant that they dominated the study of arcane sciences in Khorvaire. The answer to this is NO. It’s not just the culture of the Aereni that’s the issue; it’s the fact that elves mentally mature at the same pace as humans and then are OLD FOR A VERY LONG TIME. Here’s a quote from a previous article…
This ties to the idea that a seven-hundred year old lifespan is both a blessing and a curse. Our fluid intelligence – which fuels our ability to adapt to entirely new things – peaks in young adulthood. You grandfather may be a brilliant doctor, a skilled mathematician, and still have trouble learning to use an iPhone that a three-year-old masters in three days. The child is running on fluid intelligence, which allows them to quickly adapt to new things. You grandfather is working off crystallized intelligence, the concrete skills he has perfected over time. For me, this is the fundamental difference between elves and humans… because in my Eberron, both elf and human peak in fluid intelligence at the same time. An elf’s mental facilities don’t deteriorate due to age as a human’s will, so the 110-year-old elf is still sharp and alert… but they’re is also just as firmly set in their ways as a hundred-year-old human, and it’s difficult for them to adapt to entirely new things.
This follows the principle that older people tend to be more conservative than younger people, and the point I made earlier that Brelish elves are more likely to support the monarchy because they don’t like change. Aereni society is built with this in mind, but the general idea is that elves are more likely to specialize than to be diverse in their skills because it’s harder for them to learn entirely new things—and, just as I don’t remember much of the Latin I learned in college, if an elf doesn’t USE a skill for 50 years, it will atrophy. Focusing on a few skills ensures that they MAINTAIN those skills. So if you go to Arcanix, the 500 year old elf professor is more likely to be the one who’s been teaching the same Siberyan Principles course for 300 years—and who is AMAZING at it—than the young hotshot teaching the course that challenges all established principles. There are always exceptions; Mordain the Fleshweaver is a remarkably innovative elf, though it’s questionable as to whether you can still call him an elf. And your player character elf can certainly defy this pattern. But generally, elves are old for a long time; a 200 year old elf has the same general outlook on life that a 200 year old human would if they could live that long, and they aren’t as flexible in their outlook as a 20 year old human.
Where Did You Get Your Training?
Throughout many editions of D&D, elves, dwarves, and other races have had features that feel more cultural than genetic. All elves have “Elf Weapon Training” with longswords and longbows. All dwarves know how to use axes and they’re either brewers and smiths; in third edition, all dwarves had a bonus to fight orcs. It doesn’t matter if they’d never SEEN an orc or ever picked up a hammer: ALL DWARVES HAVE THIS.
This stems from the same monocultural impulse that says “All orcs are evil,” and from the beginning we pushed against this in Eberron. In third edition we largely just ignored it. In fifth edition we’ve more actively challenged it. The Aereni elf subrace in Wayfinder’s Guide and Exploring Eberron removes the Elf Weapon Training trait, because elves in Eberron DON’T all know how to use swords and bows. In Wayfinder’s and Rising From The Last War we suggested that assigned racial languages could be changed, because dwarves aren’t born knowing Dwarvish; if you’re a dwarf born in the slums of Sharn, you might know Goblin instead of Dwarvish. Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything expanded on this with the optional Proficiency Swap system; they specifically call out the example of an elf who swaps longsword proficiency for an instrument proficiency. So Maza Thadian, the best cook in Sharn, doesn’t know how to use a longbow—because she traded that proficiency for Cook’s Utensils.
So the key point here is that Elf Weapon Training—or Dwarf Weapon Training, or similar features—don’t represent some sort of genetic talent. Which means that if you’re playing an elf and you choose to KEEP Elf Weapon Training, it’s up to you to decide how your character acquired that training. In Exploring Eberron I note that Mror dwarves can base their racial Weapon Training and Tool Proficiencies on their experiences in the War Below. This is an equally logical approach for dwarves and elves of the Five Nations. The Last War lasted for a century. Even if your background is entertainer, you can still say that you served in the last war for a decade back eighty years ago. It didn’t because the focus of your life, which is why you’re a bard instead of a fighter, but you still retain that basic training. On the other hand, if your background is ENTERTAINER, perhaps you worked archery into your act. Or, even if you don’t worship the Silver Flame NOW, perhaps you spent a decade as part of a devout Thrane militia fifty years ago and received your training then. Or you could say that your elf character never touched a bow until yesterday—but YOU have an ancestor who lives in your memories and who’s been training your while you trance. Essentially, the fact that you have skill with these weapons is part of your character’s story, and I want to know the STORY behind it. Three Brelish elves may all have Elf Weapon Training—but HOW they got those proficiencies may be completely different for each of them, and it’s certainly different from the training a Tairnadal ranger received.
