IFAQ: Nationalism, Ancient Sailors, Merfolk and Masked Fey

Every month, I answer interesting questions posed by my Patreon supporters. Here’s a few that came up this month!

What is the basis of nationalism in Khorvaire? Everyone speaks Common. Ethnicity doesn’t seem to be a factor, considering that you can be Brelish while being a dwarf or elf, let alone human. If it’s about shared history and traditions, can an Aundairian adopt Brelish ways and become a Brelishman? If an overwrought Sword of Liberty is setting out on a terror campaign against foreigners, what is he looking for to determine who is and isn’t a “foreigner”?

First, let’s talk about language—something I did in this article. One of the basic points is that the Common tongue is an artificial construct we use because it makes stories easier; it’s not especially FUN to have the story come grinding to a halt because no one speaks Karrnathi. So, everyone in the Five Nations speaks Common. But as I note in that article…

I prefer to limit the number of languages I use, but also to play up the idea of regional dialects and slang. Common draws on all of the old languages of pre-Riedran Sarlona, so you can definitely get variation from place to place. When the paladin from Thrane is in a small Karrnathi village, he might have to make an Intelligence check to perfectly understand the conversation of the locals or a Charisma check to communicate clearly… unless, of course, he has a local guide to help out. It allows for the challenge and potential humor of limited communication while still allowing for the possibility of communication with no help. If a character has the Linguist feat or is from the region, I’d allow them to act as that local guide — so we’ve got a little fun flavor because the Karrn PC can joke with the locals at the expense of the Thrane.

Then there’s this article on “The People of the Five Nations.” A key note: “Rather than being judged by the color of your skin, you’ll be evaluated by your ACCENT, ATTITUDE and FASHION.” (highlights added). So again, everyone may be speaking Common, but in my campaign, unless someone is actively trying to disguise it it’s obvious from their accent where they’re from (unless part of their story is “I went to Arcanix and worked hard to ditch my small-town Brelish accent.”)

To look to a real world example, consider the US Civil War. Consider how people in a small town in Mississippi would feel about someone from New York City moving into town four years after the war. He might look just like most of the townsfolk; he might even have a great-grandfather from the town. But he doesn’t dress like them, he doesn’t sound like them, he doesn’t share their customs, and the people in the town lost a lot of good boys in the war. Even if that outsider does his best to lose his accent and to adopt local customs…. do you think the locals will say “Oh, that’s OK then?” Or might some of them even be angrier, thinking he’s mocking them?

So: it’s NOT about blood. You can be a Brelish dwarf or a Brelish elf. It’s about customs. It’s about the way you speak and the sound of your name. It’s about your values and your traditions. Can you quote Beggar Dane? Are you willing to help a friend pull one over on the tax collectors? If you ditch everything about you that defines you as Cyran, then congratulations, they might even let you join the Swords of Liberty. But that’s not something most Cyrans WANT to do; the people of High Walls and New Cyre believe that they WILL regain their nation, and they are proudly holding on to their accents and their customs. And that draws the ire of the Swords of Liberty.

Why are merfolk native to Lamannia? In my musings about them, they seem to be (in our real-life mythology) more akin to dryads and other fey spirits.

In OUR world, merfolk are mythological. In Eberron—or in Fifth Edition in general—they’re not. A dryad isn’t a natural creature; it’s fey, and part of what that means its that it’s not bound by the limits of nature. Many fey are essentially immortal. They don’t reproduce in the way humanoids do, and for the most part, they don’t evolve. There’s no nation of dryads in Eberron; where they are found, they are tied to their stories, and time essentially passes through them.

None of this is true of the merfolk of Eberron or Lamannia. They’re not fey; they’re humanoids. They live, they raise families, they die. Those that live in Lamannia are influenced by the primal nature of the plane. According to Exploring Eberron,There are merfolk in Eberron—such as the Kalamer of the Thunder Sea—but their people began in the Endless Ocean of Lamannia, and are still found there. These primordial merfolk remain close to their elemental roots and instincts. They wield druidic magic, but don’t craft tools or structures. Other humanoid natives of Lamannia are much the same; any race with a strong primal connection could be tied to Lamannia, but they’re driven by instinct and avoid the trappings of civilization.” But once they arrived in Eberron, they evolved and they changed. The Kalamer of Eberron have many distinct cultures, and Karakala engages in diplomacy and trade with the other nations of the Thunder Sea. If you have an immortal siren who has nothing better to do than sit on a rock and lure sailors to their doom, that could be a Thelanian fey who happens to have the general appearance of a merfolk. But that’s the point—it would be fey, content to play out this somewhat pointless role for centuries. So you could definitely have fey that LOOK like merfolk—but that’s not what the Kalamer are.

Regarding Fey—many of the Archfey lords, especially in your novels, have masks hiding their faces but the enchanted disguises still move with emotions. Was there anything in particular that inspired this custom for Eberron fey of importance?

It largely ties to the idea that the Archfey are STORIES rather than PEOPLE. The stories inspired by the Lady in Shadow can be found among the dar, the dwarves, and humanity; the Lady herself isn’t human, dwarf, or dar. With some Archfey I’ve suggested that people see them in different ways, interpreting them in a familiar form; others appear masked, leaving what lies beneath to the viewer’s imagination. At the same time, the masks generally animate because the point of the mask isn’t to conceal emotion; it’s to leave room for the viewer to add details.

With some groups like elves and gnomes sailing the seas at the same time as Rhiavaar slaver ships, it would be interesting to know what impact or presence western Sarlona had on eastern Khorvaire. Would the Zil merchants have been surprised by human ships coming west?

So first of all, it’s important to keep in mind that we’re discussing events that occurred thousands of years ago, are almost entirely undocumented, and that have a minimal impact on any modern nation. So the discussion is extremely hypothetical. Having said that that, let’s talk about what ways going on in the Lhazaar Sea when Lhazaar showed up. First of all: Lhazaar wasn’t the first Sarlonan human to land in the region that now bears her name. She was the first to lead a serious, large-scale force there… but the reason they were willing to take that risk was because they knew of the land from other Rhiavhaarans who’d made the crossing and even established outposts on some of the islands. Essentially, Lhazaar was coming because it was clear there was profit to be made. Keep in mind that at this time, Rhiavhaar wasn’t some sort of disciplined empire. Rhiavhaarans were known as coastal reavers and pirates, and when asking “what ships did they attack with their piracy” — in part they clashed with vessels from the Syrkarn nations, but they also clashed with OTHER RHIAVHAARANS; the Provinces of Riedra article notes that during the Sundering, the Dreaming Dark brought down Rhiavhaar by exacerbating existing clan feuds. Part of what was remarkable about Lhazaar’s expedition was the number of people she convinced to work together.

The original question asks if Zil merchants were surprised by humans arriving, because they were trading with the Mror. But the Zil WEREN’T trading with the Mror before Lhazaar, because Zilargo didn’t exist then. Per this canon article, Zilargo specifically formed in response to Malleon’s reaving along the southern coast. Exploring Eberron notes that humanity largely ignored the Mror until Galifar, while “Zil explorers” came to Mror in the time known as Dul Krok—the time in which humanity was spreading across Khorvaire. There may have been a few ships from Trolanport exploring the east coast when Lhazaar arrived, but Zilargo as we know it didn’t even exist and didn’t yet have established trade with the Mror. Likewise, the Aereni have always been insular. I expect the Aereni traded with Khunan and Sunyagir, so their ships would have clashed with Rhiavhaaran pirates in the south, but I doubt they would have been frequently encountered in the current region of the Lhazaar Principalities. So around the time Lhazaar landed, most likely the majority of the sea traffic in the region would have been other Rhiavhaarans, either opportunist raiders or smaller-scale settlers.

What kinds of alcohol / drinks are popular in Adar?

Alcohol exists in Adar, but it isn’t especially remarkable or beloved. The more distinctive regional beverage is varit, pure water infused with a liquid form of sentira that conveys a pure emotion. Why get drunk when you can simply drink joy? Pure varit is quite intense, so it’s usually watered down; a few drops in tal to start the day off with a positive feeling. For the most part, Adaran varit is distilled from positive feelings, but there’s a distillery in Raan that specializes in sorrow, for those who wish to wallow in grief. As it hasn’t been mentioned canonically, I don’t think it’s currently well known in Khorvaire. I’d think imported varit would be a rare and exotic beverage—the sort of thing Aurum concordians would brag about drinking—but that there could be varit distilleries starting up in Overlook or other Adaran communities.

That’s all for now! Feel free to discuss these ideas or to share what you’ve done with any of these things in the comments, but as this is an IFAQ, I won’t be answering further questions on these topics. Thanks to my Patreon supporters for asking interesting questions!

IFAQ Round-Up: Archfey, Astral Questions, and Saints

Every month, my Patreon supporters have an opportunity to ask a question. Some of these questions become the basis of full articles, such as my recent article on the Grim Lords of Farlnen. Others just get short answers. Here’s a roundup of a few such questions that came up in January!

Have you any thoughts on how to tie the Lady in Shadow (an archfey from Exploring Eberron) to the Emerald Claw or Lady Illmarrow? In particular, how would an Archfey warlock of the Lady in Shadow relate to Illmarrow?

From a story perspective, Illmarrow already sort of IS the Lady in Shadow. She’s an infamous mage who dwells in the inhospitable wilds, which is the basic story of the Lady in Shadow. We’ve said before that the Archfey enjoy seeing their stories played out. Of course, that WAS Illmarrow’s story… until she raised an army of extremists (the Emerald Claw). “Cult leader” is a very different story from “sinister enigmatic hermit.” So one easy option is that the Lady in Shadow is actually sympathetic to Illmarrow but wants to shut down the Emerald Claw… because she wants Illmarrow back as the mysterious witch in the wilds, not being an active cult leader.

