Dragonmarks: The Grim Lords of Farlnen

The ship is a shadow in the night, its darkwood hull all but invisible against the water. It is the sail that draws the eye. The black silk is adorned with a hundred crimson sigils, each burning with pale light. The sea is calm, but a groaning wind fills the sails. If you make your living on the Lhazaar Sea, you know what that vessel is. If you’re lucky, it’s a merchant vessel carrying the strange spices and other goods of Farlnen. If not, you’d be wise to make your peace with the Sovereigns. The Bloodsails are known to take prisoners, but they rarely take them alive.

Eye on Eberron: The Bloodsail Principality, Dragon 410

Thousands of years ago, the Undying Court and dragons of Argonnessen joined forces to eradicate the line of Vol. All elves who carried the blood of Vol were slain. But there were many elves who supported Vol despite having no blood ties to the line. The victors offered these defeated elves a choice: swear allegiance to the Undying Court or be exiled from Aerenal. A large force of these exiles traveled north and laid claim to the island of Farlnen, founding the Bloodsail Principality. A bleak and sunless land, Farlnen is charged with the energies of Mabar, allowing the people of this realm to perform remarkable feats of necromancy. Prince Shaen Tasil is the living ruler of Farlnen, but the greatest power on the island is the Grim, a council of mighty undead. Some of the Grim work for the benefit of the Principality, while others focus on their own esoteric interests and arcane research.

The members of the Grim are powerful undead. Canon lore includes one infamous member of the Grim: Lady Illmarrow, the self-proclaimed “Queen of the Dead.” Few members of the Grim leave Farlnen; most make extensive use of the power of Mabar, and rely on retinues of skeletal and spectral servants. More than this, Farlnen is a safe haven. There are many would-be heroes—the Aereni Deathguard, templars of the Silver Flame, Paladins of Dol Arrah—who would be thrilled to destroy a Grim Lord. While few possess the power to accomplish such a thing, most of the Grim prefer to remain in their estates, protected both by powerful wards and by their peers. As a result, only a few of the Grim are known beyond Farlnen—and even those are obscured by legends and rumors. Here are a few unusual members of the Grim, lords whose tales are known in Lhazaar.

Lord Varonaen, The Bloody Gardener

Before the elves came, Farlnen was just bare rock and sand. The sun doesn’t shine there, and no living thing could prosper in that cursed place. But a land with no sun sounds mighty nice if you’re a vampire, like Lord Varonaen! He steers the elves to Farlnen, and when he gets there he breaks his ship to splinters and he scatters the splinters across the stony ground. He kills his own sailors and waters the wood with their blood, and they sprout up as darkwood trees and bloodstained roses. All the night-gardens of Farlnen, it was Varonaen who planted the seeds. And if the Bloodsails kill you on the sea? They’ll keep your bones to work an oar, but they’ll won’t let your flesh go to waste; cargoes of carrion make their way to Farlnen to feed the bloody gardens.

Lord Sylian Varonaen is the oldest member of the Grim. The Varonaen were allies of Vol long before the Mark of Death appeared, and Sylian was one of the first vampires created on Aerenal. Where Vol studied ways to imbue humanoid creatures with the energies of Mabar, Sylian Varonaen explored its effects on plants. Varonaen was fascinated by those strains of flora that managed to adapt to Aerenal’s Mabaran zones, and improved upon these with his own hybrids; it was he who refined the strain of darkwood that Aerenal exports to this day. It was no accident that Varonaen and his exiles came to Farlnen. The elves knew they needed powerful a Mabaran zone to continue their research, and Varonaen came prepared. The story quoted above is apocryphal, but it holds seeds of truth. Varonaen brought his hybrids with him across the Lhazaar Sea and established the first night gardens. He planted darkwood groves, and in the centuries that followed he developed entirely new strains of vegetation that could thrive in the unique conditions of Farlnen. While the stories are exaggerated, there is some truth to them. Darkwood isn’t watered with blood… but some of Varonaen’s creations do thrive when fertilized with the flesh of the dead. Some of his experiments are just plants, but others can be treated as both plants and undead; Varonaen has created assassin vines that drain the lifeforce of creatures they constrict and a shrieker that howls with the cry of a banshee.

Lord Varonaen played a vital role in founding Farlnen. The people rely on his hybrid plants as a source of both food and lumber, and the exotic spices and wines produced from his creations are unique exports sold by Bloodsail merchants. Despite his part in ensuring the survival of his people, Varonaen has never asserted his power over his peers; his plants are his sole obsession, and he has spent the centuries working on his gardens. He has the manner of a mild, friendly scholar—but he feels no compunctions about creating plantlife that feeds on the living, or sacrificing strangers in this work.

There was a time when Lord Varonaen traveled in search of exotic blooms. It was on such a journey that he was destroyed by the Deathguard of Aerenal. While his vampire form was reduced to ashes, Varonaen had bound his spirit to his garden much as a lich has its phylactery. He was reborn in Farlnen as a wraith (albeit a unique wraith with spellcasting abilities). While he often remains in this incorporeal form while doing his work, he has crafted a body from darkwood and can animate this vessel when he wishes to interact with the physical world. He hasn’t left Farlnen since his death, and it may be that he can’t travel far from this soul garden. However, adventurers could encounter his creations either in Farlnen or beyond, or have need of an exotic elixir that can only be produced from his undead plants. He could even have an interest in consulting with an adventurer renowned as a master alchemist or unusual druid.

Haeldar Krakensbane

You think you’ve looked death in the eye? Wait until you’ve stared into the empty sockets in the skull of a dragon turtle, after it’s capsized your ship and it’s coming right for you. I’m telling you now, you get too close to the Sunless Isle and pirates are the least of your worries. I know you’ve heard these stories before, but have you ever wondered where the Bloodsails GOT these bones so they could animate ’em? I can tell you in two words: Haeldar Krakensbane. He was a legend in life, a dragonslayer who fought alongside the rebel elves just for a chance to fight dragons. He got himself exiled for his troubles, and sailed north with the rest of ’em. His ship runs afoul of a bloody great kraken, which demands tribute from the fleet. The elves, they’re rightly terrified, and they all agree to pay its price. But Haeldar, he’s not having it. It’s his ancestor, see? Never would bend to a beast. So he siezes control of his ship, and no surprise, kraken sinks it and kills everyone aboard—including Haeldar’s children! You’d think that would be the end of it, but weeks later, as them elves are camped out on the sunless shore, they see a monster on the horizon. It’s the kraken; after it swallowed Haeldar, he refused to die, dug his way up through its heart and out its eye. Now here he is, riding the damn dead thing home.

That beast still patrols the waters of Farlnen today. And Haeldar… he spends much of his time mourning his lost children, but when the mood is upon him, he goes back to sea. He won’t force his own on the hunt, not again. But he’ll board another vessel, take command of it, and take it on another monster hunt. If he comes to your ship, hope you’re one of the lucky ones, that he takes down his prey with your vessel still intact. Haeldar Krakensbane never misses his mark… but the ships he sails rarely make it home again.

In life, Haeldar Arrael was a Tairnadal of the Draleus Tairn. He fought alongside the line of Vol not because he believed in their cause, but because it gave him the opportunity to fight dragons. Over the course of the conflict, he fell in love with an elf of the Vyrael line, and following the defeat of the line of Vol he sailed north in the company of his wife and kin. As the story says, when a mighty leviathan threatened his ship, Haeldar put his dreams of glory ahead of the safety of his family. He lost everything, including his own life—but his hunger for victory was so great that he returned as a death knight in the very belly of the kraken, slaying his enemy and animating its corpse.

As described in the tale, Haeldar spends much of his days in mourning. But he is also the source of many of the great beasts bound in undeath as guardians of Farlnen. Haeldar slays these creatures—serpents, dragon turtles, his eponymous kraken—personally, and it is his unique gift that animates those he slays; however, he turns control of these sentinels over to living necromancers upon his return to the island. And as the tale says, when he is in the mood for a hunt, Haeldar will set out on board a Bloodsail vessel—but he will board and sieze control of some other ship, ensuring that he doesn’t place more elves at risk in his relentless pursuit of challenges at sea. Adventurers on the water could encounter a vessel that’s been seized by Haeldar and is in the midst of a hunt—or they could be aboard a vessel when Haeldar commandeers it, and have to decide whether to fight the death knight or to assist him and hope to survive his hunt.

The Ship of Eldaraen

When I was just a boy in the rigging, my captain spotted a ship dead in the water near Farlnen. Beautiful elven vessel it was, not a soul aboard. We board the vessel, no sign of the crew, but it’s well loaded with treasures. The sailors, they took what they could carry; me, I was just a boy, and I’d heard all too much about Farlnen to see such a thing as luck. After looting what he could, my captain scuttles the ship and we watch it sink as he sails away. But late that night, the lass in the ‘nest calls a ship on the horizon. It was that same vessel, good as new, following us. The captain, he panics, starts prepping Zil fire he’d been saving to burn the cursed ship down. He launched six cannisters, and the riggings of the elf ship were all aflame. But then, as sure as I see you now, I saw a shadow amid the barrels we had left… and that’s all I saw before the explosion. I’m the only one who survived, and whatever loot my captain claimed, it should be spread across the bottom of the ocean. But I tell you this, and I’m telling you true: I remember my captain holding that same golden skull you have in your hand now, and that ship behind us, it’s the same one we sank so long ago.

Many see the days before Galifar as the golden age of piracy. Riedran ships were on the water, but there was no united Galifar and the dragonmarked houses had only a sliver of the power they wield today. In those days Bloodsail captain Vyra Eldaraen was the terror of the northern seas. She plundered the oceans for two centuries before her luck finally ran out. With all the plunder she’d amassed, Eldaraen was restored as an oathbound, and she chose to be bound to her ship. Though other members of the Grim warned against it, she sought to continue her career—and soon enough, the Deathguard and a brave captain—Bright Lorrister, a distant ancestor of the modern Prince of the Heavenly Fleet—destroyed Eldaraen and sunk her ship. But a century later, records reported a clear sighting of Eldaraen’s vessel, as good as new. It seemed that somehow, Eldaraen had become something more than any mere oathbound; she had become truly bound to the ship itself, and just as a lich’s body reforms after it is destroyed, the ship of Eldaraen will always return… even if no original part of the ship remains.

Stories of the Ship of Eldaraen vary, and it seems that it goes through stages. In some stories, the ship is actively populated by a crew of wights and shadows, with Eldaraen herself manifesting as a wraith among them. In others, as in the tale shared above, the ship appears to be empty… though in some stories, Eldaraen manifests aboard it in a form similar to a demilich. A few facts are consistent…

  • The Ship is immune to all forms of divination. Creatures can’t teleport into or out of the ship or use planar travel to enter or leave it, unless traveling to Mabar.
  • The Ship seems to have become a mobile manifest zone tied to Mabar, which extends 500 feet from the ship. Within that area. The radius of all light sources is halved; saving throws against necromancy spells are made with disadvantage; and undead have advantage on saving throws to avoid being turned or frightened.
  • The ship carries the plunder of centuries, but treasures taken from it often bring ill luck. Sometimes the items themselves are actively cursed. Other treasures cause the victim to be tracked by the Ship itself (as in the story above) or specters from its crew, or haunted by nightmares until the loot is flung back into the water. The details vary, but the treasures of Eldaraen always return to her eventually.

The Ship of Eldaraen is included in this article as it is a powerful undead entity tied to the Bloodsail Principality. However, Eldaraen is not believed to be an active member of the Grim; the ship follows its own path, and doesn’t appear to coordinate with the living. On the other hand, it’s possible that there is more to this than meets the eye. It could be that Eldaraen is in contact with other Lords of the Grim, communicating through sending or even interacting with them in the court of the Bone King of Mabar. Even if this is not the case, it’s possible that a living Bloodsail elf could track down the Ship and recruit Eldaraen to help her people should the Bloodsails have need of her.

The Vyrael Sisters

The Bloodsail Elves pursue undeath as a path to eternal life. Some are content to endure the red thirst of the vampire or undertake the vows of the oathbound. Others yearn for the power of the lich—but that power isn’t a gift that can be given. It can only be claimed by a being who possesses both tremendous will and arcane knowledge. Few individuals possesses these traits… but on Farlnen, there’s one example of a family claiming power no single member could achieve alone. The Vyrael were one of the largest and most powerful families among the exiled elves that set out for Farlnen. In the early days of the island, three sisters of the Vyrael line rose to prominence, working with Lord Varonaen to establish the night gardens and to lay the foundations of Farlnen. Centuries later, they knew their time was running out. Torae believed that she had mastered the ritual that granted lichdom, but she was certain her two sisters couldn’t survive the process… and she couldn’t bear to leave her siblings behind. Working together they became something entirely new—the first Skull Lord of Farlnen, three spirits bound together in a single form.

The Vyrael Sisters are one of the more active members of the Grim. Each sister has her own interests, and they take turns serving as the primary force of their shared body.

  • Torae Vyrael is the most accomplished wizard of the sisters. While she is in control of the body the DM should feel free to change the standard spells of the Skull Lord, and she should also possess a single 8th level spell slot and expertise with Arcana. Torae loves to spend her days studying obscure lore or mentoring accomplished Bloodsail necromancers. If an elf player character has Vyrael blood (knowingly or not) and arcane talent, Torae could reach out to them through sending and dream and offer to serve as a mentor; she would make an excellent Undead patron for a warlock.
  • Solae Vyrael is the most politically active of the sisters. While she is the dominant spirit, they have expertise with Insight and Persuasion. Solae advises Prince Shaen Tasil, and enjoys hosting salons and galas with Bloodsail captains and other interesting individuals. While foreigners are rarely welcome on Farlnen, exotic adventurers who visit the Sunless Isle might receive an invitation to such a salon. If so, they’d best prove entertaining; boring guests rarely survive the evening. Of course, spurning an invitation from Vyrael is even more dangerous than attending…
  • Vyla Vyrael is a scholar and philosopher, with expertise in History and Religion; while she is in control of the body, they can switch up to five spells for spells from the Cleric spell list. While she studies religions, Vyla herself draws her divine power through Mabar, shaped by her will. Nonetheless, she is fascinated by the concept of religion, and hopes to some day concretely prove the existence of the Sovereigns—though she largely subscribes to the view that if the Sovereigns exist, they are cruel. Should a group of adventurers be seeking the mysteries of the divine, it’s possible Vyla may have answers they seek. She also collects divine artifacts, and adventurers could clash with agents she’s dispatched to recover a new relic for her collection.

One of the Sisters always holds dominance over their shared body, and this is something that can be changed after a long rest. However, the other sisters are an active presence at all times. They can speak and offer opinions; but it is the active spirit that affects the capabilities of the body. The Sisters have a longstanding feud with Haeldar Krakensbane, whom they blame for the death of their aunt. While they have never engaged in any direct violence against Haeldar, it’s quite possible they’d provide surreptitious aid to adventurers clashing with the Krakensbane. The Sisters are essentially an unusual form of lich, and it’s quite possible that they have a phylactery and will return if they are destroyed; however, returning in this way would require the willpower of all three sisters, and if one sister lost her desire to cling to existence, they would all pass on.

