I’m still battling with COVID, but as time and energy permit I like to answer interesting questions posed by my Patrons. Here’s two…
How do I keep immortals from the Outer Planes from coming across as a really boring, obtuse, and stupid? A Fernian balor is a spirit of fiery destruction, but a typical balor has 20 Int, 16 Wis, 22 Cha—how do you reconcile something that’s so much smarter and wiser than a human also having such a one track mind about just wanting to set trees on fire?
One of the core ideas of immortals in Eberron is that, as Loki would say, they are burdened with glorious purpose. They were created for a reason and most don’t have the ability to question that purpose or to chose a new path. An angel of Shavarath comes into existence knowing it is part of the Century of Mercy in the Legion of Justice. It bursts into existence with a sword in its hand and the knowledge of how to use it, and the concepts of mercy and justice are its guiding stars. This doesn’t mean it’s obtuse or stupid; it may be deeply passionate and highly intelligent, capable of devising clever strategies and of shedding a tear over the horrible cruelty of the war. But the angel knows its purpose and most likely will never question it. It believes in the cause of justice with every fiber of its being. It literally exists to be a symbol of merciful justice. You could say it’s like a robot, but I’d prefer to say that it’s like a poem; its purpose is to make you think about the concept that it represents. But again, the key point is that it has a purpose.
The depth of an immortal’s personality is usually directly related to its power and to the specificity of its purpose. In Dal Quor, a kalaraq quori has a greater depth of personality than the dream figment you encounter as a scary clown. In Thelanis, the Lady in Shadow has more depth than the sprites dancing in the meadow. In Syrania, the Dominion of Swords has more depth than one of the many Virtues of War. Like I said, immortals are in many ways stories; is the story general (fey dancing in the woods) or is it more specific (the Forgotten Prince, gathering all those things that are forgotten or unappreciated). Again, usually this is reflected by the power of the spirit. So looking to Fernia, the burning quasit is likely just embodying the idea of “FIRE! BURN!” but a balor is going to be deeper and more interesting. I didn’t discuss such balors in Exploring Eberron because I didn’t have the time or space, and frankly, I don’t have the time or energy now, either. But let’s talk about one of them.
With any significant immortal, I want to define its name and its purpose. A balor is a fiend of sufficient power that it would never just be “a balor.” Demons as a whole are spirits of chaos and evil, and Fernian demons reflect the chaotic and evil aspects of fire—flame as a source of random, uncaring pain and suffering. For a quasit, that’s all we need—Fire bad! For a balor I’d take it a step farther, and give the balor a more specific dominion within the broad category of the cruelty of fire. So if my players are going to have to deal with a balor, it’s not going to be “a balor.” It will be… Pyraelas, The Love Lost In Flame. Before the session, I’ll offer the players a chance to gain inspiration by telling me about a tragedy their character endured involving fire. Pyraelas will know these stories; if any of them lost a loved one to fire, Pyraelas will reminisce about the death, and may be able to call up the final words of the lost love, spoken in their voice. This is the same idea as the Syranian Dominion of Swords; there are many demons that embody the broad concept of the cruelty of flame, but within that Pyraelas specializes in the tragic loss of love. Now, a key point here is that Pyraelas doesn’t cause those deaths, just as the Dominion of Swords doesn’t cause swords to exist. But he knows about them, and he exists to remind us of those tragedies, to twist the knife in the wound and to embody the pain caused by a love lost in flame.
So this brings us back to how do you reconcile something that’s so much smarter and wiser than a human also having such a one track mind about just wanting to set trees on fire? Pyraelas has no particular interest in setting trees on fire. He dwells in a castle that is forever succumbing to flames, the flames following in his path wherever he goes and the castle slowly regenerating behind him, so that it is forever being lost to the fire yet never fully destroyed; again, Pyraelas is a symbol of tragic loss and his domain supports that story. Here we reach that point—if he’s so smart and wise, why isn’t he frustrated by the fact that he never actually burns down the castle for once and for all? The castle is a symbol, just as he is. He doesn’t NEED to burn down the castle—because he knows that right now there’s a barn fire in Ardev in which a child is losing his father, and a fire in Korth that’s claiming the lives of young lovers. He is ALL the love lost in flame, and it is enough for him that love is being lost in flame, and will continue to do so. As I said before, he’s not a robot, he’s a POEM. He’s a lesson for you to learn.