Another option is that Illmarrow made a bargain with the Lady herself at some point in the past. Illmarrow’s been around for thousands of years, and she’s been pursuing all manner of arcane options; she easily could have tried bargaining with archfey to get her mark back, only to have it fail. If you go that way, then the Lady in Shadow has a vendetta. It could be that Illmarrow simply broke a promise and needs to be punished. Or it could be that Illmarrow stole an artifact belonging to the Lady, something that holds a significant amount of her power… and that the Lady CAN’T act against Illmarrow until that artifact is recovered or destroyed. So the LiS would help her warlock generally oppose Illmarrow, working up to the moment when the vendetta can be settled.

A final optional twist would be that the Lady in Shadow wants her warlock to BECOME Lady Illmarrow. This would be a super long-term goal, but it goes back to the idea that the LiS likes there being a Lady Illmarrow who serves as a real-world analogue of the Lady in Shadow… but that Erandis is no longer filling that role. So she wants the warlock to bring down Erandis and then keep being Illmarrow.

The Second Son (or ‘Count of the Barren Marches’) is an archfey mentioned in Exploring Eberron, but there’s little information beyond him being a jealous would-be usurper whose schemes almost always fail. What are the “Barren Marches” he rules like? Who are the “siblings” who his lands are always inferior to—other archfey, or just characters in HIS story? What real-world stories did you have in mind writing him?

Much like the Lady in Shadow, the Second Son is a nebulous figure whose details are less important than his overriding concept. His covetous nature is the key, but the exact details aren’t as important. In fact, every time you go to the Barren Marches, he could be lusting after something new. Within the Moonlit Court, HIS OLDER SIBLING MIGHT CHANGE from season to season; the point is just that he always HAS an elder sibling who’s widely beloved and has what the Second Son desires. Looking to inspiration, you could go anywhere from Claudius in Hamlet, villainous depictions of King John, all the way to the Grinch Who Stole Christmas. Technically that last one isn’t about INHERITANCE, but it fits the TONE of the Second Son to a T; a miserable man in a miserable cave hates his happy prosperous neighbors and schemes to end their joy through theft. In terms of his schemes failing, I think the more accurate point is that they END BADLY. Claudius does succeed at claiming his brother’s crown, but the story still ends (spoiler alert) with Claudius dead and the kingdom fallen. The Second Son never ends up with what he desires for long… and even if he does, he’ll realize it’s not enough.

As for what the Barren Marches are like, the key point is that THEY’RE NOT AS NICE AS HE’D LIKE THEM TO BE. They could be rocky moors, a desert, the Grinch’s barren peak. Again, I think it’s quite reasonable that what they border CHANGES EVERY SEASON to reflect whatever story he’s playing out in this particular moment.

If the previous instances of Eberron, like the famous Githberron, were all instances of the material plane (as Gith have survived by hiding in other planes), does that mean that inhabitants of the planes remember this previous Eberrons? Besides both Gith cultures, where would the best places be to understand/learn about this?

Does that mean that inhabitants of the planes remember this previous Eberrons?” The immortals don’t. Remember that immortals are essentially part of the machinery of reality. Think of the planes as hardware that’s running Eberron 2.0.2.1. When it gets upgraded to Eberron 2.0.2.2, the hardware remains in place, but the software gets updated… and in this analogy, immortals are software, and their memories are updated to be in line with the new reality. Last week we were at war with Eastasia and had always been at war with Eastasia. Then we upgraded to Eberron 2.0.2.2, and now we’ve always been at war with Eurasia instead.

The big question is what happens to extraplanar mortals. We know that creatures in the Astral Plane can survive updates, but the Githzerai have chosen to dwell in Kythri. The question is whether there’s been another update since Githberron—if they were able to ride out the change with the same force of will that lets them maintain order in Kythri—or if there is a real possibility that when another update occurs, the Githzerai will be “overwritten” and erased. If it hasn’t happened yet, the Githzerai themselves don’t know the answer. The main place to find out more about previous realities would be in Xoriat or the Astral Plane, both of which don’t get changed in these updates.

Given the timeless nature of the astral plane, are all the gith “leftover” from previous incarnations of Eberron? And if not, how does gith society reproduce on a “timeless” plane — if you don’t age, do they have to take their children somewhere else to grow them into adulthood?

Note the sentence from the article: “This has led to a faction in Tu’narath advocating for an invasion of the Material Plane—asserting that a foothold in the material would both ALLOW THEIR POPULATION TO GROW and to give them an anchor in time.” Children can’t be born or grow in the Astral Plane. The Githyanki population is thus largely made up of survivors. However, there’s is a faction that is working to increase the population, maintaining a few Creche ships that anchor in isolated parts of the Material plane where children can grow. An interesting question is how these newborns are treated by the veterans. Some may celebrate them as proof that the Gith will overcome all hardships and thrive; others may feel that because they never saw the “True World” they can’t truly understand what it means to be Githyanki.

Could there be remnants of Quori armies in the Astral Plane from before Dal Quor was torn from the material plane, or would being cut off from the Dreaming Dark be fatal? And in a similar vein, Quori from il Lashtavar’s prior incarnations?

If going to the Astral Plane was a safe way to avoid the Turning of the Age, I’d expect the quori to have done it en masse long ago instead of messing around with the material plane. So the question is WHY it’s not safe. Personally, I think that while immortals can travel through the Astral Plane, it’s dangerous for them to stay there for extended amounts of time. Immortals are fundamentally extensions of their planes, and the Astral is outside creation. If they spend too much time there (and I’m saying months or years, not minutes) I think their identity would degrade; they wouldn’t DIE, but they’d become something DIFFERENT. So you could have some survivors of a previous age, but they WOULDN’T BE QUORI ANYMORE and they wouldn’t have clear memories of their age.

You’ve said in the past that Thrane has more wide divine magic than the other countries – How does that look in practice? Is it more, “The bones of Belladonna Martyrs will break curses or cure diseases of worthy pilgrims” or more, “Through our understanding of the holy power of the flame, we’re able to set up a Zone of Truth courthouse”?

More the latter. Remember that the Silver Flame is a power source that empowers the worthy. As a paladin of the Flame you aren’t calling on saints, you’re just drawing on the Flame itself. With that said, even adepts need faith. The Flame is a gift that allows people to protect the innocent, and this will be called out. In the Courthouse, the truthteller would say “Let no falsehood be uttered in the light of the Flame!” as they draw the zone of truth. A healer would say “Let the power of the Flame flow through you, driving out the foul disease.” There is a REVERENCE and appreciation for this gift; but it is about drawing directly on the power of the Flame. With that said, tools that help focus and channel the power of the Flame could take the form of reliquaries or similar things. The bones of the Belladonna Martyrs don’t have inherent power, but it’s possible that they can help an adept channel the Flame more effectively; that the faith of the martyrs remains in the bones, and strengthens the faith of the adept who holds them. We’ve never talked about common channeling tools of the CotSF, and it’s an interesting question—but a larger one than I can answer right now.

I was wondering if the various faiths of Eberron have saints or Saint-like figures as common knowledge? Or are the religions too decentralized? I know the Blood of Vol has undead martyrs in a more physical sense and the Church of the Silver Flame has Keepers and cardinals of the past still sometimes revered, but is it widespread in those faiths or the Sovereign Host or even the druidic faiths?

It depends how you define “saint.” The Church of the Silver Flame most definitely has martyrs and champions who are honored. Tira Miron is the most obvious of these, but Sharn includes a shrine to Fathen the Martyr; I’d assume Fathen is just one example of many. The key point is that people don’t believe that (aside from Tira) these saints still exist and can intercede on their behalf; people HONOR Fathen and preserve his memory, but they don’t PRAY to him.

The Sovereign Host largely focuses on the Sovereigns, who are after all always with you. With that said, it’s called out as having LIVING saints—people who are recognized as being especially close to the Sovereigns. I’ve called out that you might have a village where people see the blacksmith as being close to Onatar and ask for his blessing, while in Sharn we have the concrete (literally!) example of Daca; on page 83 of Sharn: City of Towers she’s specifically identified as a saint in her stat block. But the main point is that these Vassal saints are largely honored for their holiness in life, but don’t continue to be venerated after death. I could imagine a particular Vassal sect that embraces the concept and creates reliquaries, but it’s not standard practice.

I feel that the druidic faiths largely accept the idea that death is death and wouldn’t be likely to ask the dead to intercede on their behalf. On the other hand, I think it could be very interesting to explore the idea of Tree Saints—great druids who have transfered their souls into trees when they were close to death, and who can continue to advise people, much like Aereni spirit idols. I WOULDN’T suggest this as an origin for Oalian, and I’d be inclined to limit the power of these saint trees to offering advice, perhaps affecting the weather in their region, etc rather than making them actual spellcasters like Oalian. But I think there could be some fun flavor with druids going to the Whispering Grove to ask the elders for advice.

That’s all I have time for now. I’m happy to clarify these answers, but I won’t be answering entirely new questions in the comments. However, I am about to launch another call for questions on Patreon, so if you have an interesting Eberron question that’s the place to ask it!

IFAQ: Fizban’s Treasury and Eberron

As time permits, I like to answer interesting questions posed by my Patreon supporters. This month there’s been a number of questions related to Fizban’s Treasury of Dragons. As always, my answers here reflect what I would do in my personal campaign and may contradict canon material! Also, check out this later article on how I’d use Gem Dragons and Gem Dragonborn.

How would you incorporate either the draconic echoes or the Elegy of the First World into Eberron?

To answer this question, you first need to answer another: Do you want your Eberron to be part of the greater Multiverse? Eberron has its own cosmology and a very different approach to deities than many of the other core D&D settings. One option—as we suggest in Rising From The Last War is the idea that Eberron is part of the multiverse, but that it was sealed off; that traffic to other settings is possible, but very difficult. On the other hand, if you don’t WANT to use elements of other settings in your Eberron campaign, it’s easy to just ignore the Multiverse and focus on Eberron as an entirely independent setting.