The Grim Lords mentioned here are among the most unusual of their kind. Most members of the Grim are vampires, with oathbound (mummies) as the next most common form; there are only one or two liches aside from Illmarrow and the Lords Vyrael. These are all I have time to discuss now, but hopefully these give you some ideas to work with!

If Farlnen is such a powerful source of Mabaran undead and the Undying Court hates the practice of Mabaran necromancy, why hasn’t Aerenal done more to wipe out the Bloodsails?

Mabar consumes light and life. There are many who believe that anything that draws the energies of Mabar into Eberron is inherently destructive, and in particular that undead animated by the power of Mabar ambiently consume the lifeforce of Eberron itself. In many ways, this is analogous to the threat of global warming in our world. It’s a threat that is only expected to play out over a very long time with incremental impacts (such as grass withering around a garrison of skeletal warriors). Given this, there’s people who are concerned about it; people who are convinced it’s nonsense; and the vast majority of people who simply don’t care.

The Aereni care, and they’ve created the Deathguard as a force that eliminates undead and polices the practice of Mabaran necromancy. But Aerenal is an extremely insular nation that takes almost no action in the world beyond its borders. Most notably, the original description of the Deathguard in the 3.5 ECS states that the Deathguard was “Created to battle the corrupted spirits of the realm” which is to say, they mainly operate in Aerenal itself. Essentially, if you compare Mabaran necromancy to global warming, Aerenal has enacted extremely strict regulations within Aerenal itself… but they aren’t sending soldiers to Detroit to blow up automobile factories, let along smashing individual gas-guzzling cars in New Jersey. The key point here is Karrnath. The skeletons in the armies of Karrnath likely outnumber the entire population of Farlnen. Yet over the course of a century, the Deathguard hasn’t somehow brought down Karrnath or destroyed Fort Bones. What they have done is send agents—notably, a highly influential agent with direct access to the king, who has convinced Kaius III to break ties with the Blood of Vol and to limit military necromancy. But that’s a more typical path for the Deathguard to pursue in the wider world than direct military action.

The second key point is that Farlnen is in a strong Mabaran manifest zone. Mabaran manifest zones are a part of the world and always have been, offset by the presence of Irian manifest zones. The short form is that Mabaran necromancy has less impact on the environment when it’s practiced in such a manifest zone because you’re already halfway in Mabar. So making skeletons on Farlnen adds less to your carbon footprint than making them in Sharn. This ties to the fact that many of the major centers for necromancy—such as Atur—are in Mabaran zones. The Aereni don’t like any use of Mabaran necomancy, but they’re not very concerned about Atur, Odakyr, or Farlnen; we’ve called out before that necromancers channeling the energies of such a zone may actually reduce its overall environmental impact.

So cutting to the chase: destroying individual undead is really pretty small potatoes for Aerenal; they aren’t trying to hunt down every individual vampire in the world any more than environmental activists in our world blow up individual gas-powered cars. Occasionally, they WILL target what they see as high value targets. They took down Lord Varonaen a few centuries ago, and they killed Eldaraen—though there, note that they worked with a local hero to pull it off. But overall, they don’t mind the Bloodsails existing as long as they are largely confined to Farlnen. They would be far more concerned if the Bloodsails spread the practice of Mabaran necromancy throughout the Principalities, and that’s one reason the Bloodsails haven’t done that, and why they haven’t spread their culture beyond the island… but even if that occurred, as seen in Karrnath, Aerenal would be more likely to send a diplomat than an assassin to deal with the problem.

The short form is that Deathguard strikes can happen, but it’s extremely rare for them to occur outside of Aerenal—and when they do, it’s very likely that the Deathguard will try to work with some sort of local heroes, like Bright Lorrister in Lhazaar. All of which is to say that rather than solving a problem for the PCs, the Deathguard are likely to try to work with capable adventurers and deal with the problem together.

Thanks as always to my Patreon supporters, who selected this topic and who make these articles possible. If you want to have a voice in the topic of future articles—and potentially, to get to play in my ongoing Eberron campaign!—check out my Patreon!

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!

Ghost Stories of Eberron

What are the stories that the people of the Five Nations tell during the nights of Long Shadows? Who are the equivalents of Dracula or Strahd, infamous undead whose tales are told across Khorvaire?

In looking to the bogeymen of Eberron, an immediate answer is the Daughters of Sora Kell. Consider the following exchange from the novel The Queen of Stone:

“It was Zarantyr of 972 when she came to our gate. She was a refugee. She told us that her husband and children had been killed by trolls. I’ll never forget her: Tall and thin, hair as black as a crow’s wing and just as ragged, surrounding her like a shroud woven from the night itself. I could see that her skin was flawless beneath the dirt, and her eyes were as dark as her hair.

“But it was her spirit that impressed me the most—the determination that had carried her out this far from Sharn and Wroat, the courage that kept her going after her family was destroyed. She said she was hungry, and asked if she could stay the night beneath our roof before continuing east. The commander agreed. But I didn’t stay for the evening meal. Cainan and I were sent on a scouting mission, to search for our lady’s village and to track the aggressive trolls.”

“And what did you find?” Thorn said.

Beren studied the cold fire dancing along his enchanted torch. “There was no trail to follow. It was Zarantyr, and it had snowed the day before, but there were no tracks save ours… and the snow was stained with blood. Yet there were no signs of struggle. No smashed doors, no burned buildings. Just the bones of twelve settlers, picked perfectly clean and stacked neatly by the town well. Every bone… except for the skulls. Those were nowhere to be found.”

“And the woman?”            

“We returned as quickly as we could, but it was past midnight by the time we arrived. I’d called on Dol Arrah, begged the Sovereigns to let that woman be a ghost, a restless spirit who’d simply wanted her remains to be found. But I knew what we were going to find. We’d left thirty people in that fort, veteran soldiers among them. All that awaited us on our return was bones, picked clean and stacked on the table in the great hall. The skulls were gone. She’d told us the truth: She was hungry.”

This is a story of Sora Maenya. Another section of the book relays a shorter tale about her:

Maenya eats the flesh and drinks the blood, but she saves the soul, binding it forever to the bones of her victim. She sleeps on a bed made from the skulls of children, and their ghostly cries ring through the cavern, now and through the end of time…

Sora Katra is less of a brute, but also the subject of terrifying stories. Typically her tales involve the deadly consequences of making foolish bargains or trying to outwit her. But it’s often said that she weaves curses on her loom, and that she can see the moment of your death when she looks at you—“See it, or set it in stone.”

So the Daughters of Sora Kell are certainly the subject of scary stories and campfire tales. But they aren’t ghost stories. In this article I want to look specifically at the undead. Because of the limits of time and space, I am not going to actually write full stories about these figures, as we have with Sora Maenya; but I want to take a look at some of the major types of undead, with infamous example of each.

The Reality of Undead

One of the first things to keep in mind is that Eberron is not our world. It is a world in which the undead are an absolute, concrete fact. Karrnath fielded LEGIONS of the dead during the Last War. Ghouls are a public menace. There are concrete examples of villages that have been destroyed by wights. This is an important aspect of the Church of the Silver Flame; while it is a religion, it’s also very much a volunteer militia prepared to protect the innocent against the undead and other unnatural threats. Because of the efforts of the templars and the paladins of Dol Arrah, most people hope that they never will be menaced by undead. Most people haven’t actually ever seen a vampire, let alone a lich. But they still know that these things are real—and if someone says a place is haunted, people will take it seriously.

A second thing to keep in mind is the two most common sources of undead: manifest zones related to Dolurrh or Mabar. Exploring Eberron has this to say…

Manifest zones tied to Dolurrh… are still close to the Realm of the Dead and exceptionally haunted, though not blighted, as Mabaran zones typically are. Shadows move in disturbing ways, and travelers may hear whispers they can’t quite make out. The restless spirits of Dolurrh yearn to return to the Material Plane, and it’s easier for them to do so in manifest zones. They might manifest as ghosts, or animate the corpses of people buried in the zone, causing them to rise as revenants or zombies.

The key points about Dolurrhi zones and undead is that they don’t share the blighted aspect of Mabaran zones and that Dolurrhi undead aren’t driven to harm the living. Dolurrhi undead are restless, pulled toward Dolurrh and yet somehow kept from it. This can be the classic trope of unfinished business; they can’t rest until they have revenge, or until their fiancee knows the truth, or until their treasure is found. It could be a powerful emotion that keeps them tied to the world. The main thing is that Dolurrhi undead aren’t necessarily hostile or evil, but they also are often incomplete. They don’t possess the full memories or sentience they had in life; they are clinging to one sliver of their life and that utterly defines them. Tied to this is the fact that most Dolurrhi undead don’t realize they’re undead; again, they have a limited form of sentience and can’t necessarily process or retain new information. So the classic ghost-lingering-in-the-house-wanting-the-truth-about-its-murder-to-be-revealed is a Dolurrhi ghost. It doesn’t WANT to hurt anyone (except perhaps the murderer), it’s incapable of making grand schemes, and it has no opinion about, say, the destruction of the Brelish monarchy. It’s defined by the ONE STORY that is holding it from Dolurrh and as soon as that story is resolved it can finally rest. This also ties to a key point in the general discussion of undead: the Aereni believe that Mabaran undead inherently pose a threat to the living. They don’t believe that the same is true of Dolurrhi undead. But the point is that you shouldn’t aspire to become a Dolurrhi undead. A vampire or lich has its full consciousness and memories from its life. A Dolurrhi ghost is just a fragment, trapped between worlds; it’s not a satisfying alternative to life.

As for Mabar, here’s what Exploring Eberron has to say about Mabaran manifest zones…

Mabaran manifest zones are infamous and almost universally shunned, for nearly all are harmful to the flora and fauna of the region. In some zones, life withers and dies. In others, it’s twisted in strange ways; plants may seek the blood of living creatures, or grow unnaturally pale and cold. Rot and decay are often accelerated, and disease can thrive… While Mabaran manifest zones rarely serve as gateways to the plane, they are powerful sources of negative energy and produce undead. Skeletons, zombies, and ghouls can all spontaneously rise in Mabaran manifest zones, and more powerful undead can be created under the proper circumstances.

Mabar is the embodiment of entropy and despair. It seeks to consume light, life, and hope. As such, those undead produced by Mabar are driven to prey on the living. A Dolurrhi zombie may not be hostile, and could just try to complete some lingering task from its life. But barring the influence of some form of necromancer, a zombie spontaneously created by Mabar will be hostile toward living creatures; it can sense their spark of life and mindlessly seeks to extinguish it. Undead raised by necromancers elsewhere won’t automatically have this killer urge, and Seeker communities in Karrnath use zombies and skeletons for manual labor; but those that are spontaneously raised by the power of Mabar are driven by its malevolent hunger.

The major point here is that many ghost stories are likely to be tied to manifest zones to Dolurrh and Mabar. There are definitely other options—independent necromancers, the overlord Katashka—but if you’re looking for an infamously haunted castle, well, perhaps it was unintentionally on a manifest zone tied to Dolurrh. If you consider Pet Semetary where “The ground’s sour” and those buried there return as malevolent undead—that’s a Mabaran manifest zone, for sure.

Why are some undead sensitive to sunlight while others aren’t?

Sunlight is a dilute form of positive energy, and exposure to sunlight can disrupt the negative energy that sustains Mabaran undead. This effect is especially strong in certain undead, especially wraiths and specters (who are essentially pure negative energy) and vampires. Others, like skeletons and zombies, have a weaker connection to Mabar; this is also reflected by the fact that their touch doesn’t drain life energy. Such creatures may not lIKE being exposed to sunlight, but it has no mechanical effect on them. Ghosts typically aren’t actually connected to Mabar.

How does the spell create undead factor into this? Wouldn’t people be used to ghouls?

Create undead is a 6th level spell, which means that it’s beyond the standard limits of everyday life in the Five Nations (under which 1st-3rd level spells are reasonable common and 4th-5th spells are known of but rarely seen). The ability to create ghasts or wights requires an 8th level spell, which is even more rarely seen. So this is not how these creatures are normally encountered in the world.

Skeletons and Zombies

Mindless skeletons and zombies are the workhorses of any necromancer. They CAN be spontaneously animated in Mabaran manifest zones, and such undead are malevolent. However, after a century of war with Karrnath most people are familiar with the concept of skeletons and zombies that are bound to mortal’s will. There’s two factors that a necromancer will have to deal with.

  • Even though people know skeletons and zombies aren’t necessarily dangerous, few commoners LIKE being around them. Outside of Karrnath, many businesses refused to allow such undead on their premises.
  • Most people associate skeletons and zombies with Karrnath. Thus, if the townsfolk suffered at the hands of Karrnath during the Last War, they’ll transfer that aggression to the necromancer.
  • While necromancy isn’t ILLEGAL under the Code of Galifar, grave robbing is. While it’s rarely enacted, an officer of the law could demand that a necromancer present proof of their ownership of the corpses in their entourage. Karrnathi necromancers authorized by the Ministry of the Dead are issued warrants that authorize them to “compel the corpse of any Karrnathi citizen into service” and that will be recognized as legitimate. Likewise, established precedent allows priests of the Blood of Vol to raise the corpses of followers of the faith. But if you kill someone and then raise them as a zombie, the Sharn Watch can prosecute you as a corpse robber; this will usually result in a fine and the confiscation (and destruction) of the zombie.

A typical zombie story is driven by the Dolurrhi zombie, who despite its limited intellect doesn’t realize it’s dead and strives to complete one last task or to reach a loved one. However, there is one popular zombie tale currently in circulation. The Late Count is a comic opera by the bard Kessler; this tale revolves around a Karrnathi count whose servants resurrect him as a zombie, attempting to use the undead noble as a puppet while they have the run of the estate. Thanks to the popularity of The Late Count, zombies currently have some comic appeal in Sharn and Wroat; if a necromancer is accompanied by a single zombie dressed in fancy clothes, they can play it off as a hilarious jest.

Ghouls and Ghasts

The halflings of the Talenta Plains tell the stories of the Hungry Hunter, Oralasca. The greatest hunter of his age, Oralasca swore to eat every creature that he killed. When he was forced to kill another hafling, his oath compelled him to consume his enemy… and he developed an insatiable appetite for halfling flesh. After he slew his own tribe, Orlashka was finally slain. But so great was his hunger that his spirit lingered, slipping into the forms of weaker creatures and trying to work its way up to halfling form. One of the basic Talenta taboos is never consume the flesh of a creature that eats its own kind—because that allows the spirit of Oralasca to pass into you and transform you into a ghoul.