How will Pyraelas deal with adventurers who come into his domain? It depends why they’re there, of course; did they come looking to steal something from his burning castle? Are they seeking information about someone who died in fire long ago, a secret only he knows as the embodiment of Love Lost In Flame? It’s possible he’ll just attack them as interlopers, but in my campaign he’s more likely to talk to them first—to reminisce about what they’ve lost to flame in the past, to taunt them with what fire will take from them in days ahead. And then, most likely, I’d have him make them an offer: he’ll allow them all to leave safely, except for the one character they all care about the most; that adventurer will die slowly in fire. Or perhaps the price will be someone who’s not even there: You can leave here in peace, paladin: but your sister will die, trapped beneath a burning beam. Because again, that’s part of what it means to deal with a powerful outer immortal; their powers aren’t just about casting fireballs. Dealing with Pyraelas means dealing with the cruelty of fire itself. And should you defeat him? He’ll return. Because you may hack a winged fiend to pieces with your blades, but tomorrow, loved ones will still be dying in fires, and eventually Pyraelas will return to his burning castle to remind us of that. Depending how you defeat him, it might take a while; it could even be that he’ll return as Pyraela, a queen crying burning tears. But there will always be a balor in Fernia who embodies Love Lost In Flame. It’s not a choice they get to make; it’s a glorious purpose.
So how do you keep immortals from coming across as boring, obtuse, and stupid? Make them beautiful, intriguing and intelligent. Think about how they’ve already touched the lives of the player characters—again, have any of them lost a love to flame? The fact that they have a narrow focus and an absolute purpose doesn’t mean they’re stupid; it means that they are part of the universe in a way mortals can’t even begin to understand. There’s a fire spreading in an inn in Fairhaven right now, and Pyraelas knows about it and knows who’s going to die in it. At a glance, he’s a winged beast wandering around an endlessly burning building; but he is the embodiment of Love Lost In Flame, immortal and glorious. He was there when the King Azikan threw himself on his lover’s pyre in ancient Sarlona. And he’ll be there when the Five Nations are lost in ashes and you are only a long-forgotten memory, little paladin with your little blade.
Hopefully that helps.
Where do you see chwingas fitting into Eberron?
As fey. I love everything about chwingas, but in the cosmology of Eberron I don’t see why they’d be elementals. I’ve already talked about the fact that I commonly associate fey with masks, playing to the point that fey are stories and masks make it easy for different species to identify with them. So, small masked magical creatures, who are curious and can grant minor boons? Everything about this screams fey to me. In particular, in the past I’ve talked about Aundairians having bargains with fey—that some families may have ancient pacts with archfey, but that others may simply have a deal with a fey who will mend their shoes if they leave out a saucer of milk. Chwinga are perfect for this sort of fey. This can be represented by the charms they can grant, but also by changing up their cantrips. For example…
- Nature Spirit. Can grant charm of animal conjuring; can cast druidcraft, guidance, pass without trace, resistance.
- House Spirit. Can grant charm of vitality; can cast prestidigitation, guidance, pass without trace, mending. Natural Shelter is replaced with Domestic Shelter, allowing the chwinga to take shelter inside the walls or floor of its house.
- Protector Spirit. Can grant charm of heroism or charm of the slayer. Can cast blade ward, guidance, pass without trace, spare the dying; it can cast blade ward on another creature, with a range of 30 feet.
As I said, I could see many old houses in Aundair having house spirits, but I could definitely see nature spirits and protectors in the Talenta Plains or the Eldeen Reaches, especially around the Twilight Demesne—and certainly around Pylas Pyrial in Zilargo. But such a spirit could be found almost anywhere—curious, possibly mischievous, and with a powerful gift it can grant if is chooses.
How does the balor you mentioned interact with the Devourer? Isn’t the Devourer supposed to cause wildfires?
Good question. Part of the point of Pyraelas is that he doesn’t cause the fires; he’s aware of them and takes pleasure in them, but again, at the end of the day he’s a symbol. He hangs out in Fernia and reminds us that people die tragically in fire. Now, this gets a bit fuzzy when he bargains with you—you can go but your sister will die in flame tonight—but that’s supposed to be tied to the greater magic of his domain. It’s the same way a wish-granting spirit usually can’t grant their own wishes; Pyraelas can broker deals about flame, but he can’t just burn Boranel in his armchair for his own personal entertainment. So how does this all relate to the Devourer? This is where we’ve said that there are immortals who will act as intermediaries for the Sovereigns and Six, who will answer commune and planar ally on their behalf. If you seek to commune with the Devourer asking a question about fire, you might be connected to Pyraelas. Essentially, those fiends and celestials who have faith believe that they are part of the Sovereigns and Six. Pyraelas knows that the Devourer shapes every flame, and that he, Pyraelas, has the specific task of watching those that consume love. He’s never met the Devourer, but he’s certain the Devourer exists, because killing flames exist; that’s all the proof he needs. So Pyraelas is a piece of the Devourer that you can punch in the nose, but even for him, the ultimate existence of the Devourer is a matter of faith.
That’s all for now! I won’t be answering questions on this IFAQ, but thanks to my Patreon supporters for asking interesting questions and for keeping this site going; check it out if you have questions of your own! Next up: Sky piracy!