By canon, Eberron has its own creation myth that explains the origins of dragons. The funny thing is that it’s not entirely incompatible with the Elegy of the First World. The Elegy asserts that three dragons created reality and dragonkind (if you count Sardior). The Progenitor myth asserts that three dragons created reality and dragonkind. The Progenitor myth asserts that the first dragons were born from the drops of blood that fell on Eberron; nonetheless, this still matches the basic concept of the Elegy, in that the dragons were the first children of the Progenitors, but “were supplanted by the teeming peoples” that came after them.

Personally, I LIKE the story of dragons being formed from the blood of Siberys—the idea that they alone believe that they have a direct connection to both Siberys and Eberron, an idea that explains their innate arcane power. In MY Eberron campaign, I’m not likely to abandon this concept in favor of Eberron’s dragons being linked to other dragons across infinite settings.

If you want to add the First World to Eberron WITHOUT adding the Multiverse, a simple option is to just put it AFTER THE PROGENITORS. The Progenitors create reality. Bahamut (a native celestial who favors a draconic form) and Tiamat (the Daughter of Khyber) unite the dragons and create the First World on Eberron—an idyllic civilization that predates the Age of Demons, which was ultimately shattered BY the Age of Demons, presumably set in motion by the Daughter of Khyber. This aligns with Thir, saying that the “Dragon Gods” existed before the Age of Demons but left reality when the First World was broken; this ties to the idea I’ve suggested elsewhere that Eberron’s version of Bahamut would have sacrificed themselves in the Age of Demons and could be the core of the Silver Flame.

If you want to incorporate the Multiverse into your Eberron campaign, then you can just use the First World exactly as it stands in Fizban’s. In this case, the Progenitor myth is presumably FALSE, since it has a very specific story for the origin of dragons; but there’s absolutely nothing wrong with saying that the Progenitor Myth IS ONLY A MYTH… or even that the Progenitor Myth is just a garbled version of the Elegy.

As for draconic echoes, the idea that each dragon is mirrored across realities: If I wanted to use this, what I’d do is to assert that every reality has a Draconic Prophecy, and Eberron is simply the only one where people have recognized this. Draconic Echoes reflect the fact that the dragons are prophetically significant. But if I was going to do that, I’d personally want to add OTHER echoes across settings; even if they don’t manifest dragonmarks, you might have echoes of dragonmarked heirs in other worlds, and you’d definitely have echoes of especially Prophetically significant characters—IE player characters. But I personally prefer NOT to mix peanut butter with my chocolate. I’m happy to explore alternate incarnations of Eberron, as with the Gith, but I’ve never brought the rest of the multiverse into any of my personal campaigns (though I HAVE played a “far traveler” character from Eberron—a warforged cleric searching for pieces of the Becoming God—in someone else’s non-Eberron campaign).

How would you incorporate the alternative half-dragon origins from Chapter Three of Fizban’s? Would that change how you present Dragonborn?

Keep in mind that all things that use the stat blocks and basic shapes of dragons and dragonborn don’t have to share the same origin. For the primary dragons of Argonnessen, I LIKE the fact that while they are imbued with arcane power—children of Eberron and Siberys—they are still ultimately MORTAL. They are an ancient and advanced species, but they aren’t multiversal echoes and they’re more grounded than the immortals. They live, learn, have jobs, pursue research. So for the dragons of Argonnessen, I wouldn’t say that they reproduce by divine origin or parthenogenesis or when someone steals their hoard… because they are are ancient, long-lived, and imbued with arcane power, but they are STILL MORTAL CREATURES OF EBERRON. This principle likewise applies to dragonborn who trace their roots to Argonnessen. It seems likely that the original dragonborn were magebred by the dragons from some sort of humanoid stock. But I don’t think those original dragonborn were formed from greed or true love. WITH THAT SAID…

As I said, NOT ALL DRAGONS AND DRAGONBORN HAVE TO HAVE THE SAME ORIGIN. Many of the options described in Fizban’s—from someone becoming a half-dragon after stealing from a dragon’s hoard, to eating forbidden fruit, to a tree on which dragon eggs grow like fruit—don’t sound like Argonnessen to me; they sound like THELANIS. First of all, you could have any number of dragons who appear as “supporting cast”—they would have the stats of dragons (though I’d likely make them fey as well as dragons) but the point is that they aren’t entirely REAL. They don’t have goals or desires beyond serving their role in the story. The dragon in a cave guarding a sword in a stone truly has nothing better to do. Beyond this, I could also imagine a dragon as one of the archfey of Thelanis. I can see two paths here. My personal impulse would be to have a single archfey dragon who encompasses all the legends of dragonkind—the greedy hoarder, the destroyer of cities. But I could also imagine there being two archfey dragons—the Bright Dragon and the Night Dragon, essentially filling the STORY role of Bahamut and Tiamat, even though they wouldn’t take direct action on Eberron. Still, it would be one of these entities who could potentially bestow Cradle Favor or have a tree that grows dragon eggs (because as archfey they wouldn’t reproduce like mortal dragons do). With that in mind, I feel it’s either in Thelanis or in a Thelanian manifest zone that you’ll have someone becoming a dragon or half-dragon due to greed or by bathing in dragon’s blood. And you could thus have dragonborn who have such origins—or heck, who spring up because you sow a field with dragon’s teeth. But they aren’t the most common forms.

Regardless of how I present dragonBORN, we had half-dragons in 3.5 Eberron. The most infamous of these is Erandis Vol. Her creation is described this as involving a program of magebreeding, so I think it’s a form of True Love’s Gift, but I don’t think it’s quite as simple as “I love you, you get to be part-dragon” (UNLESS you’re in Thelanis!); I think you’ve got to work actual magic into the picture. In the case of Vol, I think the Emerald Claw and his kind were trying to create sustainable, “true” half-dragons; I could easily see some rogue dragon using less reliable techniques to create sterile half-dragon mules.

I am fine with the idea that infusions of dragon’s blood could have a dramatic effect on other creatures, and could be a basis for sorcery; again, dragons have an innate force of arcane magic. But I am more inclined to make that essentially scientific in nature. If there’s a place where just living there causes you to become a half-dragon, I’d make that a Thelanian manifest zone, not just something that happens to anyone who hangs out in a mansion in Argonnessen.

The main thing is that many of the Fizban options present dragons as fundamentally mythic beings. The dragons of Argonnessen are legendary, but they are also VERY REAL. They have a civilization, families, politics, and so on. With all that said, the final option I’d consider if I wanted to use multiversal echoes and the like would be to have a number of dragons who are literally physical embodiments of the Draconic Prophecy. These could be essentially immortals, aware of their nature and their purpose; or they could be scattered among the mortal dragons, essentially an immortal seed reincarnated many times, and that has echoes across the multiverse.

Have there been any notable half-dragons in Khorvaire’s history that weren’t Kill On Sight? Anyone that famously claimed draconic heritage or might similar to Hassalac Chaar?

There’s a few factors here. Personally, I don’t think half-dragons ARE kill on sight. In my opinion, the issue with the line of Vol wasn’t solely half-dragons; it was the attempt to create and control apex dragonmarks through the medium of half-dragons. I also think Argonnessen disapproves of the idea of dragons trying to create any entirely new true-breeding species without approval. However, if we assume that most dragons are sterile or otherwise can’t pass on their traits, I don’t think Argonnesen will care about them, and I can personally imagine individual dragons creating half-dragons for specific purposes. Beyond this, I don’t think it’s going to be easy to identify a half-dragon AS a half-dragon. I think half-dragons with different origins could have very different physical traits. Does your sorcerer who claims dragon’s blood actually have scales and claws, or is it purely an explanation for their power in spite of their mechanically using a different ancestry? Regardless, in a world with dragonborn, blackscale lizardfolk, yuan-ti, and magebreeding in general, I think a lot of times rare oddities will just be seen as curiosities.

This ties to the point that when I say that someone becoming a dragonborn or half-dragon by bathing in dragon’s blood would be tied to Thelanis, it’s because of the idea that there are stories about it happening. So yes, I am certain that there ARE an assortment of legendary heroes and villains across all of the cultures of Eberron—the fallen kingdoms of old Sarlona, Xen’drik, even Dhakaan—of rare half-dragons, whose powers were a blessing or a curse. We have one concrete example in canon, and that’s the Draleus Tairn, the dragonslayer elves; Dragons of Eberron notes “Rumors exist that the Draleus dragon slayers can take the powers of their victims; that their blood burns like dragonfire; that they can spit lightning or breathe acid; and that their blood rituals increase their life span and even imbue them with the strength of the dragon. Perhaps these stories are mere myths. The tales could also reflect the presence of half-dragons or dragon shamans among the Draleus Tairn, with these powers derived from spilled blood instead of shared blood.” At the moment I don’t have time to make up examples of such heroes or villains, but I expect there’s a few examples in almost every culture. Following the Thelanian example ofthe half-dragon created through greed, I love the idea of a half-dragon giant lingering in a vault in a Thelanian manifest zone in Xen’drik.

How do Moonstone Dragons, which as presented in Fizban’s are tied to both the fey and to dreams, fit into your Eberron?

Personally, I see no reason to tie Moonstone dragons directly to Dal Quor. Fizban says “Moonstone dragons can project themselves into the realm of dreams to communicate with the creatures that sleep near their lairs.” Thus, they are related to dreams in the same way as a night hag or any mortal wizard who can cast Dream: they are skilled at USING and manipulating dreams, but that doesn’t mean they are natives of Dal Quor. Likewise, I personally wouldn’t make them dragons of Thelanis. In my earlier suggestions regarding Thelanian dragons, the main idea that Thelanian dragons would fill iconic draconic story archetypes which don’t really make sense for mortal dragons of Eberron—IE, when you find a dragon guarding a hoard in a cave in the woods, with no logical reason to be there other than to guard that hoard, THAT might be a Thelanian dragon and the cave may be in a manifest zone, because most Argonnessen dragons have SOMETHING BETTER TO DO than to hang out in a cave in the woods. The Moonstone dragon doesn’t fit that role either; it’s more exotic and unusual than iconic.