Ghouls are the most commonly encountered undead threat in the Five Nations. They are especially common in Mabaran manifest zones, but they can spontaneously spawn when Mabar is coterminous, when powerful necrotic forces are unleashed, or seemingly, anywhere where large numbers of people die at once; massive battlefields often spawn ghouls prowling among the corpses. While technically sentient, Mabaran ghouls have no memory of their former lives and are driven by their hunger. The Restful Watch and the templars of the Silver Flame both patrol cemeteries and sewers watching for ghouls, and most cities in the Five Nations have a bounty on ghouls, the value of which varies based on the extent of the threat. After skeletons and zombies, ghouls are the easiest undead to create; it’s largely a matter of binding a corpse to Mabar. However, such ghouls are more aggressive than zombies or skeletons, and unless they are directly controlled they will seek to sate their endless hunger. Karrnath experimented with ghoul forces during the Last War, but the resources required to control them were too great; however, on a few occasions they used bags of holding to drop packs of ghouls behind enemy lines, sowing terror among their enemies.

While Mabaran ghouls are savage, there are other strains of ghoul. There are ghouls in the Talenta Plains that inhabit the forms of beasts, and the Talenta say that all of these creatures are guided by the spirit of Orlasca; this can result in surprising cunning and pack tactics, or a pack of ghouls all speaking with one voice (note that Orlasca ghouls speak Halfling, not Common).

Another strain of ghoul can be found among the cults of Katashka the Gatekeeper. These cults revolve around the idea that the practice of ritual cannibalism will protect the cultists from disease, aging, and death. And it does—but over time, the rituals transform the cultists into ghouls. These ghouls retain their full memories and intellect, but are increasingly consumed and driven by their unnatural appetites. Some of Katashka’s ghouls can maintain their original mortal appearance as long as they are well fed, but if they food supply dwindles, their undead nature becomes increasingly apparent. Such ghouls can potentially form mutually beneficial partnerships with vampires; the vampire needs the blood of the living, and the ghouls consume the flesh that remains.

Ghasts are for the most part old ghouls. The longer a ghoul survives, the deeper the power that animates it sinks into its flesh. Mabaran and Orlasca ghasts have greater intellect than ghouls, and can make more cunning plans. Katashka ghasts retain their mental ability scores from their former life, and also have the ability to control their foul odor; they are typically leaders of ghoul cults.

Wights and Wraiths

The people of the Lhazaar Principalities tell tales of the Ship of Bones, not to mention the haunted vessels of the Bloodsails. But the sailors of Stormreach speak of the Crimson Shadow. It is the name of both a vessel and its captain, a Khoravar pirate with a swift sloop. Rather than taking a vessel in open conflict, the Crimson Shadow would approach a target under cover of darkness. In some tales the Shadow had a crew of swift and silent killers, but most say that the Crimson Shadow would board an enemy vessel on her own and kill its entire crew—taking its most precious cargo aboard her sloop, and abandoning the vessel to drift lifeless. The Crimson Shadow was revealed to be Jola Wylkes, daughter of the Harbor Master of Stormreach. Her lineage couldn’t save her, and she was hanged for her crimes. But two months later another ship was found adrift, its crew butchered. The common tale is that the Keeper recognized talent when he saw it—and that he returned the Crimson Shadow to the seas, for as long as she continues to send him new souls and the treasures he desires.

A wight is a mortal that has made a bargain with a dark power after death. Wights were invariably effective killers in their mortal life; some wights are bandits or serial killers, but over the course of the Last War warrior wights rose in every nation. One of the deadliest wights of the last century is Azael Vadallia, a Valenar wight who’s said to be searching for warriors worthy to join his undead warband.

The typical bargain of a wight is simple: you continue to exist as an undead creature as long as you continue to kill. However, different wights operate under different restrictions, and their powers may vary as a result. The default wight of the Monster Manual reflects a typical warrior or bandit. However, wights retain much of their memories and skills from life, and can be considerably more dangerous. According to the Monster Manual, a wight raises its victims as zombies, and is limited to twelve of them. But historically, Malleon the Reaver is said to have led an army of thousands when he rose as a wight. And Azael Vadallia has only raised a few of his victims, but the members of his warband are also wights, not zombies.

In common folklore, wights are thought to make their bargains with the Keeper. However, most wights actually forge their pacts with the Bone King of Mabar, one of the Dark Powers of the Endless Night. Some wights remain continuously active, but most wights go through periods of torpor that can last for years or decades; during this time, the wight’s body appears to be a corpse, while its spirit resides in the Kingdom of Bones in Mabar. This often leads to wights being dismissed as folktales, because the wight can disappear for a generation before returning to kill again. When the wight is finally destroyed, its spirit remains in the Kingdom of Bones; an exceptionally strong-willed wight may eventually return as a wraith.

One question is what fate befalls those killed by a wight. If the victim is merely allowed to die, its soul travels to Dolurrh. But if the victim’s corpse is raised by the wight, the victim’s soul may be claimed by the wight’s patron—bound in miserable service in the Kingdom of Bones, or perhaps trapped in the Lair of the Keeper. If a DM chooses to enact this rule, then the only way to raise such a victim from the dead is to free its spirit from this bondage.

The defining feature of a wight is that it was a killer in life and continues to kill in undeath. While many wights were soldiers or bandits, a wight could have been a serial killer, a pirate, an assassin—anyone whose achievements draw the attention of a dark power and is willing to bargain with it. It’s possible that there could be a templar wight who is determined to pay its tithe to its patron with the blood of evildoers, but the wight is suffused with the essence of Mabar and bound to its Dark Power, and this tends to erode any compassion or empathy the victim once had.

Wraiths and Specters

A wraith is a spirit that has become deeply intwined with Mabar and that is unable to ever truly find oblivion in Dolurrh. Wraiths are often the end result of other forms of undead; wights, mummies or vampires whose physical forms degrade or are destroyed may linger as wraiths.

A wraith’s behavior and abilities often depend on its original form. Wraiths formed from mummies continue to be bound by the oaths that hold them on Eberron. Wraiths formed from wights likewise continue to be bound by their pacts with their patron. Such wraiths are generally tied to the Bone King or the Queen of All Tears, and like wights they can be pulled into Mabar for extended periods of time; eventually, most are permanently drawn into the Endless Night. This is the classic source of the wraith who only manifests when its tomb is disturbed; at other times, it dwells in Mabar.

The Bloodsail elves of Farlnen have devised rituals that can transform a mortal creature into a wraith. Such wraiths aren’t bound by the oaths and pacts of wights or mummies, but they this means that they sustain their existence with pure will; essentially, the wraith only endures as long as they can remember who they are, and over time many lose cohesion and fade, becoming specters. Lady Illmarrow knows the techniques to create wraiths, and has created a number to serve her in the Emerald Claw. Many of these lack the will to maintain their existence for decades, but they serve her purposes for now. The most infamous wraith of the Bloodsails is the Grim Lord Varonaen, one of the founders of the principality; though his physical form was destroyed in a clash with the Aereni Deathguard, through sheer will he persists as a wraith.

Specters are a lesser form of wraith. As described in the Monster Manual, “A specter is the angry, unfettered spirit of a humanoid that has been prevented from passing to the afterlife. Specters no longer possess connections to who or what they were, yet are condemned to walk the world forever.” Specters possess traces of memory from their mortal life, but unlike a wraith they don’t possess full consciousness or memory, and lack the skills of their mortal life; they can remember just enough to be tormented by what they’ve lost, and they are drawn to consume the life energy of mortals, destroying what they cannot have. Another form of specter is the never-living; these are pure extensions of Mabar, negative energy shaped into a humanoid form. Mechanically identical to those who were once mortal, such specters have no human memories and seek only to feed. Never-living wraiths can be generated by powerful necromancers, and can be found serving Katashka cults or lingering in the domain of the Keeper.

Ghosts, Banshees, and Dawn Specters

Ghosts are typically tied to Dolurrh, as discussed earlier in this article. In Khorvaire, ghost stories are as plentiful as they are in our world, and tell similar tales; souls trapped between Eberron and Dolurrh, driven to complete their unfinished business or held fast by emotions or memories they can’t let go. While they have at least some of their memories from life, most ghosts aren’t fully aware of their condition or the passage of time, and they generally can’t retain new information. They are a remnant of someone who has died, but existence as a ghost isn’t something most people would aspire to; it’s a half-life. Even where there are unusual ghosts with greater consciousness and awareness, most are bound to something—a location, an object, a bloodline—and they can’t roam freely. Ghosts have no connection to Mabar and no innate desire to harm the living. Some may, especially if they are driven by anger or were hateful in life, but being a ghost is driven by the bond that keeps them from Dolurrh, not be a hunger to harm the living.

The typical banshee is a form of ghost, tied to Dolurrh rather than to Mabar. A banshee is bound to Eberron by an intense tragedy. It’s the pain of this tragedy that drives the banshee to lash out at the living (reflected by its typically evil alignment), and it’s this intense, focused pain that empowers the banshee’s wail; it’s not that it drains the life from its victims, but rather that it inflicts such intense emotional trauma that most creatures die of heart attacks or are rendered catatonic. Like most ghosts, banshees are generally trapped in their tragedy and largely unaware of the passage of time, unable to fully process new things.

Dolurrhi banshees can be formed from humanoids of any species or gender; one of the classic Dhakaani ghost stories is of the dirge singer who will not die. In creating a Dolurrhi banshee, replace Elvish with Languages known in life. However, the Dark Power known as the Queen of All Tears has created a strain of Mabaran banshees specifically drawn from elf woman who have suffered great tragedies. These handmaidens of sorrow have more in common with wraiths than with ghosts. They are typically fully conscious and aware of their surroundings, and they split their time between haunting the place of their sorrow and the Court of Tears in Mabar.

Dawn specters are a variety of ghost commonly found in Aereni; they’re a form of deathless. Dawn specters must be bound to something—either a location or a spirit idol. Beyond this, a dawn specter’s ability to manifest is tied to the devotion it receives from the people of a community. So you might find the dawn specter of a bard entertaining patrons in an Aereni tavern; the joy of the patrons is what allows it to maintain its form and interact with world. A dawn specter uses the stat block of a ghost, with the following changes: it has no immunity to necrotic damage and is immune to radiant damage. Its Radiant Touch is similar to the Withering Touch of the ghost, but deals radiant damage rather than necrotic. Instead of Horrifying Visage, its Glorious Visage charms victims rather than frightening them, and there is no threat of aging. A dawn specter can possess a mortal, just like a ghost; however, most dawn specters can’t go more than 10 miles from the object or location they are bound to, even while possessing a mortal. Some Aereni willingly allow dawn specters to possess them, to allow the dead elf to interact directly with its descendants; however, there are limits on how long the spirit can maintain such possession.

Vampires

Surely you’ve heard of Haldon d’Cannith, the Vampire Prince of Starilaskur? When he took over the post of Cannith viceroy, he began running his factories at all hours to meet the demands of the war. He chained his workers to their stations, and those who challenged him were publicly tortured… and he drank the blood from their wounds. The common folk begged the duke for aid, but he was deeply Haldon’s thrall and turned a deaf ear to their cries. Later, Haldon began using prisoners of war in his factories, and that was when he truly began working his people to death… and who cared what became of their corpses and their delicious blood? Here we are sixty years later, and Haldon is still viceroy. He can’t use prison labor any more, but I hear he’s taken on Cyran refugees…

While most people have never seen a vampire, everyone knows about them. As a result, it’s common for people to see vampires where none exist. Is something especially cruel or bloodthirsty? Have they lived longer than seems plausible? Sounds like a vampire to me! Haldon d’Cannith might well be a vampire, who uses his workers to slake his thirst. On the other hand, he could simply be a ruthless industrialist, and all those stories of his imposing a blood tax on his workers are just sensational rumors. If he truly has held his post for sixty years, it could be that he’s been taking experimental alchemical treatments to extend his life… or it’s possible that the current Haldon d’Cannith is the SON of the man who inspired the tales, and the rumor-mongers just ignore that aspect of the story. Essentially, people SAY Haldon is a vampire… only the DM knows if he actually is.

Vampires don’t occur naturally, which is to say that they aren’t generated spontaneously by Mabaran manifest zones. Creating a vampire is an act of epic necromancy that infuses a humanoid creature with the power of Mabar. The first known vampires were created by the Qabalrin elves in the Age of Giants, and the line of Vol resurrected these techniques to create a number of vampire bloodlines on Aerenal. When the Undying Court eradicated the line of Vol, its allies were allowed to flee; some settled on the island of Farlnen and founded the Bloodsail Principality, while others spread west, helped to establish the Blood of Vol in what’s now Karrnath. These elves brought vampires with them, and most vampires in Khorvaire can ultimately trace their bloodlines back to Aerenal. With that said, there were vampires in the line of Vol for tens of thousands of years, and some came to Khorvaire long before the Mark of Death appeared in Aerenal. One of the oldest vampires on Khorvaire is the hobgoblin dirge singer Iraala of the Kech Nasaar, who became a vampire through dealings with the line of Vol before the Empire fell. So it’s possible that a vampire in western Khorvaire could trace their lineage to the Nasaar bloodline—but ultimately, that too leads back to Aerenal.

Once you have one vampire, it’s easy to make more. So why aren’t vampires more common? The primary reason is that it’s not easy being a vampire. A vampire is bound to Mabar, and Mabar is hungry. It is this that fuels a vampire’s thirst for both the blood and life energy of the living. Over time, it becomes increasingly difficult for a vampire not to see all living creatures as prey. A weak-willed vampire will quickly devolve into a feral predator; such creatures use the statistics of vampire spawn, but their Intelligence is more a measure of cunning than of rational thought. It takes strong will to maintain your personality as a vampire, and stronger still to maintain any empathy or compassion for other creatures. This is why vampires are seen as monsters; many do become ghoulish killers that need to be hunted down by templars of the Silver Flame, the knights of Dol Arrah, or the Aereni Deathguard. This is an additional reason most vampires don’t make legions of spawn; all it takes is one spawn going feral and drawing templars to town to lead to a deep purge. Undead have no rights under the Code of Galifar, and destroying a vampire isn’t considered murder; you’d just better be sure your target is a vampire before you kill the mayor.

The Qabalrin are the common source of vampires, but there are other paths…

  • The Bone King of Mabar can transform a mortal into a vampire. Such vampires cannot spawn other vampires; most instead transform victims into ghouls. When they are destroyed their spirits are drawn to the domain of the Bone King, where the exist as wraiths.
  • There are a few examples of devotees of the Keeper becoming vampires. Such vampires cannot create spawn at all. Their hunger is a manifestation of the greed of the Keeper, and the souls of creatures they slay may be bound, similar to the effect of a Keeper’s fang.

At the DM’s discretion, these three strains—Bone King, Keeper, Qabalrin—could have different weaknesses. For example, it could be that the vampires of the Bone King aren’t harmed by running water, but are vulnerable to fire; while it may be that the Qabalrin vampires don’t require permission to enter a dwelling, but also can’t assume bat form or control bats. I’m not personally going to assign these things, in my opinion it’s best for the DM to decide and for players do have to discover these using the Arcana or Religion skills of their characters. But it’s definitely reasonable to say that there are unique aspects to different bloodlines, and that things that are commonly accepted as weaknesses may not apply to all vampires—though if I remove a weakness, I’d be sure to add a new one.