Potential Lifespan is Just That
In the last article a question was raised as to whether elves would have a different outlook on the Blood of Vol, because the religion evolved as a reaction to the brutality of life and elves are less likely to see life as brutish and short. Well, the Blood of Vol evolved in the cold, harsh regions of Karrnath and the northern Lhazaar Principalities. It evolved among people who were fighting famine and plagues, and who were oppressed by tyrannical rulers. It is a reaction to the basic question what just gods would allow death and suffering… and SUFFERING is an important word to remember. Because just because an elf can POTENTIALLY live to be 700 years old doesn’t mean they WILL. Elves have no special resistance to cold or disease. They may not sleep, but they still need food and water. They can suffer from the cold, and they can suffer the agony of watching their starving children dying from diseases. The long lifespan can seem like a curse on two levels: first, when an elf child dies of a fever when they are ten years old, it seems more unjust because they COULD have had centuries of life. Second, the elf who does live for centuries while enduring starvation and disease and who has to watch their friends dying around them may well feel that another century of life is just more time to suffer.
Aerenal is in many ways a utopia. It is a peaceful, advanced nation where people DO expect to live out most of their natural life in comfort and health. And yes, the Blood of Vol won’t find much purchase there. But it won’t find much purchase ANYWHERE where people live long and comfortable lives. It takes root in those places where people are surrounded by suffering and loss, places where the cruelty of mortal life is made manifest. And just because elves can potentially live longer than humans doesn’t mean that they will—and it doesn’t protect them from starvation, poverty, plague, or any of the other tragedies that humanity endures.
My Patreon backers have posted a lot of good questions on other topics, so this is all for elves for the moment… I’ll try to get back to it in a century or so! Thanks to my Patreon supporters for making these articles possible.
The latest Unearthed Arcana article presents new subclasses for the barbarian, monk, paladin, and warlock. I’ve already written articles about the barbarian, monk, and warlock that examine the role of each class and subclass in the setting, and I wanted to look at the new subclasses and share how I’d incorporate them into Eberron.
Barbarian: The Path of the Beast
The Path of the Beast allows a barbarian to physically transform: manifesting natural weapons, adapting to hostile environments, and channeling psychic power through their attacks. A simple way to use this is as a form of Weretouched Master, a tradition that enhances a shifter’s primal gifts. Shifter barbarians are found in the Eldeen Reaches, and a champion with the powers of the Path of the Beast would definitely fit in among the Ashbound or possibly the Wardens of the Wood.
With that said, one of the key features of the Path of the Beast is that you can change the benefit each time you use a feature. You can change the benefit of Bestial Soul each rest, and manifest a different natural weapon every time you use Form of the Beast… including “great mandibles” or a “spiky tail.” Add to this the idea that the higher level features have a certain psychic flavor and I think this is an interesting martial tradition for changelings—let’s call it a Changeling Monstrosity, as an alternative to the Changeling Menagerie druid suggested in this article. This is based on the idea of a changeling warrior learning to make more dramatic transformations, which fits with the fact that they can change the natural weapon each time they use it; you’ll see a few other explorations of this idea in Exploring Eberron. But where would this tradition be found? It feels too savage for the stable changelings of Sharn; instead, I see it as being a tradition developed by the changelings of Droaam, emulating the monstrous creatures they deal with on a daily basis. Imaging a changeling arguing with a minotaur and suddenly manifesting mandibles and a scorpion tail. The higher level features reflect the idea that the changelings of Lost have learned to harness latent psychic abilities. A player character following this path could have left Droaam in the service of Daask, could be serving the interests of Lost, or could simply be following their own path.
The Path of the Beast also lends itself to the idea of the Experiment… someone whose class features were bestowed upon them by an outside force. I see three obvious options for this.
Mordain the Fleshweaver. A person growing mandibles and a spiked tail when they get angry? That certainly sounds like something Mordain would enjoy. A major advantage to Mordain is that he might create something like this as a one-off, with no deep investment in what actually happens to the character—so it’s a way to follow this path without having a lot of strings attached. One question I’d have is whether you were created from scratch, or if you had a life before you were changed… in which case, how and when did it happen? Can you return to your old life, or are you afraid to reveal what you’ve become? You could instead be a creation of a daelkyr, which is the same basic idea on a larger (and more terrifying) scale.
House Vadalis. We’ve hinted at Vadalis experiments magebreeding supersoldiers; you could be the result. Unlike Mordain, if Vadalis is involved this would likely have been a carefully organized program and there would be others… unless you were the only one that survived! Given this, you could have escaped from the program, in which case you might be on the run or even forced to fight other members of your unit (consider the show Dark Angel). But you could also be an agent of the house; the program was a success, after all, and you’re proud of your heritage.
The Mourning. You were in Cyre on the Day of Mourning and it changed you… but you’re still learning just how deep those changes go. If I went down this path, I’d play up the unpredictable nature and the idea that you’re afraid of what you’re becoming. Even if I, the PLAYER, was fully in control of my abilities I might suggest that the CHARACTER isn’t… that they don’t always choose when they rage, and that they don’t know what Form of the Beast will take.