So WITH THAT IN MIND… The dragons of Argonnessen are the most ancient civilization on Eberron (and have seen cultures rise and fall). They have forgotten arcane secrets other species have yet to learn. In the process of their history they have surely studied the planes, manifest zones, and wild zones. I would say that Moonstone dragons trace their roots back to a flight of dragons devoted to the study of the planes and to Thelanis and Dal Quor in particular, who were changed through their long interaction with those planes—either intentionally (magebreeding themselves to strengthen their ability to operate in those planes) or by the “background radiation.” I would say that they serve as Argonnessen’s ambassadors to Thelanis and as mediators to Fey in general; Argonnessen has manifest zones tied to Thelanis just like everywhere else, and where some cultures have fey pact warlocks, Argonnessen has Moonstone dragons. The dream aspect I’d tend to use just as described—a tool they use to communicate and inspire mortals, but not reflecting a deeper connection to Dal Quor.

I think the idea that they love creativity and like to inspire mortals is fine, and I can see this bringing a lot of Moonstone dragons to the Chamber—that they actually LIKE working with the “lesser species” and giving them inspiration in ways that don’t hurt the Prophecy or carry the risk of Aureon’s Folly. But personally, I’d largely keep them on the material plane. If there are Moonstone dragons in Thelanis, I’d make them envoys or immigrants rather than natives.

That’s all for now! Thanks to my Patreon supporters for asking interesting questions and making these articles possible. And just to be clear: I’m happy to clarify my answers to the above questions, but I do not have time to answer addtional new questions about other aspects of Fizban’s Treasury of Dragons; it’s a big book and covering it in its entirety would require a longer article.

IFAQ: Strixhaven in Eberron?

Every month, my Patreon supporters select the topics for the articles I write. I only have time for one major Dragonmark article, and in a choice between Strixhaven, Fizban’s Treasury, and the role of the Astral Plane, Astral won out. So I’ll be exploring the Astral Plane in depth later this month. But while this will be a short take on the topic, I still wanted to address the question…

How would you add Strixhaven into your Eberron campaign?

At first glance, this seems like a question with an obvious answer. Eberron already has a famous university of magic—Arcanix in Aundair. The Library of Korranberg is another option; while not explicitly a school of magic, it is a famous institute of learning that canonically has a rivalry between its aligned colleges. In the Wayfinder’s Guide to Eberron, the Starting Point: Morgrave University discusses the idea of a campaign where the exams may be greater threats than any monster. But none of these really feel right to me. Consider the following…

  • Strixhaven is described as being very exotic in its makeup—”you’re as likely to meet a pixie, a dryad, a giant, a treant, or another fantastical creature on campus as you are a humanoid.” Beyond this, “it is unremarkable to meet someone who hails from a far-off land, since almost everyone on campus is from somewhere else.” Neither to these things especially fit Arcanix, which is primarily an Aundairian institution; and at Morgrave University, the presence of Flamewind the Sphinx is remarkable. Most students of Korranberg, Morgrave, or Arcanix are humanoids, and most are from the familiar nations of Khorvaire.
  • Strixhaven is known to be founded by five dragons, and those dragons are still around; graduates can join the Dragonsguard, “an elite group of mages who work directly with the Founder Dragons.” The Dragons of Eberron certainly have the knowledge and power to do something like this, but on Khorvaire dragons are so secretive as to be nearly mythical. And to a certain degree, asserting that Arcanix was founded by dragons would undermine the concept that it’s a seat of humanoid innovation.
  • Strixhaven is largely a self-contained setting that interacts little with the world around it. It’s driven by the tension between life and death, order and chaos—not the tension between Thrane and Aundair. Beyond this, the general level of common magic depicted is a higher than even that of Aundair. It’s an example of what the Five Nations could become, but it feels a little more wondrous than they are at the present. One of the things we’ve said about Arcanix is that player characters are remarkable, and that there are many professors at Arcanix who don’t actually have the full power of a wizard or a sorcerer, rather understanding magic in theory and working spells solely through rituals, like a magewright. Strixhaven is more of a chaotic place where powerful magic is constantly at play.

So, the Strixhaven book presents a host of rules and ideas that you can use piecemeal in a campaign set at Arcanix, Morgrave, or Korranberg. But personally, I wouldn’t just change Strixhaven’s name to “Arcanix” and use it as is. So if the question is how would I add STRIXHAVEN to my campaign—using it as it’s presented in the book—there’s two ideas that appeal to me.

A School of Dragons

The dragons of Argonnessen are the oldest surviving civilization in Eberron. Long ago they shared their arcane knowledge with other creatures. This ultimately resulted in the destruction of Xen’drik and is now known as kurash Ourelonastrix, “Aureon’s folly.” But what if a cabal of dragons wanted to try this again? What if these five Founders created a campus in the heart of Argonnessen, far from prying eyes, where hand-picked students and faculty from across Eberron and beyond it could delve into the deepest secrets of magic and philosophy? With this in mind, part of being a student at Strixhaven would be proving yourself worthy of this knowledge; your final exam would in part be an evaluation determining whether you should be allowed to take the knowledge that you’ve gained back to your homeland—whether you can be trusted to be a worthy steward of this knowledge.

One of the things I like about this approach is that it’s an easy way to add depth to the Chamber. the Colleges of Strixhaven aren’t known in the wider world, but they represent factions within the Chamber itself, and the five Founders can easily become the most influential members of the Chamber. The Dragonsguard become an elite order chosen to work directly with the Chamber as they oppose the Lords of Dust and work with the Prophecy. Whenever encountering Chamber agents, the DM can consider if they belong to any of the Colleges of Strixhaven, and reflect this in their abilities and actions. We’ve always said that the dragons of the Chambers are scholars and philosophers; the Colleges provide a quick set of philosophies to work with, though I wouldn’t say that they are the ONLY philosophies found within the Chamber.

As a school within Argonnessen, Strixhaven maintains the idea that “almost everyone on the campus is from somewhere else.” Likewise, it fits the idea that the students and faculty can include giants, awakened plants, or other exotic creatures; it’s a school for teaching members of ALL of the “lesser species,” not merely humanoids. Humanoid students could be drawn from anywhere on Eberron: you could have Qaltiar drow, Cold Sun lizardfolk, Akiak dwarves, Demesne tieflings, and similarly exotic choices. A central part of this idea is that this is an experiment—that the faculty carefully chooses students and wants to see if they’ll prove worthy of this knowledge. With this in mind, one question when creating your character is why were you chosen? Do you feel that there’s something remarkable about your character? Do you believe that you’re representing your nation, species, home town, or something else? Or are you mystified as to why you were selected? I really like the fact that this is a chance to bring together characters from very diverse cultures—a Riedran farmer, a Sulatar drow, a Carrion Tribes barbarian—and have the students learn about one another and find common ground even while mastering magic.

Faculty in Argonessen’s Strixhaven would likely include a significant number of dragons—younger than the founders and likely often seen in humanoid form, but still, dragons. On the other hand, faculty could also include former students. This could be a voluntary position, but I could easily see someone who was judged as unfit to return to their society with the knowledge they possessed and offered a choice: remain at Strixhaven and teach, or return home but with their arcane knowledge stripped from their mind. I would keep the Oracle as a humanoid, the embodiment of Strixhaven’s mission to share magic with non-dragons and tasked to ensure this power is not abused as it was following Aureon’s folly. Snarls could easily be an unusual form of manifest zone, possibly unique to Argonnessen just as wild zones are found on Sarlona. Star Arches are another question. While these could easily be draconic artifacts, part of the purpose of the arches is to be mysterious. One option would be to say that they are left over from the Age of Demons, and that even the dragons don’t know their origins—that some believe them to be creations of the Progenitors themselves, or “the bones of Siberys.” Another option is that they are relics of a fallen Draconic civilization. I’ve mentioned before that the degree to which the dragons fear the Daughter of Tiamat implies at least one devastating incident involving her release. With a hundred thousand years to work with, it’s entirely possible to imagine that draconic civilization has endured at least one massive collapse—that the Star Arches could be creations of Ourelonastrix and his peers, but that the dragons of the present day don’t understand them or know how to replicate them.

This concept of Strixhaven is somewhat similar to the city of Io’lokar, presented in Dragons of Eberron. Personally, I’ve never liked Io’lokar and don’t use it in my campaign. What I prefer about using Strixhaven in this way is the idea that it’s an experiment, constantly bringing in new students from across the world as opposed to just keeping a stable, stagnant population in isolation. With that in mind, I’d likely suggest that it’s a fairly RECENT experiment, at least as dragons measure time—no more than two or three centuries old. Among other things, this would hold to the idea that the Founders are still evaluating the experiment, and that the actions of the player characters could play an important role in this. Could the Conclave shut down Strixhaven? Could heroic characters inspire the dragons to share their knowledge more freely?

As a campus in Argonnessen, Strixhaven would be exotic and isolated, but still grounded in the material world. But there is another option I might use…

A School of Stories

Thelanis is sometimes said to embody the magic we wish was in the world. The layers of Thelanis and the Archfey embody iconic stories. So consider the story of a school of magic, a place of countless wonders that exists just around the corner from the reality we know. Everyone knows a story of a youth who didn’t fit in or didn’t meet expectations, who one day took a wrong turn and found themselves in a wondrous school where they had the chance to unlock both the secrets of magic and their own true self. With this in mind, I would place Strixhaven in Thelanis. One option would be to treat it as a Feyspire, placing it in the Moonlit Vale; however, I would be inclined to make it a distinct layer of Thelanis, because the story of Strixhaven generally stands on its own; it’s possible that students could get involved in the intrigues of the Moonlit Court, but it’s not an everyday occurrence.

Placing Strixhaven in Thelanis plays to the idea that the students and faculty can be extremely diverse and exotic—almost impossibly so. Giants, treants, sprites, sentient animals, talking statues; if you could imagine it in a story, you could find it at Strixhaven. A secondary aspect of this is the idea that many of the students aren’t, at the end of the day, REAL. Exploring Eberron talks about the idea of the “Supporting Cast” of Thelanis—lesser fey who are drafted to fill whatever purpose the story needs them to fill. Does this scene need a bully? An arrogant rival? The school can MAKE one for you. This applies to the teachers as well. Some could be greater fey with their own identities or former students who have chosen to remain, but there could definitely be teaching assistants, maintenance staff, even teachers who only exist as part of the story; you’ll never actually see Professor Greenroot except in his office or in the classroom, and he doesn’t really have any opinions on anything that’s not related to his classes. Speculating on who’s real and who’s a manifestations of the story would surely be a common pastime among students; when it comes down to it, can you be absolutely sure YOU are real?