Other forms of vampire—such as the penanggalan—are tied to rituals developed by different cultures, and simply aren’t as widespread as the Qabalrin techniques. In adding such variant vampires, consider the source. Are they tied to an overlord, like Katashka the Gatekeeper? Were they created by one of the princes of Ohr Kaluun?

Mummies

Most people are familiar with the concept of undead guardians bound to protect tombs or temples. The people of Karrnath have more practical experience with these oathbound, as they are the most common form of sentient undead associated with the Blood of Vol; the Crimson Monastery of Atur has been staffed with mummies since before the founding of Galifar. While they may be the most common form of undead, they still aren’t COMMON and even most Karrns have never met one; they just are familiar with the concept of oathbound, and know that they’re generally guardians as opposed to ravening monsters.

Mummies are discussed in more detail in this article. Many different cultures and traditions have produced mummies, and like vampires their abilities could vary based on the culture that produced them and the oaths that bind them to undeath.

Liches

Lady Illmarrow is older than bones. Some say she came to Khorvaire with the elves, but the way I’ve heard it, she was a queen of the Forgotten People, the humans who ruled this land before there ever were goblins or orcs. She’s forgotten more about magic than the wizards of Arcanix have ever learned. People say she weaves a grand tapestry made from souls—that when she’s quiet, it’s because she’s got all she needs to keep her busy, but when she runs out of thread it’s time to harvest more. It was Lady Illmarrow who set the Talons of Ice ravaging the north during the reign of Marala ir’Wynarn, and she’s made the boneclaw wyverns that nest in the Icewood. What’s that? Why hasn’t some bold hero faced this villain? Oh, many have, and many are frozen into the walls of her palace. Haryn Stormblade surely did slay Lady Illmarrow, and brought her crown to his king. But you can’t kill a thing that’s already dead, and it was Illmarrow that created the shadow plague that killed the king—and it was her shadow that reclaimed her crown. Illmarrow can’t die, and if she’s stirring again, all we can hope is to wait it out.

Common folk aren’t familiar with the specific abilities of the lich, but people understand the basic concept of ancient undead wizard who can’t die. With that said, liches are among the rarest of all undead, rivaled only by death knights. Setting aside the notable example of Minara Vol and Lady Illmarrow—which is an extremely unusual situation involving one of the greatest necromancers of the last 20,000 years—the idea is that a necromancer can’t make you into a lich: YOU have to perform the ritual yourself, and it requires both tremendous will and a deep understanding of necromancy and arcane science. This is why all liches are powerful spellcasters: because you have to be a powerful spellcaster to become a lich. And even more so than a vampire, becoming a lich requires the most iron will imaginable: not merely mystical knowledge, but an absolute will not to die, defying the pull of Dolurrh with your sheer conviction. The oldest member of the Crimson Covenant, Duran, began as a lich and has become a demilich over time. But he can’t just make other Seekers into liches; he can teach the rituals, but the aspirant has to be able to perform them.

The default lich in the Monster Manual is presented as an arcane spellcaster, but there is certainly a divine path to lichdom. The people of the north know about Lady Illmarrow, but the Brelish tell stories of Gath. In life, Hogar Gath was the high priest of the Sovereign Host, infamous for his love of luxuries. After his death it was revealed that Gath had also been leading a cult of the Keeper in lower Sharn… and that he was still leading it. Champions of the Silver Flame rallied and destroyed the undead priest. But thieves who sought to pillage his “mausoleum”—effectively a mansion he’d built in Sharn’s City of the Dead—rarely returned. Typically this was attributed to the deadly wards and traps, the finest and most expensive House Kundarak could survive. But stories circulated that Gath himself had risen again, and still dwelled in the mausoleum. This was a pattern that would continue for centuries. Once he was revealed to be behind a new criminal organization that was challenging the Boromar Clan. Another time he was exposed as the force behind a smuggling ring being run out of the Pavilion of the Host itself. Sometimes he’s destroyed, sometimes he flees; whatever happens, he always returns eventually.

The typical lich must be a master of arcane science, and most are consumed by their obsession with eldritch knowledge. Divine liches are rarer and more unique. Gath didn’t become a lich by accident. He prepared for it, which is one reason his mausoleum was so richly appointed and heavily secured. And those preparations required him to perform sacrifices that were both horrific and expensive. His love of luxuries is just a surface manifestation of his absolute and relentless GREED—which is ultimately what makes him such an effective servant of the Keeper. Where the arcane lich is sustained by will, in many ways Gath is sustained by that greed—by the desire to expand his hoard, to have the finest things; in many ways, he is more akin to the classic dragon than any dragon of Argonnessen. He doesn’t care about conquest and has no inherent desire to kill others: but he will do ANYTHING to satisfy his greed, and he will NEVER be satisfied with what he has. He does also continue to serve as a talon of the Keeper, training new priests and serving as an intermediary for those who would bargain with the Sovereign of Death and Decay. And adventurers could be surprised to find that the mysterious patron who funded their expedition wants them to deliver the treasure they recovered to the City of the Dead. He is absolutely EVIL, but his schemes are always driven by greed, and might not actually pose a threat to the world at large… and he can pay his agents VERY well. Gath uses the stat block of a lich, but his spells should be chosen from the cleric spell list (along with those spells available to the Trickery domain).

Death Knights

The Nightwood didn’t always stretch as far north as it does today. Back before Galifar, it was the domain of a family long devoted to the Blood of Vol. The rulers, they were champions of the Blood of Vol, and those around ’em didn’t think much of that. But the lord and lady, they were unmatched on the battlefield. Came a time that they were fighting a plague of warlocks, foul cultists sworn to the Queen of Shadows. The lady, she cuts her way through them, but the last one speaks with the voice of the Queen and curses her: if she says even one word, her children will die. Now, this victory over the warlocks was a glorious thing, and the lord insists that they have a grand celebration. Warlords come from all about, and in the midst of the feast, the lady sees an assassin drawing a knife by her husband. She’s got time to shout a warning, but she puts her children before her lover and holds her tongue, has to watch him die. It’s a massacre; the lord and lady are killed, the castle razed, the land itself shunned and soon overrun by the Nightwood.

Not an uncommon story in old Karrnath. Except for the fact that over the next year, each of the scheming warlords was slain—and no one ever saw or heard them die, even those just on the other side of a door. There’s them that say that it was the lady, risen to take vengeance, and that she still rules over her ruined castle in the Nightwood. But the curse is still on her, that if she speaks her children—or their descendants now—will die. So you’d best not harm any Seeker child that you meet; if you do, the Silent Knight will come for you. Nothing will stand in her way, and no one will hear you die.

The rarest of all undead, a death knight blends aspects of ghost and wraith. A death knight is forged when someone of deep devotion and martial skill—typically, a paladin—suffers intense tragedy leading to their death. This tragedy typically involves the character breaking their own oaths, blending loss with shame. A death knight can’t rest, in part because they won’t allow themselves to forget their shame. The divine power they once channeled is replaced by the pure power of Mabar. Some find brief solace in taking vengeance on mortal enemies, but largely a death knight spends its time meditating on its pain.

The Silent Knight is one known death knight, and she is a member of the Crimson Covenant of the Blood of Vol. She still acts to protect her descendants, but she’s also believed to have killed descendants who have in her eyes brought shame to their house—perhaps by abandoning the Seeker faith, by becoming a warlock, or by forming a romantic attachment to someone of one of the bloodlines that betrayed her. She does not speak and can extend an aura of magical silence at will, though this silence doesn’t prevent her from casting spells.

Another infamous death knight is Prince Moren of the Lhazaar Principalities. Once a bold swashbuckler and beloved prince, he betrayed his beloved and his treachery resulted in the destruction of his principality. Murdered by his own crew, he now he sails the Lhazaar Sea in a ship of bones, hunting treacherous captains and forcing them to serve his vessel.

That’s all for now! I know that this doesn’t cover every possible type of undead, but I’m afraid I don’t have time to go into further detail; if you’ve done something interesting with other undead in your Eberron, tell the story in the comments!

This topic was chosen by my Patreon backers, whose support makes it possible for me to spend the time it takes to write articles like this. The main topic for November will be determined by a poll on Patreon, which I’ll be posting shortly!

IFAQ: The Crimson Covenant

My last IFAQ dealt with the role of mummies in the Blood of Vol. This ties into another question that’s equally relevant to the season: How would you use the Crimson Covenant in your Eberron?

Information about the Blood of Vol is wildly inconsistent across canon material. You can find some of my thoughts on this in this article. My vision of the Blood of Vol is articulated in Exploring Eberron. In short, the Blood of Vol was created in Eberron, when exiled elves fleeing the destruction of the line of Vol settled among humans and dwarves living in a harsh land, long oppressed by tyrants who used the Sovereign Host to justify their rule. The elves shared a tale of a champion who attained divine power only to be crushed by the existing gods, and the humans recast that to fit their reality. In their story, Vol isn’t an elf with a dragonmark who fights the Undying Court, but rather is a human who finds a spark of divinity within and fights the Sovereign Host. The NAME is there and the bones of the story can be seen, but the truth that iinspired it is long forgotten. The elves shared some of their necromantic traditions with the humans, and that aspect of the faith has its roots in Aerenal. But it was only in the synthesis of the cultures and traditions that the faithful actually found the Divinity Within. The Aereni line of Vol were NECROMANCERS; they never harnessed this power.

So: the Blood of Vol was is something entirely unique to Khorvaire, something formed by the blending of Vassal heretics and exiled elves. When this religion was taking root, Erandis Vol was hiding from the Undying Court and building her strength; it was many centuries before she would stumble across the faith that carried her family’s name. She sees the Blood of Vol as a useful tool and is happy to manipulate them, and the result of this is the Order of the Emerald Claw. But she didn’t create their faith and she doesn’t share it. She aspires to be a goddess, but it is her apex dragonmark that is her path to divine power, not some universal Divinity Within.

The Blood of Vol has always been a religious of the downtrodden, of those who believe that the gods are cruel and the universe is unforgiving. Its strongholds lie in Mabaran manifest zones, shunned lands no one else could tame. As discussed in Exploring Eberron, the structure of the faith is far looser than that of the Church of the Silver Flame. Some priests are trained in one of the great temples such, such as the Crimson Monastery of Atur; others have never met a priest from beyond their village, and learned the faith from their local abactor. So, what then is the Crimson Covenant?

The basic principle of the Blood of Vol is that every mortal holds a spark of divinity within their blood, and the goal is to unlock that Divinity Within. But few can accomplish that in their lifetime, and death is oblivion. Some champions of the faith become undead—typically vampires and oathbound mummies—to live beyond what their mortal span would allow. This is a form of martydom; an undead creature has no spark of life, and loses the Divinity Within. But they gain time, and can 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.

Among most of the faithful the Crimson Covenant is little more than a legend; most seekers believe that Hass Malevanor, High Priest of Atur, is the greatest spiritual leader of the faith. There is good reason for this secrecy. First and foremost, there are many—the Aereni Deathguard, templars of the Silver Flame, paladins of Dol Arrah, and other champions of the light—who would see these elders as monsters to be destroyed. But there is another aspect: all undead aren’t created equal. We think of things in terms of stat blocks and rules, under which a lich is a lich is a lich. But the necromancy of the early Seekers was adapted from Aereni techniques; it was never as sophisticated as the techniques used by the Bloodsails or the Line of Vol, and has its own quirks. The most ancient member of the Crimson Covenant, Duran, was its first lich; but while his will is strong, his enchantments are unable to maintain his body and he exists now as a demilich. Most of the members of the Crimson Covenant are oathbound, and many of their oaths are quite restrictive. Beyond this, many members have had their humanity slowly worn away by the passage of time, and they know it; it is difficult for them to interact directly with the living. With this in mind, Malevanor ISN’T a member of the Crimson Covenant; he is still young, still comfortable with the world. But he and other priests protect the Covenant and rely upon it for guidance, and the Covenant does perform the most sacred rituals of the faith. The core of the Covenant resides in the catacombs below Atur, and it is their devotions that contain and channel the dreadful powers of this sunless land.

So for the most part the Crimson Covenant are masterminds and advisors. They can cast spells and perform rituals that are far beyond Malevanor’s powers—but only a few of them are actually capable of freely moving within the world. As such, they generally support the faith by creating magic items, raising undead (they were certainly an important part of raising the first armies for Karrnath), and casting divinations and other rituals. They teach the most promising students in the Crimson Monastery. But there are only a few—such as the Silent Knight and Lady Dusk—who often act in the outer world. There have been others—there were a few members of the Crimson Covenant who rose from their chamber to lead Seekers in the Last War—but they have been destroyed.

So, to go back to the original question, How would I use the Crimson Covenant in my Eberron? I would use it as something the adventurers hear of in whispers. Seekers may receive guidance from the Crimson Covenant; I might even choose to say that when a Seeker priest casts commune, it’s the Covenant that answers. Its possible they won’t even believe it exists until one of these ancient champions actually DOES appear to assist a group of seekers… or alternately, until one of them is discovered and destroyed, and the Mabaran manifest zone they were containing becomes a threat. Beyond that, it would depend on the relationship between the adventurers and the Seekers. If the adventurers are fighting the Emerald Claw, I’d probably start by having them believe that the mysterious Crimson Covenant is their enemy, perhaps the true leaders of the Emerald Claw. But eventually they would finally meet the Covenant, and if they walked the proper path it could be a powerful ally in the question to put an end to the threat posed by the Claw. With that said…

What’s the relationship between Lady Illmarrow and the Crimson Covenant?

Originally, none. The Crimson Covenant are elder Seekers, many of whom have served the faith for longer than Illmarrow has been aware of it. However, Lady Illmarrow is a mastermind, and over the course of centuries some of her handpicked agents have risen to join the Crimson Covenant. It is through these agents that Illmarrow knows the plans of the abactors and influences the faith to her own ends. It is Illmarrow’s agents who have prevented the Covenant from taking any action against the Emerald Claw, convincing the others that they must wait and see, and that perhaps Illmarrow is acting as a champion of the faith. Some of those councilors slain in the Last War were victims of schemes laid by their fellow councilors, because they posed a threat to Illmarrow’s plans. So the point is that Lady Illmarrow doesn’t control the Crimson Covenant… But she is influencing it, and in many ways slowly poisoning it to help with her agenda. So again, if I were running a campaign in which the adventurers were fighting Illmarrow and the Emerald Claw, an important piece of the endgame would be identifying and destroying her agents in the Crimson Covenant, at which point its surviving members could be valuable allies.

Likewise, I could certainly see a member of the Crimson Covenant who is suspicious of Illmarrow’s influence but unable to act openly serving as a patron for a group of adventurers—potentially using the Immortal Being group patron, or serving as an Undying patron for a warlock or a personal spiritual guide for a Seeker paladin or cleric. Such a patron could direct adventurers to operations of the Emerald Claw or to expose other agents of Illmarrow within the faith.