In all of these cases, you might say “But if you start at 1st level, you won’t HAVE any of your Path of the Beast powers when the campaign begins.” This doesn’t concern me. The whole idea is that the character is evolving. I’d start out by emphasizing how my existing class features reflect this backstory—that when I rage, my damage resistance and increased damage reflect a physical transformation—and have it just ramp up dramatically when I finally manifest the Path of the Beast.
Monk: The Way of Mercy
Monks who follow the Way of Mercy are “wandering physicians to the poor and hurt” who “learn to manipulate the life force of others to bring aid to those in need.” An immediate, simple option is for this to be an order tied to House Jorasco. There are already a number of orders that learn to use marks in unconventional ways; some of the abilities of the Way of Mercy are reminiscent of the Nosomantic Chiurgeons of Dragonmarked. Now, one could make the argument that Jorasco heirs are supposed to charge for their services and don’t simply help those in need. In previous articles I’ve called out the fact that I believe this to be overstated; that a Mercy order could be essentially a PR path for the house, or also that they might charge those they heal to perform community service as payment for their healing. But if you DO want to be strict about Jorasco-doesn’t-heal-without-pay, an alternative is to say that this is a tradition that PREDATES the house—an order of halfling monks that operate in the Talenta Plains, who have refused to accept the modern traditions and values of the house. This would add to the idea of them wearing masks—they are formally concealing their identities and connection to the house—and ties to the Talenta mask tradition. Personally, I also like the idea of a plague doctor mask based on a glidewing’s head. So you could say that this IS a part of the house, or you could say that it’s essentially a renegade tradition: the house doesn’t actively seek to suppress it, but it’s understood that its members will be masked and largely keep to the Plains.
Jorasco is the easiest option for this path, and Jorasco halfling isn’t a bad choice for a monk. But there’s certainly other options. A few off the top of my head…
A prototype warforged designed as a field medic.
An acolyte of Arawai’s Gift, a vassal sect that sees life as the gift of the Sovereign of Life and Love. Monks of this order are charged to preserve life and to mediate disputes… but if someone abuses Arawai’s Gift, it can be rescinded.
A kalashatar follower of the Path of Light; this tradition could combine the martial discipline of the Path of Shadows with psychometabolic healing techniques. In this case, I’d definitely flavor the features as being psionic in origin.
Looking to Jorasco’s Mercy or Arawai’s Gift, I’d probably flavor the character less as an aggressive martial artist and more focused on deep knowledge of pressure points and Qi. Even when using a standard unarmed strike—and even though it still deals bludgeoning damage—I might still describe it as a gentle touch that nonetheless deals significant damage.
Paladin: The Oath of the Watchers
The Oath of the Watchers is a little more straightforward than the previous two subclasses. A few ideas…
The Shadow Watchers are a kalashtar order that seek to fight the agents of the Dreaming Dark. As quori are classified as aberrations in Rising From The Last War, Abjure The Extraplanar is a useful tool. Spells such as chromatic orb could be presented as psychic manifestations, though other abilities could be derived from faith in il-Yannah.
The Edgewalkers are an elite Riedran military force trained to combat extraplanar threats. You could be a renegade Edgewalker who fled Sarlona after discovering that your masters ARE extraplanar threats, or you could be a goodwill envoy sent by the Inspired to help deal with a rising threat in Khorvaire (the Inspired don’t like the Lords of Dust or daelkyr any more than anyone else does).
The Oath of the Watchers is a perfectly logical path for templars of the Silver Flame; the Church has always had its orders of exorcists.
While the Gatekeepers are also well known for battling extraplanar threats, I personally prefer druid/ranger/barbarians as Gatekeepers; but any Watcher Paladin would likely find a good ally in a Gatekeeper.
Warlock: The Noble Genie
The role of genies in Eberron is a larger topic I don’t have time to cover right now. With that said, there’s relatively little about the subclass that requires a connection to a genie. The most distinctive features are the idea that you have an object that you use to tether creatures to temporarily add them to your patron’s menagerie, and that you can ultimately call on your patron for favors. A few alternatives…
An Ancient Dragon is using you as a remote researcher. When you use Genie’s Entertainment, you’re actually transporting the victim to your patron’s laboratory in Argonnessen.
An Archfey‘s story revolves around their vast menagerie, and Genie’s Entertainment draws the victim to their domain in Thelanis. There’s nothing that says an Archfey HAS to serve as an Archfey patron, if the powers of a different patron make sense with their story!
You could actually be a field researcher for a University… perhaps the Library of Korranberg, Arcanix, or Morgrave University. Rather than having an all-powerful patron, your Vessel and the benefits could all be tools created by artificers at your University; if it’s Morgrave, it could very new and experimental, with new class features literally reflecting new innovations your department has developed.
How do you plan to use these subclasses? The topic of the next article will be chosen by my Patreon supporters, who keep the website going—thanks for your support!