As with Strixhaven—Argonnessen, Strixhaven—Thelanis could draw its students from across Eberron. Unlike Argonnessen, the Strix-Thel isn’t an experiment and the students aren’t being chosen to represent their people; instead they’re being chosen for their stories, and the question to think about when creating your character is What is your story? This is a fairy tale about someone stumbling onto a school of magic. Are you a luckless urchin from the streets of Sharn? A privileged Aundairian prince who needs to learn a lesson in humility? The unnatural nature of Thelanis could add a further twist—you could take a leaf from Rip Van Winkle and add students or faculty from different points in the past. Perhaps there’s a young elf at Strixhaven who, it turns out, is from the as-yet unerradicated Line of Vol—or a conniving student from one of the war-mazes of Ohr Kaluun. In such a scenario, a key question would be if there’s any way for such students to return to their own time, or if they are the last remnants of civilizations long dead.

In developing Strixhaven-Thelanis, a key question is who are the archfey of the school? An obvious possibility is that the Founders are the Archfey who define Strixhaven. They may APPEAR to be dragons, but that’s a cosmetic detail. If this is the case, then the Founders might be involved in the ongoing intrigues of the Moonlit Court; perhaps four of the founders are associated with different seasons, while one remains aloof. On the other hand, it could be that the Oracle is the anchoring Archfey, and that the Founders are themselves part of the Supporting Cast—for all their supposed power and despite the many legends associated with them, they don’t actually EXIST until there’s a particular reason for them to exist. This ties to the question of whether the Dragonsguard actually exist. If the Founders are Archfey, the Dragonsguard could be their personal agents in endless, immortal intrigues and adventures within Thelanis. If the Oracle is the Archfey, the Dragonshguard themselves might not truly exist; they are also simply part of the story.

Part of the appeal of placing Strixhaven in Thelanis is to embrace the unreality of the situation, the fact that it is a story made real; you can embrace the tropes, because that’s ultimately what the school is. It’s likewise interesting to explore what it means to be real, mortal people in an environment that is only semi-real; it’s a bit of Harry Potter blended with The Truman Show. With this in mind, it’s easy to add the Snarls and Star Arches. They COULD have a deep and mysterious role. The Star Arches could be remnants of a shattered Archfey, or tied to the underling archtecture of Thelanis itself. If you want a truly epic story, the Snarls could be an early symptom of the fact that Thelanis itself is starting to unravel; perhaps the students must find a way to save the Faerie Court itself!

A secondary question with Strixhaven—Thelanis is what happens to the students who graduate? Why haven’t they transformed Eberron with their amazing mystic knowledge? Well, one advantage of the Thelanis approach is that there don’t have to be that many actual students; you can have all the supporting cast you need, but only a handful of students truly are protagonists who COULD finish their studies and return home. Another option is the Narnia approach: students stumble into Strixhaven from all across the world and can eventually become masters of magic, wielding powers far beyond the everyday magic of the Five Nations… but when those students return home, much of that power melts away. Should they return to Strixhaven, answering the call of the Founders in their hour of need, all those powers will return; but in Eberron itself, they may be more limited. This could give the interesting option of having adventurers meet a young NPC in Khorvaire who assures them that she’s one of the greatest archmages of all time, but who can’t even cast third level spells… until they’re all drawn to Thelanis, and her true powers return to her. If you take this approach, you might say, for example, that there’s quite a few Strixhaven alumni spread across Arcanix… but that the true treasure they retained from their time at the school was self-knowledge or a deeper understanding of the philosophies of the colleges as opposed to immense practical magics.

All this only begins to scratch the surface both of ways you could use Strixhaven or of the interesting stories one can tell in an academic campaign, but I did say at the start that this was going to be a “short” article… and with that in mind, I’m not going to expand too deeply on this concept in comments. For now, the Astral Plane awaits! Thanks as always to my Patreon supporters, who help choose these topics and who make these articles possible.

IFAQ: September Lightning Round!

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!

IFAQ: Historical Figures in Thelanis?

My previous article on Faerie Tales in Thelanis raised a number of good questions that I wanted to respond to. But these IFAQ articles are supposed to be short and focused, so rather than expanding yesterdays article, I figures I’d address this as a new infrequently asked question.

If a historical figure has become a figure of folklore, how would they manifest in Thelanis? If the faerie tale has changed over time, does the figure in Thelanis change as well?

This is a valid question, because in yesterday’s article I talk about a story told in Breland called “The Sleeping Prince,” in which Sora Katra curses a newborn prince so he falls into an eternal slumber. That’s clearly a faerie tale. The villain is Sora Katra. Faerie tales are the foundation of Thelanis. Therefore, Sora Katra must have a counterpart in Thelanis, right?

Wrong! Because there’s a catch. In the MROR HOLDS, there’s a tale older than Breland that tells of how Lady Narathun cursed Doldarun’s son to slumber, until he was rescued by humble Toldorath. In ancient Sarlona, the Corvagurans told a tale of how the prince was cursed by the Demon-Seer of Ohr Kaluun—a nation that no longer exists. There’s even a Dhakaani story about how Hezhaal—a Dirge Singer who felt betrayed by the empire and withdrew to study dark magics—cursed the son of the Marhu with eternal slumber, only to have him saved by a humble golin’dar.

Sora Katra, Lady Narathun, the Demon-Seer, Hezhaal… none of these exist in Thelanis. Instead, there’s a layer of Thelanis where an archfey known as the Lady in Shadow dwells in the wilds and plots revenge on those who have wronged her. Elsewhere in the layer, there is indeed a prince she has cursed to slumber waiting to be rescued. But there’s also a tower where the Lady in Shadow has imprisoned her own son; and she keeps a walled garden of wonders, and will punish anyone who steals from it. And The Lady in Shadow has been in Thelanis for as long as anyone knows—longer than ANY of the civilizations that tell these tales.

A follow up question is how the stories of Thelanis differ from myths. The key point is that myths are specific stories, dealing with the deeds of specific deities. Consider the myth of the Deluge, something found in many different cultures. The tale of Utnapishtim, of Deucalion, of Noah; each of these is a myth. What you’d find in Thelanis is a layer in which a humble person escapes a great flood that kills the other denizens of the layer (… over and over and over). But it’s not Noah, Utnapishtim, or Deucalion. It’s the core story that serves as the foundation for all of them.

Now, here’s the bit that will really bake your noodle: some of these things actually happened. The Dhakaani don’t tell fictional stories; Hezhaal was a real person. Sora Katra is a real person, and most likely she DID curse a prince as described; the whole point of the Daughters being legends is that they did the things people talk about. And yet, the Lady in Shadow is older than any of them. So that’s the central mystery of Thelanis: how is it that these stories in Thelanis keep being retold or keep being played out in different civilizations? Does the story continue to exist in Thelanis because it continues to exist in some form in the world, or does it continue to exist in the world because of Thelanis? You can bet that there’s a class at Morgrave University that dwells on this very topic!

In 5th edition, hags are fey. So… what’s Sora Katra’s connection to Thelanis?

It’s true: in fifth (and I believe fourth) edition, hags are fey. But in third edition, when the Daughters of Sora Kell were created, they were monstrous humanoids. I don’t intend to change the fundamental story of the world every time a new edition redefines a monster—just as the new default lore associated with, say, medusas doesn’t change the backstory of Cazhaak Draal.

With that said, in many ways it makes more SENSE for the Daughters of Sora Kell to be fey than to be monstrous humanoids. They ARE specifically the antagonists in dozens of faerie tales told in the Five Nations. They follow a sort of faerie tale logic, especially Sora Teraza. So I actually LIKE that they are fey; the issue is that they aren’t FEY OF THELANIS. Just as rakshasa and the demons of the Demon Wastes are native fiends tied to Khyber rather than the planes, the Daughters of Sora Kell are native fey. This has a number of important impacts. The archfey of Thelanis are immortal; if they are destroyed they will be reborn, much like the overlords of Eberron. It’s possible they might CHANGE slightly—that there’s a sense that it’s a new iteration—but the core story will exist. And that’s the second point: the archfey of Thelanis are essentially trapped by their stories. For all their power, they CAN’T change their stories. Like the angels and fiends of Shavarath, they rarely meddle with Eberron because for the most part their stories are self contained (the exception being archfey whose stories specifically INVOLVE meddling with Eberron, likethe Prince of Frost I described yesterday).

The Daughters break all those rules. First of all, they are mortal. They had parents and they were born… and some day they WILL die. Beyond that, while they inspire stories, they are very actively meddling with events in Eberron. They are defined by basic stories and do tend to hold to those iconic roles, but they aren’t TRAPPED in the same way the immortals are. So, they share some characteristics with the fey of Thelanis, but they are native fey and differ in many important ways.

Thanks again to my Patreon supporters for keeping this blog going, especially in these difficult times. One day left in the April poll!

IFAQ: Faerie Tales in Eberron

My Patreon supporters are still voting on the subject of the next major article, but it the meantime I wanted to take a moment to answer this question from The Ultimate Human:

In an upcoming adventure, my players are going to head into Thelanis. I want them to have to advance through stories to advance to deeper layers of the plane. Do you have any suggestions for commonly told (in universe) stories or myths that would be unique to Eberron, or ideas for adapting fairytales to the setting?

When I’m making up faerie tales or folktales for a story, I try not to make it very deep or complicated. If the idea of a story is that it’s a story that all the characters know – a common folktale they’d have heard as kids – it needs to be a story the players can pick up quickly. If it’s too long or contains too many details, they won’t be able to remember it all.