What’s the relationship between the Blood of Vol and the Bloodsail Principality? Also, the article “Dolurrh’s Dawn” has an individual named Ashalyn Vol who’s said to have created some of the core principles of the Blood of Vol. How’s that work with this interpretation?

Well, I DID say canon was inconsistent! Having said that, let’s take a look at what the canon Bloodsail article says.

The religion known as the Blood of Vol is a bastardized version of the beliefs of the elves of Farlnen, and it has grown and changed over the centuries. Bloodsail priests are far more pragmatic than are their Karrnathi counterparts. They shape their divine spells from the raw energy of Mabar, and whereas the Seekers of Atur try to unlock the immortal potential of the Divinity Within, the priests of Port Cairn are content with the simpler immortality of undeath. Nonetheless, the two faiths share some common practices, and followers of the Blood are treated with respect in Farlnen.

The bolded element is the key. After the line of Vol was eradicated in Aerenal, the Undying Court allowed elves allied to the line but who didn’t carry its blood to either swear fealty to the Court or to accept exile. Some of these went directly north to Farlnen and became the Bloodsails. Others landed in Lhazaar and migrated west, mingling with humans and dwarves. The Blood of Vol arose from that mingling of traditions, and the Divinity Within was a discovery of this new faith. So Ashalyn Vol WAS a cleric and did set the first cornerstones of the faith. But those cornerstones were about channeling the power of Mabar, not about finding the Divinity Within. The idea of fighting against death was there, but how you do it is very different. The Seekers see undeath as a sacrifice; the Bloodsails see it as entirely satisfactory and don’t believe in a divine inner spark; they don’t believe the oathbound gives anything up by becoming undead, and their divine magic isn’t drawn from the same source as that of a Seeker priest. So as noted, the Bloodsails RESPECT the Seekers and recognize their common roots; but they also think the Seekers are, well, crazy humans with bizarre conspiracy theories. “The Sovereigns cursed people with mortality, so they couldn’t become gods themselves” — that’s just a ridiculous idea!

Part of the point of this is to challenge the concepts of Elven Exceptionalism and that Things Were Always Better In The Old Days. I like the idea that the blending of elf and human beliefs and ideas created something new—that this fusion allowed them to DISCOVER the Divinity Within, which is a real divine power source that the line of Vol never knew about or harnessed. To me this is more compelling than saying “Oh, an elf discovered it five thousand years ago – we’re just following in their footsteps and we’ve never really made any sort of improvements.” The Bloodsails ARE just following in Ashalyn’s footsteps, because that’s what elves do; they cling to the traditions of their ancestors. But the Blood of Vol did something NEW. And part of MY idea is that they are continually improving their techniques—that Duran the demilich is a demilich because their original lich technique was flawed and that they’ve gotten better at it — that the techniques used to produce Malevanor were superior to the oathbound rituals they used centuries ago.

What’s the relationship between the Crimson Covenant and Kaius III? How does the Covenant feel about Lady Illmarrow and the Emerald Claw?

In thinking about the Crimson Covenant, it might be helpful to look at the US Supreme Court. It’s a small body of people who are experts at what they do (we hope) but who have differing opinions and who were appointed in very different times. It’s a lifetime position, and in this case, when we say lifetime, we mean eternity—or until you get taken down by a paladin of Dol Arrah. There are members of the Crimson Covenant who are older than Galifar, and at least one who’s older than Karrnath. For these people, the events of the last ten years—the Order of the Emerald Claw, Kaius III—are a tiny drop in the bucket of time. It’s only been a decade; let’s see how it plays out in another decade.

You definitely have factions in the Covenant. There are those who argue that the Covenant should be focused on teaching the living—that it’s not its place to intervene directly. There are those who say that they should be trying to find a way to destroy the Sovereigns directly, those who say they should undermine the institutions that encourage worship of the Sovereigns, and those that say that all this discussion of the Sovereigns is ridiculous, because they don’t exist. There are those who believe Lady Illmarrow poses a threat to the faith, and those who argue that she’s a champion and that the Covenant should be supporting her—along with those who say “Let’s see what happens in the next ten years.”

So there are definitely enough members on the Covenant who support Illmarrow or at least want to wait and see to keep the Covenant as a whole from acting against her. But there’s certainly members of the Covenant who ARE worried about Illmarrow and the Emerald Claw. Such a member might well be secretly working with Kaius III, and might very well work as a patron for an adventurer or a party of adventurers. They can’t convince the majority of the Covenant to take action, but they do believe that something should be done.

What stops the Crimson Covenant from using some preexisting D&D 5e methods of achieving effective immortality, such as the Reincarnate and Clone spells?

Part of the idea of Eberron has always been to consider magic as a tool and a science—which means that we add limitations to it that aren’t necessarily obvious from the rules. If you’re making a character you can be a druid, just like that. But in the WORLD, druidic magic comes from ancient traditions. A random person in Sharn can’t just say “I’m going to be a druid” and start casting thorn whip; they need to LEARN these traditions from someone else. There is no established druidic tradition in Karrnath, therefore, the Crimson Covenant has no druids and no idea how to cast reincarnate. On the other side, clone is an 8th level spell, which is far outside the common power level of the Five Nations—which is normally 1st-3rd level spells are common tools, 4th-5th are attainable but rare. On that scale, clone is the stuff of legends. Even if we assume that there are a few members of the Crimson Covenant who have gained the power to cast 8th level spells, the next point of considering arcane magic as a science is that just because there’s rules for a spell doesn’t mean that every culture has developed every spell. This is something we called out in earlier editions with the idea of limiting certain rituals to character with dragonmarks. As a PLAYER CHARACTER, your wizard can learn any spell on the wizard spell list. And in my Eberron you can be sure that Mordain the Fleshweaver has discovered clone. But beyond that, it’s up to the DM to decide what spells are available to NPCs. If you want to have a member of the Covenant who uses clone as a path to immortality, tell that story! But in my campaign, no one in the Covenant has discovered how to cast that spell.

Ultimately, remember—the rules are a tool for the DM to use to tell a story. It’s always up to us to decide which elements we want to use and which we choose to ignore. I prefer to think of each wizard spell as a scientific discovery, and to consider that different traditions—the Twelve, Arcanix, Aerenal, the dragons—may know spells that the others haven’t yet mastered. Again, player characters can choose any spell—but that’s part of what makes them remarkable.

That’s all for now! My next major article (as chosen by my Patreon supporters) will deal with Ghost Stories of Eberron. And tomorrow I’ll have a few announcements about other things I’m working on!

IFAQ: Mummies and the BoV

I’ve got a lot going on at the moment. This Friday I’ll be playing my new Adventure Zone game with Justin McElroy, Hrishikesh Hirway, and Becca Scott on the Twogether Studios Twitch channel. I’m working on a secret Eberron project and I’ll be doing my first post about Threshold later this week. But as time permits, I like to answer interesting questions posed by my Patreon supporters. So…

What’s the role of mummies in the Blood of Vol?

The traditions of necromancy practiced by the Blood of Vol and the Bloodsail Principalities are known to be able to produce three forms of sentient undead: mummies, vampires, and liches. Note that I don’t include the Karrnathi undead in this list, because while they are seemingly sentient, they don’t have the personality or memories of a living person. If you want to extend your own existence, these are your three options.

Of these, liches are the rarest and most difficult to produce. Setting aside the notable example of Minara Vol and Lady Illmarrow—which is an extremely unusual situation involving one of the greatest necromancers of the last 20,000 years—the general idea is that a necromancer can’t just make you into a lich: YOU have to perform the ritual yourself, and it requires both tremendous will and a deep understanding of necromancy and arcane science. This is why all liches are powerful spellcasters: because you have to be a powerful spellcaster to become a lich. And again, in my campaign, becoming a lich also requires the most iron will imaginable: not merely mystical knowledge, but an absolute will not to die, defying the pull of Dolurrh with your sheer conviction.

On the other end of the spectrum, vampires are the easiest sentient undead to produce, because if you have one vampire, they can produce more vampires. So an obvious question is why don’t they? Yes, the Blood of Vol generally believes that undeath is an inferior state that severs your connection to the Divinity Within. But still, it is trivially easy for a vampire to create more vampires. Why aren’t all of the leaders of the Emerald Claw vampires? We know that the Emerald Claw ISN’T flooded with vampires, so this is a simple logic problem: If you could turn an ally into a vampire, why wouldn’t you? In my campaign, the answer is that being a vampire isn’t easy. Of the lich, mummy, and vampire, the vampire is a PREDATOR. It is a conduit to Mabar, and Mabar is HUNGRY. The vampire needs to drain the blood and life force of other creatures, not simply in the practical way that a human needs food and water, but as a consuming drive that is always burning. This is a critical reason most vampires are evil: because the hunger of Mabar hollows them out, eroding their empathy and transforming them into pure predators. So, why doesn’t the Emerald Claw turn everyone into vampires? Because most people can’t take it. Just as it takes a powerful will to become a lich, to endlessly defy the draw of Dolurrh, it takes a powerful will to retain your own identity as a vampire. Most vampires degrade into inhuman creatures driven purely by their hunger—creatures with the statistics of Vampire Spawn, but without true human sentience. So you don’t want to just turn all of your friends into vampires because you don’t know if they will survive the experience. Their bodies will survive—but they may no longer be the people they were, or even people at all.

Malevanor by James Austin, from Exploring Eberron

Which brings us to the original question: what’s the role of mummies? First of all, let’s consider that word. Mummies are indeed produced by rituals that include, among many other factors, ritualized embalming and mummification. But that’s just a physical aspect and not what Seekers see as their defining principles. Thus, Seekers and Bloodsails call them oathbound, for reasons that will soon become clear. Anyone can become oathbound; it involves a conduit to Mabar, an expert necromancer, a series of rituals including the embalming process, and a number of rare and expensive components… Which are the major limiting factor on the number of mummies in existence. But there is a second, critical component to creating a mummy: its oaths. The 5E Monster Manual says that a mummy “obeys the conditions and parameters laid down by the rituals that created it.” These conditions aren’t an extra piece added onto the ritual; they are an integral part of it. A mummy is bound by a set of oaths that it must obey, and it is these oaths that bind its essence to its body and prevent it being dragged to Dolurrh. This is how you end up with a mummy bound to protect a specific tomb; even if it’s intelligent, it CAN’T just choose to leave the tomb and forget about it; that role of tomb guardian is what defines it and preserves it. Most mummies are bound by restrictive oaths; many Bloodsail mummies are bound to their ships. The looser these oaths, the more power and components are required for the ritual. So Malevanor, the High Priest of Atur, has far fewer restrictions than most oathbound; but it’s not a simple matter to create mummies with such freedom. Of liches, vampires, and mummies, the oathbound are the most common form of undead within the Blood of Vol, but many of the oathbound are never SEEN; mummies are often bound to temples or villages. There are hundreds of mummies in Atur, but most dwell in the vaults and temples of the City of Night, tirelessly performing their duties.

OK, but… The default mummy in the Monster Manual has an Intelligence of 6. That doesn’t SEEM like it’s an ideal alternative to, say, a vampire. In my Eberron, that base MM Mummy is a classic tomb guardian. As the lore suggests, it’s someone bound to be a mummy as a sort of curse, forced by their oaths to battle intruders; they haven’t tried to retain their humanity. However, oathbound such as Malevanor retain their mental ability scores, their proficiencies, and some of their class abilities; Malevanor is the high priest of Atur and can perform divine magic. The Monster Manual mummy is created to be a physical powerhouse, but I think there are oathbound who aren’t as physically powerful but are sustained by the same rituals and power; I’m posting a stat block for an oathbound priest for my Patreon supporters.

Now: oathbound aren’t driven by the hunger of the vampire. They don’t need to consume to survive. However, they are sustained by and suffused with the power of Mabar. This is why the touch of the mummy causes flesh to rot and why its gaze causes dread; it is a vessel for Mabar, which embodies the death of all that lives and the end of all hope. While it’s not as dramatic as the vampire, the influence of Mabar still does erode the compassion and the empathy of the oathbound. This is why most mummies have an evil alignment. As is always the case in Eberron, they can have an evil alignment and still be driven to DO GOOD—but because of that lack of empathy, they may do good deeds in an evil way. A mummy forgets pain, and so it doesn’t care about causing pain to others. You can have a good or neutral mummy, but there’s a reason that they are rare… and why mummies tend to be crueler than the deathless of Aerenal, who are sustained by positive energy. The rotting touch of the mummy is something the Aereni point to in asserting that the oathbound do consume the life force of the world—that even though they don’t actively feed on others as vampires do, they are still slowly destroying the world merely by existing.

So within the Emerald Claw and the broader Blood of Vol, liches are rare and remarkable. Vampires aren’t very common, but they are often found as active agents in the field because they have freedom of movement and need to find new prey. Oathbound are the most common sentient undead, and if adventurers encounter an undead priest of the Blood of Vol, it’s most likely a mummy; however, it may be bound to its temple or its village (and it may be a lesser oathbound, weaker than the default mummy). In creating one of the oathbound, the critical question is what are the oaths that bind it? What are the restrictions on its actions and choices? Who was it in life, and what key skills has it retained in its undeath? Has it retained its sense of mercy and empathy, or has this been worn away?

How do wights figure into this?

I prefer not to lump all undead into a single basket. There are different sources of undead—Qabalrin traditions, Katashka the Gatekeeper, the raw power of Mabar—and to me, a story is more interesting if those different traditions produce different undead, rather than the only difference being CR. With this in mind, the basic lore of 5E notes that wights are mortals transformed by a dark power with the goal of making eternal war on the living. With this in mind, I say that wights AREN’T created by mortal necromancers; they can be created either by Katashka the Gatekeeper or by one of the Dark Powers of Mabar, and they directly serve the agenda of the force that created them (even if they don’t know what that agenda is).

What do you think happens if an oath is broken? Would the mummy just cease to function or would it be compelled magically to restore its oath?

It’s a matter of will. I think that most oathbound simply cannot violate their oaths, and if they are somehow forced to (a guardian removed from its tomb by force) it must attempt to rectify the situation immediately. If it can’t, this will weaken the bonds that sustain its undead existence, and it would ultimately disintegrate. Having said that, there can always be exceptions. A mummy with the strength of will to break its oath might become something else—finding a new way to sustain itself—potentially becoming something like a death knight or a wight, depending on the power of the spirit and its personal story.

That’s all for now! Thanks as always to my Patreon supporters for making these articles possible.

iFAQ: Warforged, Blood, and the Blood of Vol

People ask me a lot of questions about Eberron. While I’ve typically answered the most frequently asked questions at sometime in the past, every now and then there’s an INFREQUENTLY asked question that still seems like it’s worth answering. Over the last few weeks two of those have come my way. How could a warforged become a cleric of the Blood of Vol? And can a warforged become a vampire?

Could a Warforged Become a Cleric of the Blood of Vol?

The Blood of Vol is based on the principle that the blood of the living holds a spark of divine power, and that all mortals have the potential to harness and evolve that Divinity Within. A Seeker cleric believes they are drawing on their own divine spark when they cast spells.

Warforged don’t have blood. Therefore, it seems logical to assume that they don’t have the spark of the Divinity Within. So why would they follow the Blood of Vol, and how could a warforged Seeker paladin or cleric justify their divine magic?

To begin with, let’s start with the WHY. Ultimately, the Blood of Vol faith is grounded in the question what just god would allow death and suffering, with the conclusion none; the fact that we suffer shows that if there are gods, they are cruel. All we have is each other, and we must stand together and defy death. The Seekers place a strong emphasis on community and protecting the weak. Any death is tragic. They use undead because once the spark is gone, there’s no reason NOT to use the corpse if it can help protect the living. More powerful undead—vampires, mummies—know that they will never achieve divinity, as they lost their divine spark when they died; but they can still fight to defend and to guide the living, to be champions of life… and perhaps someday topple the Sovereigns themselves and free the entire world from the curse of mortality. This is where the warforged Seeker comes in. They have no blood, and presumably no divine spark. But they are immune to disease and to the ravages of time. A warforged is in many ways much like a mummy. They can’t achieve true divinity, but they can protect and guide others. So the warforged Seeker priest isn’t driven by a desire for personal power; rather, they are driven by compassion and the desire to protect their community from suffering and death.

But what about the HOW? If Seeker clerics draw their power from their own blood, how do they get magic? Well, first of all, remember that the “drawing power from within” is an article of faith. They don’t KNOW the power comes from within with any more absolute certainty than a paladin of Dol Arrah knows that their power comes from Dol Arrah. So one option is to simply say “It works, don’t question it.” But the other example is to look to the mummy. Malevanor, the high priest of the Blood of Vol in Atur, is a mummy. He has no blood. So how does he cast spells? There’s two simple answers. The first is the idea that he draws on the divinity of the people around him. This ties to the strong community focus of the Blood of Vol; he can’t attain personal divinity, but he can draw on that potential within you and use that power to protect or heal you. With that said, what happens if you’re not around? Well, Seeker communities donate blood to sustain their champions. Vampires drink this blood, and while it is within them this connects them to the sparks of the living. Seeker mummies and liches BATHE in the blood of the faithful, and this charges their power for a short time.

So for your warforged cleric, the simplest answer is that they draw their power from the rest of the party! If you want to be creepy about it and the rest of the characters are willing, they could actually get blood donations from the party. But you could also just say that the proximity spark does the trick. On the other hand, you could also just say that they don’t KNOW how it works, but it does work… and that they BELIEVE it’s because they (and presumably all other warforged) have divinity within as well, despite having no blood. This would certainly be an interesting long term arc to explore!

Having said all that, back around 2005 I worked with David Esbri—who was at the time doing illustrations for the RPGA—on an early concept for an Eberron comic. One of the villains in that was a Warforged tied to the Emerald Claw who had embedded components allowing it to drain blood from its victims… essentially, an artificial vampire who believed that he could use this blood to become divine. So you could always explore a more exotic path!

Can Warforged Become Vampires?

There’s many answers to this question. The simple answer is that under the rules of 3.5 they couldn’t; “vampire” was a template that couldn’t be applied to constructs, and 3.5 warforged were constructs. The 5E rules have changed, however, and by the rules as written a warforged can become a vampire. However, the rules are guidelines, not absolute and inflexible! In my opinion, this is a case where the DM has to decide what they want from the STORY. Does it make SENSE for a warforged to be able to become a vampire, when it has no blood and doesn’t eat in the first place?

In my campaign, I would say that no, a warforged cannot become a vampire. A vampire can drain the LIFE FORCE from a warforged, but it has no blood for a vampire to drink. Vampire spawn rise when “buried in the soil”—I don’t see this having much meaning for a warforged. I DO think that warforged can become undead—that they can become vessels for the power of Mabar, channels through which it can consume the essence of the living—but I would be inclined to create a unique warforged expression of vampirism, rather than just forcing the standard bloodthirsty form onto them. I’d see it as draining energy like a wight as opposed to drinking blood, and I’d consider which of the traditional vampire powers made sense and what it might have instead.

That’s all I have time for today! Have you used warforged seekers or undead in your campaign?

Dragonmarks: Karrnathi Undead

The nation of Karrnath became infamous for its use of undead during the Last War. Initially, the bulk of the undead forces were common, mindless skeletons and zombies. But as the war progressed, the science of necromancy continued to evolve. The greatest breakthrough came when the high priest Malevenor and master necromancer Gyrnar Shult developed the Odakyr Rites: Techniques that could imbue the skeleton or corpse of an elite Karrnathi warrior with malign intelligence and increased resilience. The Karrnathi undead possess deadly skill and considerable cunning; once given direction, a unit of Karrnathi undead can operate autonomously, adapting to deal with unexpected threats or strategic setbacks.

Most of the Karrnathi undead were retired after the Treaty of Thronehold, sealed away in vast vaults beneath Atur or stationed at Fort Bones and Fort Zombie. But a few remain in service. Recently people have reached out to me with a number of questions related to Karrnathi undead. What is the intelligence level of Karrnathi Undead? Do they have any memories of their past lives? Do they have thoughts and opinions? Would a Karrnathi Undead be a viable player character? Do the families of Karrnathi Undead get visiting hours to pay their respects to their dead relatives?

As always, the real answer here is what’s going to make the best story? But let’s start with the canon presentation and move on from there.

The Canon

To begin with, consider the following facts about Karrnathi undead from the 3.5 Eberron Campaign Guide. 

  • Karrnathi undead are described as being “imbued with malign intelligence.” They possess 11 Intelligence, 10 Wisdom, and can speak Common.
  • Karrnathi undead have an alignment of Always lawful evil. Sentient creatures rarely have an always alignment; certainly, the elite soldiers of Karrnath aren’t always lawful evil. So already this tells us that the consciousness isn’t the consciousness of the deceased donor of the corpse. A dictated alignment is typically tied to a creature that embodies an idea, such as a celestial or fiend; or a creature whose behavior is dictated by a supernatural force, like a lycanthrope. This ties to the fact that the undead is imbued with “malign” intelligence.
  • Karrnathi undead possess remarkable skills. But in the ECS listing, they have no advancement. One of the defining features of the warforged is that they can learn new things: a warforged built to be a fighter can become a wizard. Karrnathi undead have tactical intelligence, but they can’t evolve.

With these things in mind, consider this description of Karrnathi undead from the article on Fort Bones in Dungeon 195.

The Karrnathi undead are tremendously efficient solders. A normal zombie requires some sort of necromancer to sustain and command it, but the sentient Karrnathi undead can integrate with any unit. Fear, hunger, and exhaustion are alien to them. They can see in perfect darkness—an advantage over the warforged, and one that Karrnath often exploited in conflicts with Cyre. One of the few limitations of the undead derives from their utter lack of mercy or compassion. Left on its own, a Karrnathi skeleton will slaughter all opposing forces—soldiers, civilians, even children. A commander must exercise close control if he wants his undead to leave anyone alive.

The Odakyr Rites—the ritual used to create the Karrnathi undead—isn’t a cheap form of Raise Dead. The original victim is gone. A Karrnathi skeleton doesn’t have the specific memories of the warrior who donated his bones. The military specialty of the undead reflects that of the fallen soldier, so only the bones of a bowman can produce a skeletal archer. However, the precise techniques of the skeleton aren’t those of the living soldiers. Rekkenmark doesn’t teach the bone dance or the twin scimitar style common to the skeletal swordsmen. So where, then, do these styles come from?

Gyrnar Shult believed that the Karrnathi undead were animated by the martial spirit of Karrnath itself. This is why they can be produced only from the corpses of elite Karrnathi soldiers: an enemy corpse lacks the connection to Karrnath, while a fallen farmer has no bond to war. However, the current commander of the Corpse Collectors fears that the undead aren’t animated by the soul of Karrnath, but rather by an aspect of Mabar itself—that the combat styles of the undead might be those of the dark angels of Mabar. Over the years, he has felt a certain malevolence in his skeletal creations that he can’t explain, not to mention their love of slaughter. He has also considered the possibility that they are touched by the spirits of the Qabalrin ancestors of Erandis Vol. The Kind hasn’t found any proof for these theories, but they haunt his dreams.

Karrnathi undead never show emotion and never speak without cause. A Karrnathi skeleton is content to stand motionless and silent for days if there is no reason to move. A soldier’s name is typically a combination of name and number and the records of the original identity of the body are hidden in the tomes of the Corpse Collectors. The distinctive armor of the Karrnathi skeletons is forged for them and fitted to their fleshless bones. Fort Bones operates a small forge for this purpose, though most of this armor is created at the Night Forge of Atur.

So with all this in mind, let’s look back at those questions. A Karrnathi skeleton is as intelligent as a typical human, but it doesn’t have a human personality or think like a human does.

Do Karrnathi undead have thoughts and opinions? Well, how would you know? A Karrnathi skeleton obeys the orders of its commander without question. It fights without fear and will hold a position even at the cost of its own existence. The Karrnathi undead never speak unless spoken to, or unless necessary in pursuit of their duties; if they have thoughts, they don’t share them. If questions, their opinions appear to be an absolute commitment to the Karrnathi cause, and the opinions of one are shared by all of them; so they do have opinions, but they all have the SAME opinions. A warforged might compose a poem. A Karrnathi skeleton might know a poem, but if it does, then all Karrnathi skeletons know that poem, even though no one ever taught it to them. And what about that underlying cruelty, that always lawful evil? In my opinion, even a Karrnathi commander has to worry that maybe the dead are just going along with them… that maybe there’s a darker force behind those eyeless sockets, waiting for the right moment to turn its blades on you.

Regarding memories of past lives: by canon, no, Karrnathi undead have no memories of their past lives. While they can only be created from the corpses of elite Karrnathi soldiers, theit skills and techniques don’t match those of the donor. They are always lawful evil, regardless of the alignment of the donor. In my opinion, the Karrnathi undead don’t even know the names of the people who donated their bones. BUT… with that said, see the next section for other ideas.

With all this in mind: Would a Karrnathi Undead be a viable player character? By canon, definitely not. They can’t learn new skills or advance. Their true opinions and thoughts are intentionally mysterious. With that said, see “Other Options” below.

Ultimately, there’s a critical point here: The Karrnathi undead are supposed to creep you out. They aren’t just warforged who happen to be made out of bone. There is a sense of a malign intelligence in them… a touch of Pet Semetery, with that lingering fear that you should have let them stay dead.

Other Options

So, that’s the canon approach. But there’s two things to consider. First, the science of necromancy has continued to evolve. As a DM, you can introduce sentient skeletons or zombies that AREN’T produced using the Odakyr Rites. Such skeletons could possess more distinct personalities, could be capable of learning new skills, and could possess memories of their former lives. You could play around with a form of undeath that can preserve mortal soul and memory in a rotting shell. And this could work for a player character.

But with that said, personally I believe the Karrnathi undead should feel creepy… and I like to play up the idea that even the Seekers don’t know exactly what they are dealing with. Mabar is the plane of entropy and loss, the darkness that eventually consumes all light. THIS is the force that’s animating the Karrnathi undead. You can TELL yourself that it’s animated by a pure spirit of Karrnathi patriotism. You can say that there’s nothing of your wife left in those bones… but then one night you might hear her voice singing a song only the two of knew as the skeleton patrols the line. You might wonder if you would find her again, if you also died on the battlefield. Or you might wonder if some piece of her is trapped in those bones, held captive by the cruel spirit and never truly able to rest.

So as with anything in Eberron, do what feels right for the story. But for me, I’m always looking for a way to make the undead disturbing. Even if there’s a zombie with the perfect memories and personality of your friend, I’m going to point out that there’s maggots in their flesh and occasionally a tooth will fall out… and again, are you SURE it’s the soul of your friend in there?

Q&A

Does this mean that undead aren’t used for menial labor in Karrnath?

There’s two issues here. The followers of the Blood of Vol—who prefer the term Seekers—are the ones who practice necromancy and embrace the undead. The Blood of Vol has had a presence in Karrnath for over a thousand years, but it has never been the faith of the majority. During the Last War, Kaius I embraced the Blood of Vol and it gained greater influence, and it was in this time that the undead were incorporated into the Karrnathi army. In more recent years, Kaius III and the Regent Moranna turned against the Blood of Vol. The chivalric orders of the Seekers were disbanded, and Kaius has used the Seekers as a scapegoat—blaming the famines and plagues that crippled Karrnath on the Seekers. The faith still has a significant presence in Karrnath, but it is neither the majority faith nor in a position of power. Karrnathi traditionalists despise the use of undead, which they see as a stain on Karrnath’s proud martial tradition; this is another reason Kaius sealed the bone legions in the vaults below Atur. He doesn’t want to throw this weapon away, but he gained political points among the established Karrnathi warlords by reducing the role of undead. More on this—including the history of the Bone Knight—can be found in this article.

Now: the Seekers have always used undead for menial tasks. They have no emotional attachment to corpses; a Seeker wants their body to be put to good use after they are gone. So within a Seeker community, you could definitely find zombies working the fields. The main point is that these are traditional mindless zombies, who have to be provided with clear direction. The sentient Karrnathi zombies are a different thing—a more recent development, and ill-suited to noncombat tasks. The Odakyr undead are weapons: sentient, yes, but imbued with malign purpose.

Do the families of Karrnathi Undead get visiting hours to pay their respects to their dead relatives?

By canon presentation, no. First of all, Seekers aren’t sentimental about corpses. The bones of a dead relative are no different than a set of clothes or piece of jewelry the deceased wore in life. The basic principle of the Blood of Vol is that what matters is the divine spark (what others might call the soul) and that this is obliterated in Dolurrh. A Seeker pays respects to the dead by recalling their deeds and following their example. The bones the deceased leave behind are a resource to be used, not a thing to be treasured. In addition, while the identity of the donor is noted when the Odakyr Rites are performed, this information isn’t publicly available and the undead warrior doesn’t know the name of the donor.

Were the Odakyr Rites created, found, or both? What was the malign spark that granted them the sudden necromantic advance?

This is covered in Dungeon 195. The Blood of Vol has always had a strong presence in the agricultural region of Odakyr, which also contains a powerful manifest zone tied to Mabar. When Kaius I embraced the Last War, Fort Bones was established in Odakyr as a center for necromantic research. Gyrnar Shult and Malevenor (then living) developed the Odakyr Rites after years of research and work. It’s noteworthy that they can only be performed in a place with a strong manifest zone to Mabar; in Karrnath, this means Fort Bones or Atur. As for exactly how the breakthrough was made, it’s not defined in canon, and for me the answer would depend on how I planned to use the Karrnathi undead in the story. Did Shult and Malevenor discover some sort of artifact tied to Mabar at the heart of the manifest zone? Did they tap into the power of Katashka the Gatekeeper, or acquire some sort of ancient Qabalrin tome from Erandis Vol? Or did they just legitimately develop a new necromantic technique that no one had mastered before, which is entirely possible? Despite their cruelty, are the Karrnathi undead truly what Shult believed—empowered by the patriotic spirits of the fallen—or is there a darker secret?