With this in mind, I’ll certainly use stories from our world as inspiration. In Exploring Eberron I mention the tale of “The Sleeping Prince.” A newborn prince is cursed by Sora Katra; when he comes of age he falls into a deep slumber, until he’s are saved by the Woodcutter’s Daughter. This isn’t Briar Rose, but it’s close enough that I don’t need to explain it in any more detail to most players. Now, if the ADVENTURE needs more detail—the characters need to re-enact the conclusion—then I’ll add something that fits the adventure I want to run. Well, she had to steal the Silver Rooster from the giant’s tower, and when the Prince heard it crow at dawn the curse was broken. Say, there IS a giant tower just to the north… The key point here is that you can make a story first, and then figure out the adventure; or you can make the adventure (I want a story with a giant!) and the explain how it connects to the story.

In general, there’s a few steps I’d use to create an in-world story. The first is to identify the purpose of the story. WHY do people tell this story to their friends or children? Here’s a few basic reasons.

  • Warning. Don’t stray from the path. Don’t tell lies. Don’t take gifts from strangers. The story teaches you NOT to do something, by showing the disastrous consequences of that behavior.
  • Encouragement. Be brave! Be honest! Believe in yourself! This story shows the values and behavior society wants from you, and the rewards it can have.
  • Fan Fiction. The story may encourage or warn, but it’s primarily an opportunity to showcase a protagonist who is based on a historic figure or who exemplifies the values of our culture, family, or nation. This is King Arthur; we all know the stories aren’t entirely true, but it’s fun to imagine that they could be. You could make someone up for this story, or grab a figure from history (King Galifar! Lhazaar! Mroranon!).

The next step is to consider if there’s an existing trope that applies, because again, in this case you WANT it to be as easy as possible for the players to fill in the blanks. Person cursed to enchanted sleep? Child trapped in a tower? Hero is rewarded for act of kindness with unreasonably powerful magic item? Got it.

Following this principle, consider a few of the challenges faced in the novel The Gates of Night when a group of adventurers are passing through Thelanis. They need to hunt a legendary beast; this is essentially the Calydonian Boar/Questing Beast myth. A serpent offers to let them cross a river on its back, but only if they answer a question truthfully: this is an encouragement story, be brave and be honest and you’ll make it across. They go to an inn, where the innkeeper demands a character’s voice as payment for the night, promising to return “a voice” in the morning; hijinks ensue when it’s the wrong voice. Don’t make shady deals with strangers!

These sorts of stories are great for a single adventure. If you’re dealing with a longer arc for fey, you may want a deeper story. In creating the Prince of Frost for Court of Stars, I said that he was once the Prince of Summer, but his heart froze when his beloved chose a mortal hero over him. She and the hero cast their spirits forward in time to escape his wrath; now he bides his time in his tower of frozen tears, taking out his anger on mortal heroes and waiting for the spirit of his beloved to be reborn. This adds a touch of tragedy—he’s not just EEEEEEvil, he’s betrayed and bitter—but gives him both an ongoing role (he hates virtuous mortal heroes) and a concrete goal that could be explored (if one or more of the PCs carries the spirit of his beloved or her lover). Yet it’s still a story that I could tell in two sentences.

The final question is if you can add a concretely Eberron touch to the story. For example, in “The Sleeping Prince” it’s Sora Katra who curses the Prince. I could imagine a story about how an ancient druid stuck an axe in Oalian and said that only the destined protector of the land could remove it; when the farmer Arla did, she became the first Warden of the Wood, gathering the bravest rangers from across the land around the Oaken Table in the Greenheart, along with a mystical advisor (The Great Druid). Boom, now I can easily spin off a whole bunch of stories about the Wardens of the Wood by lifting from Arthur.

Another option to consider when creating folktales for your campaign is to involve your players. The whole idea is that these are stories the CHARACTERS will know and care about. So rather than you just telling them, ASK for details. “Hey,Bo Mroranon, everyone knows the story of Mroranon and the Troll King—how young Mroranon tricked the Troll King and stole his crown. Do you remember how exactly he tricked the King?” There are times when this isn’t the right answer, but if you don’t NEED to control every aspect of the story, this is a great way to give the players a sense of personal investment; these are THEIR stories. Note that in doing this, I’ll establish the absolute details; I could have said “Mroranon stole the Troll King’s crown, but lost his hand in the process” — meaning the player can’t now say “The King just gave him the crown and nothing bad happened!

So: I recognize that I haven’t actually answered the original question in the sense of “What are some stories in the world” — but that’s because *I* don’t have a library of existing stories, I make them up as needed. Consider the lesson of the story; if there’s a familiar trope you can hang it on, but at the same time if there’s a twist to ground it in Eberron; and how it’s going to affect the adventure.

Do you have any collections you like?

I think the simplest answer is to just share a picture of a few of my bookshelves. A Field Guide To Little People is certainly a favorite, as are the D’Aulaires myths. But I also enjoy books that take the style of faerie tale and folklore but tell unique stories, such as The Dictionary of the Khazars by Milorad Pavić; Night’s Master by Tanith Lee; and Deathless by Catherynne Valente.

Have you created any faerie tales or folktales in your Eberron? Share your experiences below! And thanks as always to my Patreon supporters for keeping this blog going!

Dragonmarks: The City of Silver and Bone

The fourth edition of Dungeons & Dragons introduced the concept of the Feyspires: cities that drift between the Faerie Court of Thelanis and the material world. Legends say that the giants of Xen’drik pillaged one of these mystical cities, stealing its treasures and taking its people as slaves. According to these tales, the elves of Eberron are descended from these fallen fey. And it’s said that the ruins of the citadel remain somewhere in the wilds of Xen’drik. But these events occurred many tens of thousands of years ago, and the elves themselves know nothing about their distant ancestors. All that we know is the name of the fallen feyspire: Shae Tirias Tolai, the City of Silver and Bone.

So: the ruins of an ancient mystical city are lost in Xen’drik. But what will explorers find if they discover this shattered feyspire? What WAS the City of Silver and Bone? As with anything in Eberron, the answer is ultimately up to you. But here’s one possibility… an option that sheds new light on a few of the mysteries of the elves.

Study the lore of ancient cultures, and you’ll find a recurring story of a city that stands on the edge of life and death. A shade is drawn to Dolurrh, but along the way it passes through a wondrous city of silver and bone, a city with tapestries of fine glamerweave and bone fountains filled with blood. The librarians of this final city record the tales of the ghosts, a last record before their memories are lost in Dolurrh. The artists work with creative shades, offering a last chance to complete unfinished works. And then there are the necromancers who make darker bargains, offering a chance to return to the world of the living… but at a terrible cost.

This was Shae Tirias Tolai: the city at the crossroads, the repository of final thoughts and the last chance for the fallen to find a way back to the world. And its existence answers a number of questions that have lingered for some time.

  • The Qabalrin. It’s said that the Qabalrin were an elven nation of mighty necromancers who were feared by the giants, and who pioneered many techniques of necromancy. Stories say that there are ancient Qablarin vampires hidden in deep crypts, mighty undead that have been slumbering for tens of thousands of years. But the question has always remained: where did these elves come from? How did they learn these grand secrets of necromancy, this magic that rivaled the giants? If the tales are true, the first Qabalrin were fugitive citizens of Shae Tirias Tolai, survivors who used their necromantic knowledge to found a new realm in the mortal world.
  • Elven Necromancy. Likewise, the distant tie to Tirias Tolai explains the elven penchant for necromancy, both positive and negative. The Aereni and the line of Vol know nothing about their ancient ancestors, but memories still linger in their blood… and this may explain how the elves came to form two of the most remarkable necromantic traditions in Eberron.

But… it’s said that the giants feared the Qabalrin. How could that be, if they defeated Shae Tirias Tolai? Well, the story is that the titans of old took Shae Tirias Tolai by surprise, using treachery and careful preparation to catch the people of this city unaware. Beyond that, the inhabitants of the City of Silver and Bone weren’t warlike by nature. They dealt peacefully with the shades; they never expected an attack and weren’t prepared for battle. The Qabalrin, on the other hand, turned all their knowledge and power into weapons. They also rooted themselves in the mortal world. The original inhabitants of the City of Silver and Bone WEREN’T arch-liches or vampires; they simply knew the secrets of creating such things. In destroying the Silver City, the giants forced the survivors down a dark path.

So what lies in the ruins of the City of Silver and Bone? The first thing to bear in mind is that it is at its heart an imaginary city. It is literally ripped out of a faerie tale, and its structures and elements don’t have to conform to any sort of natural logic. It was always a gothic citadel that blended beauty and luxury with morbid reminders of death. Its people have been taken and it has been bound to the material world, but in a strange sense the city itself is still alive. Its story has simply evolved to encompass its downfall. Envision every story of a haunted castle or mansion and project it here. It is a city that was built using bones as its base—bones of dragons, giants, and all manner of lesser creature. Bone blends with marble and silver, with pools of fresh blood (which by all logic should have coagulated tens of thousands of years ago). Imagine a place of gothic beauty, and now add the aftermath of a terrible battle. Glamerweave tapestries display the tales of forgotten heroes, but the cloth is torn and tattered. The sounds of battle can still be heard as echoes. The spirit of every giant that fell in that ancient battle remain bound here, along with the angry shades of doomed eladrin and other innocent shades who were trapped in transition. Explorers may be overwhelmed by visions of that terrible final conflict, or assaulted by spirits who seek vengeance or a final release. An important point is that these spirits don’t have consecutive memory: for the most part, they are still trapped in the moment of their demise, still fighting their final battles and yearning for revenge on a nation that’s now dust.

Within this concept, it’s up to the DM to decide what wonders remain. Perhaps the library remains intact, holding the secrets of thousands of ancient champions (including dragons, giants, orcs, eladrin, and many others). Maybe there’s a vault of demiliches of dozens of different species, dragon-skulls who still remember the battles against the Overlords. The mightiest artifacts would have been taken by the giants, but there could be many lesser treasures that were beneath their notice… or deep vaults (such as that ossuary of demiliches) where even the giants feared to tread. Ultimately, it’s still important to bear in mind that it’s NOT simply the ruins of a mortal city; explorers are stepping into the story of a haunted ruin, clinging to its tragic loss. Another question to consider is whether the archfey of the city still remains, and if so in what form.