Were Karrnathi undead created for any other branches of the Karrnathi military? Presumably, if they are canonically inclined to slaughter, undead sailors wouldn’t be of much use, but were there undead Marines aboard Karrnathi ships in the Last War? Did Karrnath have any airships in its service with undead parachute troopers? 

There’s a lot to unpack here.

First of all, even more so than warforged, Karrnathi undead aren’t robots. They aren’t precisely programmed; the Dungeon article notes that you can’t use the Odakyr Rites to create an undead farmer. The basic principle of the Odakyr Rites is one of sympathy: if you perform the Rites on the corpse of an expert archer you’ll be an archer, if you perform them on an elite melee fighter you’ll get a melee fighter. But even there, it’s not as if it’s a perfect proficiency match: the Karrnathi skeletons favor a two-weapon style that isn’t a standard technique for Karrnathi infantry. And again, they’re incapable of learning entirely new skills. So you could certainly have a Karrnathi galleon that has a skeleton crew manning the oars, but a) they wouldn’t be skilled sailors and given that, b) they’d likely be mundane skeletons, not sentient Karrnathi undead. However, that same galleon could certainly have a squad of undead Marines (who also have the advantage of not needing to breathe).

Looking to airship paratroopers, remember that airships are a recent development—they’re only been in active use for eight yearsand require Lyrandar pilots. Most air battles mentioned in canon involve aerial cavalry: Thrane wyverns, Aundairian dragonhawks. With that said, you could certainly equip undead troops with feather tokens and drop them into enemy territory; as they don’t need food or sleep, can operate tirelessly, have darkvision, and are happy to engage in suicide missions, I’m sure this was done.

It seems unlikely to me, even if a GM broadens the possibilities of Karrnathi undead, that they would be created for anything other than warriors. Spellcasters would require higher INT, WIS or CHA, and more independence of thought. 

I’m fine with the idea that there are additional forms of Karrnathi undead we haven’t seen in canon—even just skeletons and zombies with different skill sets. It could even be that a spellcaster produced using the Odakyr Rites is a more wraithlike entity. But remember that the core principle of the Odakyr Rites is sympathy: to raise a spellcaster, you’d need the corpse of a dedicated Karrnathi spellcaster. Assuming this is possible, every spellcaster raised by the Rites would have the same spell set, which wouldn’t have anything to do with the spells possessed by the donor corpse, and they couldn’t learn new ones. Given the tie to Mabar, I’d expect their spell selection to mainly be necromantic attack spells.

With that said, the undead champions of the Blood of Vol have long included both mummies and vampires—so there are other options for elite undead spellcasters.

Do we, or even their commanders, know how spoofable the officer recognition is on Odakyr undead is? If a Brelander wearing a Karrnathi uniform speaking with a Karrnathi accent showed at Fort Bones would the undead obey them? 

I see two possible approaches here. The first is to follow the point that they are sentient. Could this ruse fool a normal human soldier? If so, maybe it could fool the undead; handle it the same way, with a Deception/Insight check if you think one is called for.

The second approach is to emphasize that they’re supernatural… that we don’t entirely KNOW why they follow orders. The THEORY is that they are animated by the martial spirit of Karrnath. Do you think you can fool that spirit with your crappy accent? Do you really want to take that chance?

How would they react if there was a civil war and they were being used on each other?

Excellent question. I think the answer is that NO ONE KNOWS. This is one reason the traditionalist warlords hate the use of undead; because they don’t know where their loyalty truly lies. They never betrayed Karrnath during the war; but what would happy if Karrns fought Karrns? Would they follow their local commanders? Would they be loyal to the crown? Would they be loyal to who THEY believe deserves the crown, and if so, does that prove the legitimacy of the candidate they support? Or could it be that once you tell them to spill Karrnathi blood… that they would turn on ALL Karrns?

If the Karrnathi undead are just going along with the commands of whatever Karrnathi Commander is leading them….is it a possibility that their true loyalty is to Vol?

It’s certainly a possibility. With that said, if that’s the case the question would be why she hasn’t already exercised that power—what is she waiting for?

Thanks as always to my Patreon supporters for making this possible. My next article will delve into Cyre!

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!

Q&A 5/18/18: Undead, Sarlona, and More!

May is a busy month. I’m swamped with writing and travel (I’m currently at Keycon 35 in Winnipeg), so I haven’t had time to write a proper article. However, I reached out to my Patreon supporters for questions for a quick Q&A, and here we are. Next week I may post some thoughts on Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes and how I’d apply it to Eberron.

Before I get to the questions, I want to tell you about something else that’s going on this week: The Gauntlet. Mox Boarding House in Bellevue, Washington is hosting a massive gaming tournament that’s raising money for charity. My company Twogether Studios is competing in the Gauntlet, raising money for Wellspring Family Services, and we need your help. Any donation is appreciated—a $5 donation would be fantastic—but if you’re in Portland, Oregon or the vicinity of Seattle, Washington and have the ability to be more generous, I’m going to offer a crazy incentive: a chance to play a one-shot session of Phoenix: Dawn Command or 5E D&D (in Eberron) with me. Here’s how this works: If you’re in Portland, a game requires a donation of $400. If you’re in the Seattle area, it’s going to be $500 (all the money goes directly to charity, but since it’s more work for me, I’m setting the bar higher…). This doesn’t have to be all from one person: I will run a game for up to six people, and their combined donations have to hit the target number.

If you want to do this, you need to be part of a group that is going to hit the target number. After making your donation, email me (use the Contact Me button on this website) and let me know who your group is. I’ll work with your group to find a time to play. It may take a while—summer is an especially busy time for me—but I’ll make sure we get to play before the end of 2018. With that said, The Gauntlet takes place on May 20th, so there’s not a lot of time to donate. Again, the Twogether Studios donation link is here. Whether or not you have the ability to donate, thanks for reading!

Now, on with the Q&A…

I was wondering about bone knights and their place in Karrnath. Are they still a component of Karrnathi culture and society after the war? Were they created specifically for the Last War or did Karrnath have a longer history with these more military necromancers? Is Kaius opposed to the Blood of Vol generally or the Emerald Claw specifically, and if the former is the Bone Knight thing something he wants gone from Karrnath?

There’s a lot of topics to unravel. From a canon perspective, my take is laid out in City of Stormreach and more specifically, the Eye on Eberron article on Fort Bones in Dungeon 195. Here’s the key points.

  • The core Karrnathi culture focuses on martial skill and discipline. It has nothing to do with necromancy or the use of undead.
  • The Seekers of the Divinity Within have long had a presence in Karrnath. This religion has a close association with necromancy and the practical use of the undead. The Bone Knight is specifically a Seeker tradition: an expert in commanding undead forces in combat. EoED195 calls out that Seekers of the Divinity Within served alongside Karrn the Conqueror and Galifar I. However, they were a minority faith and the army as a whole didn’t rely on or embrace their traditions.
  • When Karrnath faced plagues and famines during the Last War, the Queen of the Dead offered the assistance of the Blood of Vol. In exchange, the crown was obliged to recognized and elevate Seekers and to promote their faith. The chivalric orders of the Blood of Vol expanded. Undead were produced in greater numbers than ever before and became a critical part of Karrnath’s military strategy, resulting in a need for even more Bone Knights to command them.
  • Over time, the famines were brought under control and the balance of the war shifted. The traditionalist warlords despised both the erosion of Karrnathi military tradition and the increased political power of the Seekers. Furthermore, the use of undead disturbed the other nations. With the war closing, Kaius strengthened his position with the traditionalist warlords and the other nations by disavowing the Blood of Vol and stopping the production of undead, sealing the majority of the undead legions in the vaults below Atur. Most of the Seeker orders were disbanded, though some Seekers (and undead troops) have remained in service, most notably in Fort Bones and Fort Zombie. Kaius has continued to use the Blood of Vol as a convenient scapegoat to direct the frustration of his people, and has gone so far as to blame the Seekers for the plagues and famines that originally weakened the nation.

So, looking to the questions specifically: In my opinion, the Bone Knight is an old Seeker tradition, but one that was very uncommon before the Last War because the Seekers weren’t part of the Karrnathi military tradition; their numbers increased during the Last War in order to manage the undead forces. Kaius is publicly using the Blood of Vol as a useful scapegoat. He doesn’t NEED very many Bone Knights since he’s retired most of the undead; he’s dismissed most and allowed some to be persecuted as war criminals. However, regardless of this public image he’s not personally opposed to the Seekers. He’s maintained Fort Bones and Fort Zombie, and has a small cadre of Bone Knights and necromancers whose loyalty to the nation outweighs their anger at the treatment of their brethren.

Are Bone Knights mostly Seekers or would one devoted to the Dark Six or the Sovereign Host be capable of getting far?

There’s a number of factors. They’re mostly Seekers because it’s an ancient Seeker tradition, tied to their long-standing use of practical necromancy. Theoretically someone who follows another faith could fill that role, but it requires deep devotion to the necromantic arts. If you revere the Sovereign Host—honoring Dol Arrah and Aureon—how do you embrace this dark path? The Shadow and the Keeper are the Sovereigns who would guide you on this road, and that’s a viable path, but not exactly one that Karrnath would celebrate and encourage. So sure; I think someone devoted to the Dark Six could become an accomplished Bone Knight, but that faith won’t make them any more acceptable to the general public than the Seekers… and might even result in greater distrust and suspicion.

Is the Order of Rekkenmark’s opposition to necromancers something which would prevent a Bone Knight from excelling in their organization (as advisors to the King, movers and shakers politically)?

It’s something that would make it VERY DIFFICULT for a Bone Knight to advance in their organization, absolutely. But nothing’s impossible. It simply means that the Bone Knight in question would have to be a soldier of unparalleled accomplishment and skill, someone whose dedication to Karrnath and the king is beyond reproach. It’s possible Alinda Dorn, commander of Fort Bones, is a member of the Order of Rekkenmark. She’s an advisor to and confidante of the king in any case; it’s simply a question of whether he embraces that publicly, or prefers to keep his favor for her hidden from the traditionalist warlords.

Are the rituals for creating Mabaran undead and Irian deathless completely different, or do they look fundamentally alike except for the power source?

ALL rituals for creating undead and deathless are completely different from one another. The techniques used to create deathless are dramatically different from rituals used to create Mabaran undead. But there’s no ONE TRUE RITUAL for creating undead. Looking above, a Bone Knight who draws power from faith in the Shadow and the Keeper should use different trappings from one following the path of the Divinity Within. The techniques of a wizard will as a rule be entirely different from those employed by a cleric. One’s a form of arcane science; the other an act of extreme devotion. In my opinion, the Seeker traditions walk a line between these two sides, drawing on both devotion and a form of science. We’ve established that the Odakyr Rites used to create the sentient Karrnathi undead were a breakthrough developed during the Last War—and as such, themselves unlike the techniques used elsewhere.

Did the Dhakaani have any rites or rituals to create undead? 

Did the Dhakaani as a culture embrace the creation of undead or develop techniques for creating them? Definitely not. The Dhakaani were a culture driven by martial excellence. They were agnostic (thus lacking clerics) and had very limited interest in the arcane. So no, there were no institutionalized necromancers in the Empire. With that said, it was a vast civilization that lasted for thousands of years. During that time, could a small group have developed such techniques? Could there be a Kech Mortis that has perfected these techniques during its centuries of exile, which now claims the Imperial throne with its army of undead heroes? Sure, why not! But just like Karrnath, the traditionalist like the Kech Sharaat would like be disgusting by this strange deviation from the true path.

Did they have answers to the spawn-creating plagues like ghoul fever?

The primary arcane path the Dhakaani embraced was the path of the Duur’kala, which is to say the bard. The Duur’kala inspire heroes in battle, but they also used their abilities to heal and to enhance diplomacy. The bardic spell list includes lesser restoration and greater restoration. So, there’s your answer. Now again, if you like the idea of a Kech vault that was overrun by a zombie plague the duur’kala couldn’t contain—so PCs stumbling into an ancient Dhakaani fortress filled with undead—I’m all for it. As a culture they had a tool for it, that doesn’t mean everyone always had access to that tool.

Is it very difficult to travel across the Barren Sea? Are there ports in, say, the Shadow Marches that get trade directly from Sarlona?

This is largely covered in Secrets of Sarlona. Riedra strictly limits contact with foreigners, and Dar Jin is the only port that accepts general commerce. Other than that, there are a few outposts in Ohr Kaluun and a harbor in Adar. So, it’s not so much that it’s difficult as it is that there’s very few places to go.

Zarash’ak is the only major port in the Shadow Marches, though you could certainly introduce a smuggler’s outpost on the coast near Slug Keep. It’s certainly reasonable to think that Zarash’ak could have traffic with Riedran ships from Dar Jin.

And does the majority of trade between, say, Karrnath and Breland go via boats through the Lhazaar Principalities, or is the faster/cheaper to use overland shipment?

I addressed this specific question in a previous Q&A, so check that out. River barges, lightning rails, and airships are all options, though the Lhazaar route is also a possibility.

Do you have any brief tips for involving the Venomous Demesne into a campaign?

The Venomous Demesne is a Tiefling city-state on the far side of Droaam. They’re isolationists and largely unknown in the Five Nations. I discuss hooks for characters from the Venomous Demesne in this article. As for ways to use it in a campaign, here’s three ideas entirely off the top of my head.

  • The Venom Lords are working on an Eldritch Machine. They’ve sent agents into the wider world acquiring the rare components required for this device. Are they working on behalf of the Daughters of Sora Kell, or does the device have a more sinister purpose?
  • The vaults of the Venomous Demesne hold secrets that date back to the ancient nation of Ohr Kaluun. The player characters could need to acquire Kaluunite lore for an unrelated plot: tied to another Eldritch machine, to a path of the Prophecy, or perhaps to understanding some sort of demonic threat. To get what they need, they’ll have to go to the Venomous Demesne and earn the trust of its lords.
  • A variation of the previous idea is needing something that can only be obtained or acquired in the Venomous Demesne: a particular magic item or artifact, learning a spell, etc.
  • The lords of Ohr Kaluun made pacts with a wide variety of extraplanar and fiendish forces. If you want to do something with some sort of archfiend (such as demon lords from Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes), one of the lines of the Demesne could work as its agents (or be opposed to it, but still know its secrets). Personally I’d use such a being as a powerful force in Khyber—below the level of an Overlord, but nonetheless a powerful threat that has recently broken loose from binding and is just starting to rebuild its influence in Eberron.

Is there any possibility of getting a (rough) timeline of when the events of human/Sarlonan history occurred? Were there any trade relations between Dhakaan and Khorvaire at some point, or was Lhazaar the first human to see the shores of Khorvaire?