Strangely, this could be another way to explore the Raven Queen in Eberron. Perhaps the ruins of Shae Tirias Tolai still linger between Eberron, Thelanis, and Dolurrh. The Raven Queen is the archfey of the city that stands between life and death. The Shadar-Kai are all that remain of her beautiful children, and the memories she captures are what preserve her existence. If you take this route, the ruins would be revealed to be a gateway to Dolurrh. The question is whether the Raven Queen has accepted her fate and embraced her new story… or whether the player characters could undo the damage that has been done and somehow restore the City of Silver and Bone, allowing it to serve once again as a friendly waystation on the journey into oblivion.

Story Hooks

People exploring Xen’drik could simply stumble onto the ruins of Shae Tirias Tolai. The Curse of the Traveler makes the geography of Xen’drik unreliable; explorerers could discover the ruins once and never find their way back to the shattered city. But they could also be drawn to the haunted city. Consider the following ideas.

  • The party discovers a trinket from Shae Tirias Tolai. It could be carried by an enemy, found in a villain’s hoard, or simply discovered in a flea market or the trash heaps of Sharn. The trinket yearns to be returned to the City of Silver and Bone, and whoever holds it will have visions of the ancient city and its final battle. The trinket serves as a compass, and the party that carries it can ignore the Traveler’s Curse. Will they follow where it leads? A table of possible trinkets is included at the end of this article.
  • The Order of the Emerald Claw is searching for Shae Tirias Tolai. There are secrets in the City of Silver and Bone that are critical to the plans of the Queen of the Dead. Perhaps she can raise an army of lingering giant ghosts and bind them to her will. Possibly a crumbling dragon demilich knows the secret of restoring her lost mark. Whatever power she seeks, the PCs must find a way to reach Tirias Tolai before the Queen of the Dead… or if they arrive too late, to turn the lingering ghosts of the city against the Emerald Claw.
  • When a previously unknown undead force (Acererak? A Qablarin arch-vampire? A sinister being directly channeling the power of Mabar and Dolurrh?) threatens the world, the key to understanding this villain may lie in Shae Tirias Tolai. It could be held in a crumbling scroll in the library, found on a tattered tapestry, or contained in the cracked skull of an ancient demilich.
  • Someone who has been raised from the dead finds that they hear whispers, and are haunted by nightmares when they sleep or trance. Even though they have returned from death, a piece of their spirit has been trapped in Shae Tirias Tolai… and unless it can be released, their soul will eventually be torn from their body and pulled down into the haunted city. Play this a horror movie: the player character returned from the dead, but they came back incomplete and that hole in their soul is growing; if they can’t find the city they see in their visions, they will either die again or become some sort of undead monster.
  • Consider a variation of the Eye of Vecna. The giants couldn’t destroy the archfey of Shae Tirias Tolai, but they took pieces of the archfey and scattered them across the world. Each of these pieces grants great power, but the pieces yearn to be reunited and to return to the fallen feyspire. The spirit may not be evil in the traditional sense, but all mortals are as dust to it, and all that it cares about is its restoration and the restoration of its citadel. One possibility is that the sentience of the archfey doesn’t communicate directly with those who bear the pieces… but that they all know that ultimate power awaits in the haunted city.

These are just a few ideas. The point is that the City of Silver and Bone can serve many roles. It could be a haunted dungeon that adventurers stumble into once while exploring Xen’drik. It could the the ultimate capstone in the plans of the Emerald Claw. Or it could be a mystery that develops over time, a slow burn tied to the visions of a resurrected hero or the whispers of a powerful artifact.

Here’s a few ideas for trinkets tied to Shae Tirias Tolai. Even if the adventurers never go to the City of Silver and Bone, one of these trinkets could add interesting color to a story.

If you have questions or ideas tied to the City of Silver and Bone, share them below! Thanks as always to my Patreon supporters, who keep this website going. I’ll be at DragonCon, and I’ll post my schedule tomorrow!

The Raven Queen in Eberron

The Raven Queen is trapped by her fascination with the past. She sits in her fortress, amidst all the memories of the world, looking at the ones that please her the most as though they were glittering jewels. 

—From Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes

The Raven Queen was introduced in 4th edition Dungeons&Dragons. In her original form she’s a mortal who attained godhood after death. She’s the goddess of death, but specifically she’s a psychopomp—her role is to safeguard the soul’s passage to its final destination. She is also presented as a goddess of fate and winter. Her tenets include the idea that death is the natural end of life and that her followers should bring down the proud who cast off the chains of fate. So: She’s a shadowy goddess of death, but presented in a positive light—and specifically being opposed to Orcus and the undead. She’s also presented as being able to spare worthy mortals from death if they will perform services for her.

Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes brings her to 5th edition, and in the process changes up her story. In 5th edition, she was originally an elf queen, a contemporary of Lolth and Corellon. She sought to attain godhood and in the process was pulled into the Shadowfell with her followers. She became an “entity composed of symbols, images, and perceptions.” She sustains herself by drawing on mortal memories, and thus created her Fortress of Memories. Those who go to her realm are “transported to a strange fairy tale world pulled from their experiences, filled with metaphors, parables, and allegories.” People might seek her out to free themselves from a dark past; to learn the secrets of the dead; or to find answers that only she possesses.

In both incarnations, she is served by the shadar-kai. In 5th edition, these servants are immortal; if they die, she will cloak them in new bodies to return to her service. She sends them out to uncover secrets or memories the Queen wishes to acquire.

So: we have a goddess of natural death who despises undead and seeks to safeguard soles and the natural course of fate. We have an Elven keeper of secrets who collects tragic memories. Both dwell in the Shadowfell, have shadowy servants, and may deal with mortals. How does this translate to Eberron?

Lest it go without saying, Eberron doesn’t have incarnate gods. So we know one thing she’s NOT, and that’s a god. She is a powerful extraplanar entity who can serve as a patron for warlocks. Perhaps it’s even possible for a cleric or paladin to gain power in her service, but if so, the power isn’t coming from her directly; it’s power gained in service to her ideals.

There’s a lot of different ways you could go with this. Here’s a few quick takes.

THELANIS. The archfey of Thelanis embody epic faerie tales, and that’s explicitly what the 5E version of the Raven Queen is: a fairy tale about a queen who sought power, was consumed by shadows, and now feeds on tragedy. It’s a simple matter to take her exactly as presented in MToF and simply place her Fortress of Memories in a shadowy layer of Thelanis. In this case, the shadar-kai are essentially immortal fey spirits temporarily housed in mortal forms to play their role in her story. She continues to seek memories and tragedy because that’s her story; it’s simply the case that when you deal with her, you want to think of her as a character in a faerie tale, to bear in mind that her goals and the logic driving her actions aren’t the same as those of mortals. If you want to follow this path, I’d check out my post on Thelanis. Note that this doesn’t incorporate any of the “Goddess of Death” aspect.

MABAR. In my article on Mabar I discuss the idea that realms are consumed by the Endless Night. The MToF story of the Raven Queen fits that idea well; it’s a tale of a mighty queen who seeks godhood and is consumed by her hubris, dragging herself and her followers into shadows from where she continues to feed on tragedy. You could certainly make the Raven Queen the ruler of a domain within Mabar. However, if this is the case, it would definitely play to presenting her as a more sinister and dangerous figure as opposed to being a possible ally or patron.

DOLURRH. The basic principle of Dolurrh is that it draws in the spirits of the dead and consumes their memories, leaving behind only forlorn shades. Most of the major religions assert that this is a side effect: that the memories aren’t being LOST, but rather they’re transitioning to a higher form of existence… either bonding with the Silver Flame or reaching the realm of the Sovereigns. Nonetheless, memories are lost. You could combine the two approaches and say that the Raven Queen is a powerful being who dwells in Dolurrh and saves the memories of the dead from being lost. This plays to the idea of people seeking her out to learn long-lost secrets from the memories of the dead. It also fits with the idea that she could restore ancient champions to life—that she preserves their spirits from the dissolution of Dolurrh so they can potentially be restored at a future time. This also fits with the idea that she could offer resurrection to a dead player character in exchange for their services in the mortal world, or that her shadar-kai are spirits restored to mortal bodies. In my mind, this is the best way to combine the two versions of her: she is a powerful entity who works to preserve the natural order of Dolurrh, encourages the natural cycle of death and despises undead, yet who also preserves the memories of the dead and could grant resurrection.

THE CHILDREN OF WINTER. If you work with the idea that “death is the natural end of life,” the Raven Queen could be the patron of the Children of Winter. This likely works best if she’s tied to Dolurrh, but it could work with any option. This would justify mixing a few warlocks among the druids and rangers.

ELVEN ORIGINS. Playing off the idea that she is connected to the history of the elves; that she hates those who defy fate; and that she collects memories, there’s another interesting path you could take: she could oppose the elves of Aerenal and Valenar. The elves seek to preserve their greatest souls from being lost to Dolurrh. The Raven Queen could seek the downfall of Tairnadal champions in order to claim the spirits of the patron ancestors they are sustaining; she could also oppose the Undying Court and its agents.

GUARDIAN OF FATE. In Eberron, fate is determined by the Draconic Prophecy. One option is to say that the Raven Queen knows the path the Prophecy is supposed to follow. When forces on Eberron—the Lords of Dust, the Chamber, the Undying Court—seek to change that path, the Raven Queen seeks to set things right, either using shadar-kai or pushing player characters onto the right path.

All of these are valid options, and you can mix and match them: She rules a layer of Mabar, but she was once an elf queen and seeks to destroy the Undying Court. She’s a power in Dolurrh and served by the Children of Winter. But there’s a final option that’s MY personal favorite, as it brings a number of different ideas together: tragic Elven backstory, mortal who’s become a godlike being, guardian of the natural cycle of death, mysterious motives and ties to fate, specific tie to Eberron. And that’s ERANDIS VOL.

THE ONCE AND FUTURE QUEEN OF DEATH

Erandis Vol was the product of experiments conducted by dragons and elves, experiments designed to produce a godlike being with power over death. But she was killed before she could unlock the powers of her apex dragonmark. She was brought back as a lich, but as an undead being she can’t access the power of her dragonmark and achieve her destiny. Her phylactery is hidden even from her; she can’t truly die, even if she wants to. For thousands of years she has tried to achieve her destiny. She’s done terrible things in pursuit of this goal. She raised ann army of undead champions and fanatics. Perhaps she’s gone mad. But at the heart, she’s trying to achieve her destiny: to become the Queen of Death.

One option is to say that there IS no Raven Queen… yet. Erandis is trying to BECOME the Raven Queen. But if it was me? I’d push things one level further. I’d use the Dolurrh version of the Raven Queen: the enigmatic spirit who preserves the experiences of the dead in her Fortress of Memories, who has the ability to catch the spirits of the dead and restore them if they serve her. This Raven Queen can be a mysterious ally for the PCs. She despises undead and those who seek to cheat and manipulate fate. She can point the PCs in directions that bring them into conflict with the Emerald Claw. And yet, even if they fight the Emerald Claw, these battles might also push Erandis towards her goals. On the surface, it seems like the Raven Queen and Erandis are the bitterest enemies, opposed in every way. But in fact, Erandis IS the Raven Queen… or will be. The process of ascension isn’t a simply thing; it transcends our normal understanding of time and reality. The Raven Queen has dwelt in her Fortress of Memories for eons: but at the same time, she is Erandis, and she still has to ascend. So the ascended Erandis despised the actions of the lich and helps those who oppose her; and yet, she also has to ensure that the ascension takes place.

Simple, right? And you can easily add the Raven Queen hating the Undying Court into that mix: not only do they defy the natural order of life and death, they also killed her family and HER, back when she was mortal.

So: there’s my thoughts on the Raven Queen in Eberron. Any questions?

As always, thanks to my Patreon supporters: I couldn’t keep doing this without you!

Q&A

How do you see Raven Queen cultists as behaving in Eberron?

Have you met the Children of Winter? Seriously, though: it depends on how you interpret her. If you embrace the 4E direction, she’s about sustaining the natural cycle of life and death and enforcing fate, and as such being strongly opposed to the undead. You could easily play up these aspects of the Children of Winter. Currently they focus on how the tools of civilization interfere with the natural cycle, but they are presented as despising undead and you could choose to play this up. As suggested above, I’d see Raven cultists as being opposed to the Elven faiths and anyone seeking to shift the direction of the Draconic Prophecy. Beyond that—and with whichever version of the Queen that you use—as she is a powerful outsider as opposed to an abstract god, she can give concrete directives to cultist, whether that’s digging up a secret, killing someone who’s escaped their fate, or what have you.

With the Raven Queen’s emphasis on death being the natural and fated end, how might you see her interactions with maruts? Would she pluck them from Daanvi to guard her fortress of memories or deploy them against those who would cheat death?

Per the 3.5 ECS, maruts are normally found in Dolurrh. Personally I see Dolurrh as being very mechanical in nature (philosophically, not necessarily visually). The process of drawing souls in and processing them isn’t done by hand; normally you don’t get some sort of cosmic judge reviewing your actions, it’s just “Souls come in, rinse, repeat.” I see maruts as being part of that machine—in essence, the antibodies of Dolurrh. If you come in and try to drag a soul out, you’ll have to deal with maruts. And as I called out in City of Stormreach, any time you use resurrection to return someone who isn’t fated to return, there’s a chance you’ll draw the attention of a marut; which is why Jorasco will generally perform an augury before they’ll do a resurrection.

With this in mind, I’d personally say that the Raven Queen DOESN’T employ maruts. I prefer to say that she is living IN the machine, grabbing memories before they’re lost forever, but she’s not actually OPERATING the machine. Largely this is because I prefer her to have to work through mortal agents—be they temporarily mortal shadar-kai, Children of Winter, or player characters—than to have an army of maruts at her disposal.

If one were to utilize the Crucible from Phoenix (specifically the Dhakaani Phoenix strike force version) in Eberron as well, how might the Raven Queen tie in to the Crucible?

If you’re adapting Phoenix to Eberron, you could certainly present the Raven Queen as being the force that created the Crucibles — saving spirits from the dissolution of Dolurrh so they can return as champions. In a sense, this mirrors the 5E concept of the shadar-kai, with the added ideas that power grows with each reincarnation and that they only get seven lives. The main question is how the Phoenixes interact with the Raven Queen. Traditionally, the only being a Phoenix interacts with in the Crucible is their mentor, the spirit of a prior Phoenix of their school. If you chose, you could say that ever mentor is in fact an aspect of the Raven Queen herself.

In Phoenix itself, you don’t have elves or gods. Personally, I’d make the Raven Queen one of the Fallen Folk — a Faeda spirit created to preserve the memories of the dead. Over the ages, she’s built her fortress of memories in the Deep Dusk, and could be a source of information or guidance for Phoenixes.

Thelanis in Play: Curses

Last week I wrote about Thelanis and the Fey. This week I’m posting a few shorter pieces about how to use Thelanis in an Eberron campaign. Today’s topic: Curses!

Curses often figure prominently in Faerie stories. The search for a cure may be a driving force in a campaign, or the curse could simply be a burden a character has to bear, something that marks them as an extraordinary individual. Consider a few ways that a curse can work into a story.

  • Ancestral Guilt. A character could be born cursed due to the fault of an ancestor. In Sleeping Beauty the princess is cursed because her parents insult a faerie patron. In the Ulster Cycle Macha curses all the men of Ulster for the actions of their king.
  • Personal Backstory. A curse could be something a character has earned through their own misdeeds, while still being something that is part of a backstory as opposed to happening in play. Your rogue stole from the Tomb of the Forgotten King and the curse has haunted you ever since.
  • A Fey WrongedOne aspect of faerie stories is that power isn’t always consistent. A nymph might have the standard statistics provided by the Monster Manual – being a relatively minor spirit, not an archfey – and still have the power to curse someone who scorns her love. This is especially true if adventurers travel into Thelanis itself. The plane itself is a magical place, and the people who break its rules can suffer consequences.
  • The Price. A curse that afflicts a player character could be the consequence of a negotiated bargain: the character willingly accepts a curse in exchange for a service or goods. This could be part of a backstory – the price of a warlock’s Fey Pact – or it could be part of a campaign, where an archfey offers her assistance provided someone will give up their fame, their heart or their voice. More often than not, fey are more interested in intangible things than in material goods, and it’s part of the unnatural logic of Thelanis that the nymph can offer you something in exchange for your ability to love.

Choosing to have a player character cursed from the start of the game may seem like a strange decision, but it’s something that can give an adventurer immediate purpose: What do you need to do to lift this curse of poverty? The best curses don’t affect combat or prevent the character from being an effective adventurer; instead, they shape story, which is what Thelanis is about. Beyond this, a GM might choose to provide a corresponding benefit to a character who willingly takes on a curse. Perhaps the Forgotten King has cursed you with poverty… but you still have the mysterious key you took from his tomb, and some day you may find the door that it opens. Or perhaps your line has ties to two fey sisters; one has always favored you, while the other cursed you out of jealousy. You have to bear the curse, but your patron may come to you in your darkest times to offer advice or assistance.

The spell Bestow Curse gives examples of curses with concrete effects, and you can certainly have a wronged fey lay such a curse on an enemy. However, those curses are severe mechanical penalties and not something you’d casually take as a ongoing handicap. As I said above, the best fey curses don’t prevent a character from being effective at what they do: instead, they shape story. They are extremely meaningful to the individual, but not crippling. Consider the following…

  • Upcoming Doom. The character will sicken and die when they reach a certain age. Three generations of their ancestors have fallen prey to the curse, and they only have one year to find the answer.
  • Infamy. No one remembers any heroic deeds the character accomplishes. They will be held responsible for all of their misdeeds, but anything good they do will be attributed to someone else (quite possibly other members of the adventuring party).
  • Poverty. All gold, platinum, or gems the character touches disappears within one hour, transported away to fill the coffers of the wronged fey.
  • Loneliness. The character will never find love. The more they love someone, the less the target of their affection will feel for them.
  • Suspicion. A more severe take on Infamy, the character will by default be blamed when things go wrong. People can’t explain it – that character just seems like the kind of person who would be up to something.
  • Cloud of Misfortune. The character themselves doesn’t suffer, but bad things happen to the people they care about. This is primarily aimed at NPCs. If they start to frequent a tavern, it will burn down. Their horse breaks its leg. Their family farm suffers a bad harvest. They should always feel concerned about getting too attached to anyone… because what will happen if they do?

Looking to Infamy or Poverty, as described other PCs can mitigate the effects; the cursed character can’t touch gold, so someone else has to handle all transactions. It’s not the end of the world, as long as the other players aren’t jerks about it. But if the cursed character is a rogue who longs for personal wealth, it’s a curse to them. Likewise, shifted fame or lost love is only an issue if love and fame are things the character wants. They won’t stop you from saving a village from marauders; you’ll just have to heave a sigh when the grateful villagers heap their gratitude on everyone but you.

In any case, the usual purpose of having a curse is to drive the story in a direction: How can the curse be broken? Is it about righting a wrong committed by an ancestor? Earning the gratitude of the fey you angered? Simply finding a holy person whose power is great enough to override the will of the Fey? Or if it’s the price of your warlock pact, can you find a patron willing to grant you power on better terms?

As with many of the previous topics, the primary purpose of curses is to enhance a story. Yes, you defeated that evil dryad… but now you have to deal with her dying curse. Not all players will enjoy such things, but with the right group a curse can be a great way to explore how characters deal with adversity.

Share your thoughts, questions, and ideas below. And check out the previous posts on artifacts and manifest zones!