The ancient nations of Sarlona are left intentionally vague so that they can fill the role you want them to fill. I see no reason that Lhazaar should be the first human to have set foot on Khorvaire; in all likelihood, she set out for Khorvaire because she’d heard stories of the land from previous explorers. The idea of canon is that Lhazaar’s expedition marked the first sustained and successful contact between the two. If you want to have players stumble across the ruins of an Uorallan outpost in the Shadow Marches — evidence of a settlement completely lost to history — do it. But I don’t think we’ll be defining those pre-Lhazaar civilizations in significantly more detail in a canon source.

(The founder of the Kalashtar) Taratai is female in Races of Eberron, and male in Secrets of Sarlona. Which is it?

It’s a legitimately confusing issue. Here’s a quote from “The Legend of Taratai” in Secrets of Sarlona (page 24):

She led sixty-seven spirits that became the kalashtar to Adar, where the monk Hazgaal and his students accepted them. In Hazgaal’s body as Haztaratai (though many stories still call her Taratai), she taught and wrote the precepts of the Path of Light… 

So: both SoS and RoE agree that the kalaraq quori Taratai identified as female. However, per SoS she bonded with the human monk Hazgaal, who was male. This means that the spiritual lineage of Taratai were male kalashtar, though they were bound to a female spirit. Quite a few kalashtar lines have this sort of disconnect, which results in a great deal of gender fluidity within kalashtar culture.

Do the Kalashtar believe in reincarnation, like the Riedrans do?

Sort of, but they aren’t as concerned with it as the Riedrans are. First of all, as a kalashtar you are already part of something immortal. You are bound to the quori spirit, and your memories and experiences remain with the spirit even after your physical body dies; so the kalashtar don’t see death as an absolute end. Beyond that, SoS notes that the Path of Light maintains that “Dolurrh is a place where the ego dies, but the spirit is immortal, and it returns to the Material Plane again and again.” LIFE is eternal. The soul is part of the celestial machine of the universe. But it’s not about YOU, and they don’t believe that the form your spirit takes in its next incarnation is somehow tied to your actions in your previous life, as the Path of Inspiration states. It’s not a reward or a punishment; it’s just the nature of the universe. Your legacy remains with your lineage, and the soul that was yours continues on its journey.

Why didn’t the Inspired seize Syrkarn as well as the other ancient kingdoms, instead satisfying themselves with a shallow “protectorate” title and some behind-the-curtain schemes?

The Inspired have no interest in conquering Syrkarn. The territory is too large, the population too low, and they are still concerned about the lingering threat of the rakshasa rajah buried beneath the realm. The Inspired don’t feel a need to control every single individual; they are looking to control massive populations. There’s not enough people in Syrkarn to be worth the effort, doubly so when combined with the vast stretches of relatively barren land… not to mention the threat of the Overlord.

More generally, what makes Syrkarn interesting, according to you, as a playground?

First of all, it’s a part of Sarlona in which people can move freely. Second, I’d look to page 86 of Secrets of Sarlona. Scheming yuan-ti! An Overlord stirring! Karrak cults! The Heirs of Ohr Kaluun and the Horned Shadow! Relics from pre-Sundering Sarlona! Tribal conflicts (perhaps stirred up by the yuan-ti or the Overlord)! Possibly even surprising ties to the giants of Xen’drik, lingering through the eneko.

From a game design point of view, why define Sarlona as being a blind spot in the Draconic Prophecy? 

It’s summed up on page nine of Secrets of Sarlona: “The dragons of the Chamber shun Sarlona, but they want to know what is transpiring beyond its shores. PCs who have ties to the Chamber, the Undying Court, or even the Lords of Dust could be sent to explore mysteries related to the draconic Prophecy.” By making it a region where dragons fear to tred, we add a reason why player characters should go there; it provides a range of potential story hooks you don’t have in other lands.

Adar is wider than Aundair or Thrane (while understandably less populated). Now that the kalashtar can see the Inspired openly moving unto Khorvaire, how comes Adar didn’t make itself known too, nor officially voice some warning?

First of all, per SOS it’s population density is around one person for every two square miles of land—lower than Alaska or Tibet. Its people have been described as “insular to the point of xenophobia.” Direct travel between Adar and Khorvaire is extremely difficult, meaning that you have no regular stream of commerce or communication, nor any particular interest in such commerce. We’ve established that the Adaran kalashtar believe that the battle against il-Lashtavar will be won by their persistence and devotion: they don’t NEED to get the world on their side, they just need to hold their ground and continue what they are doing.

Many kalashtar in Khorvaire hold to the same general belief: we will triumph through perseverance. What’s important is protecting our community and continuing our devotions. Some younger kalashtar have embraced more active intervention, but even they largely believe that this is their war to fight, and that the humans wouldn’t listen to them or believe them. And they’re likely right. Riedra is a valuable trade partner, and it has come to the assistance of many nations during the Last War. There is a concrete benefit to working with Riedra. By contrast, Adar has virtually no recognition and nothing to offer. Even if I believe your story about the leaders of Riedra being aliens, the leaders of the Aereni are DEAD and we deal with them. And you may SAY that they want to conquer the world, but I’m not seeing it happening, and trust me, crazy monk, if they start any trouble, we can handle it. So: self-interest and arrogance are likely to outweigh the stories of the few kalashtar who do speak out against Riedra.

While religions are not required to comment on the truth or falsity of each other’s doctrines, are there any Adaran scholars aware of the Valenar and their apparent reality of the potential continuity of identity their (in purely mechanical terms) higher average levels indicate?

Possibly. There’s not a lot of overlap between them, geographically or culturally. But I don’t think there’s much to debate. Spirits exist; devotion creates positive energy that can sustain a spirit, as proven by the concrete example of the Undying Court; devoted Valenar display a level of skill that seems to support guidance from ancestral spirits. I could see a follower of the Blood of Vol saying “But how do you know that the spirit isn’t just a manifestation of YOU? The power comes from within you; you’re just creating this myth of your ancestor to help you interpret it.” I could see someone else saying “You’re getting guidance from a spirit, but are you sure it’s not some kind of demon or something masquerading as your ancestor?” Essentially, i don’t think there are many people saying that the Tairnadal religion has no grounding in reality; but I could imagine people arguing that some of the DETAILS might not be what the Valenar believe them to be.

How much of the ancient history of the Giant Empire is known in Khorvaire, and since when? On the one hand, it makes plenty of sense, both in-world and for game purpose, that it’s still shrouded in mystery, that only a few scholars and daring explorers start to poke at. But on the other hands, there are elves assimilated in Khorvaire since centuries, and their whole culture revolves about perpetuating tradition: why would they hide their stories from the other races?

There’s quite a few factors here.

  • The elves know THEIR history. That doesn’t mean they know the history of the giants. Consider the tale of Cardaen. “He was born in a high tower, and Cul’sir made sure his feet never touched the ground.” That’s quite different from “He was born in the city of Aulantaara in the year 14,004 RTC, where he served as an arcane adjunct to the Cul’sir College of Evocation, eventually rising to the Fourth Circle.” The Elves have preserved STORIES about the giants; that doesn’t mean they ever knew the absolute FACTS.
  • The elves are isolationist by nature. Their history and the tales of the ancestors are part of the foundation of their religion, and we’ve never suggested that they want members of other species to adopt their religion. I think they’d spread some details out of pride, but at the same time, I think there’s a certain level of “Our history is none of your business.”
  • The civilizations of the giants fell forty thousand years ago on another continent. How much does the typical westerner know about Sumerian history? If someone threw a musical version of the myth of Gilgamesh onto Broadway, do you think it would dethrone Hamilton? I’m sure SCHOLARS know as much as is known about the history of the giants, and that reflects the information you could get with a History check. But I think most humans just don’t care about the history of the giants; it’s an obscure ancient civilization that has virtually no relevance to their modern lives.

So, COULD a modern playwright produce a play about the story of Vadallia and Cardaen? Absolutely. I’m sure that there’s multiple versions of just such a play created over the millennia by phiarlans. But is such a play going to appeal to a modern human audience, or would they rather see a tale of Lhazaar, or Karrn the Conqueror, or Aundair’s forbidden love, or the sacrifice of Tira Miron? It’s possible that it would succeed—that it would be exotic and unusual and people would latch onto it. But even so, what people would then know about the giants is the same as a human who knows about early American history because they watched Hamilton; they know Cardaen was a slave who worked magic, but that doesn’t mean they know much about the actual structure of the Cul’sir Dominion, beyond the name of its evil titan king. Personally I think it’s the same general model as what the typical Westerner knows about Sumer, or ancient Egypt: the names of a few of their rulers, sure. A few stories that have been featured in popular culture or enshrined by scholars. But if you stopped someone on the street, do you think they could tell you about the structure of the Egyptian military under the Pharaoh Snefru? How many pharoahs could they name? Could they tell you how many dynasties their were? And that’s a human culture that existed just five thousand years ago.

So: I don’t think the history of the giants is an ABSOLUTE mystery. I think the common person knows that there were multiple giant cultures; that they enslaved the elves; that there was an elvish uprising and the giants were destroyed by dragons. They might know the name Cul’sir specifically because they’ve encountered it in Elvish tales, the way many Westerners know Cleopatra because of her role in popular culture but have never heard of Menes… or they might just know him as “that evil titan king.” But I doubt the common person knows much more than that.

If you have questions on these or other topics, ask below!

Erandis Vol: Hot or Not?

Having just posted a piece on the Mark of Death, I thought I’d throw this up here. This is a collection of excerpts from a conversation on the WotC Eberron forum. You can find the full thread here; this concerns my thoughts on Erandis and liches. How have you depicted Erandis in you campaign? What’s your opinion on liches?

(DoctorBadWolf ) So, I don’t really get the whole Lich = Hideous corpse thing to begin with. They’re more powerful than vampires, and their magic can’t keep them looking like living people if they want, without illusion magic? I know in Eberron canon is less important, but I’m wondering if it’s actually canon, or just an assumption, that Erandis looks gross.

(EnderXenocide0) I’ve always seen Erandis as being deceptively beautiful. Perhaps most liches become so monstrously disfigured by the sheer weight of the negative energy they use to convert themselves into undead, but maybe the Mark of Death allowed Erandis to be transformed without her body undergoing the cosmetic changes. I like the idea of her body having this sense of timelessness to it, as though a switch was flipped one moment and she just stopped changing.

Obviously, this is one of those “Do what you want in your own campaign” things. With that said, I believe in the ugly lich for a number of reasons.
Undead are infused with negative energy. That’s “anti-life”, fundamentally. Coming into contact with them tends to cause physical harm to living creatures, as your life force gets drained, you get paralyzed, etc. In 4E, just being close to a lich can hurt a living creature. This backs up the assertion of the Undying Court is that merely bringing this energy into Eberron fundamentally hurts the life-force of the world itself. So, point one: this is an extremely unnatural thing.

Liches are efficient. A lich doesn’t need blood to survive. It is sustained purely by Mabar and magic. The organs of its body, from skin to eyes, are extraneous. I’ll note that liches have darkvision; in my opinion this isn’t because their eyesight has improved, it’s because they don’t have eyes anymore. Their souls are anchored to the world through their phylactery, and a body is thrown together, but it’s just a shell for the soul and has no need for any of the pleasantries.

So what about vampires? If liches are ugly, why do vampires get to be pretty? Because vampires aren’t as efficient as liches. They require blood to survive. Which in turn means they need a circulatory system. They need to thrive as predators among the living which means that they HAVE to be able to pass as living, so they need skin and such. A vampire has specific anatomical weaknesses: it can be killed with a stake through the heart or decapitation (well, if you play with such rules). A lich can’t. It has fully transcended these and is immortal unless you find the phylactery. The body is just a shell for the soul, bound together by that unnatural negative energy.

Deathless are ugly, too. The Undying are sustained by positive energy, and yet they are also ugly. Because they’re done with their bodies. Unlike the vampire, none of it is necessary anymore. It’s why you have Aereni artificially dessicating themselves… because the flesh is temporary. The dissolution of the body is nothing to fear if you preserve and perfect the soul.

Having said all of that, I have Erandis use magic to APPEAR attractive. And she’s got access to very, very powerful magic. When she needs to fool people, she can and she does. If you ever see her ugly face, things are likely going to be very bad for you. But I still like the fact that underneath it she’s hideous, for a few more reasons.

She’s a tragic figure. She didn’t ask for her fate. Even among the Aereni, most say to enjoy life before becoming deathless. To me, emphasizing that her current state ISN’T pleasant or serene makes her all the more tragic. Having her dragonmark be a withered remnant of its true self – having her stare at it in the mirror, knowing what it should be – is what will drive you mad. I could even see her creating a persistant spell and trying to forget her appearance, because she’s NOT as serene about things as the deathless are.

It’s creepier. When her appearance is a glamour hiding something hideous – something you can imagine but can’t see – to me, that makes her a much more intriguing and disturbing character.

WITH THAT SAID: That doesn’t mean I endorse the image/figure we’ve seen of her. I play her as less physically imposing. But still very, very dead.

But as I said… that’s my Erandis.

( DoctorBadWolf) I see the Vols being less…base and ugly about their approach to undeath than the standard necromancer. I could see Vol necromancers raising skeleton knights in a way that their bones look like onyx or emerald or ruby, or covered in obscure runes, etc. Basically, I expect the sort of ritualism and artistry that comes with religious devotion to change the look and feel of their undead, to some extent.

I’m all for being artistic with the bones. My point was simply that I’m fine with undead who are purely self-sustained (liches, death knights) being desiccated/bare-bones as opposed to the full-flesh pretty vampire. To my mind, this is actually one of the things that makes the vampire weaker than the lich: it still NEEDS the body more.

I’m also a big fan of the ornate deathmask concealing the face; as you may recall, the death-mask is the holy symbol of the Undying Court. We could get into a much longer discussion about the symbolism of that mask, but that’s not about Erandis.

(DoctorBadWolf) I think that a Lich of her power could also simply choose what her body looks like, since it is just a…shell to house her soul and giver her being focus and form. This would be similar to the illusion magic, except that she’s physically altering her body to look a certain way. Ultimately, it’s a lie, but it’s one you can poke with a stick without revealing, as it were. Also, for some reason I have this image of her dragonmark sometimes writhing on her skin, or glowing, or other strange effects, like it has a will, and is…imprisoned by her undeath.
Perhaps it’s difficult for her to keep her body in the form she remembers, as the centuries pass and her memory gets less distinct. Perhaps she no longer looks at all natural, but more like the image of an adolescant elf from the imagination of someone who has never seen one, with too high cheek bones and eyes too large, etc. Another creepy and tragic option.

Sure; if you’re using a 3.5 variant, that’s a second level spell (alter self as opposed to disguise self). A trivial action for a wizard of her power. So there’s no question that it’s within her power to look however she wants to look. The question is what her base form looks like, and the point I’ll make here is that she didn’t do this to herself. It’s not her spell. Her parents turned her into a lich while she was most likely just a fledgling wizard. This is why I hold to the idea that she doesn’t know where her phylactery is – because it’s not HER phylactery, it’s something her parents designed to protect her. In a sense, she is a prisoner in her own undeath. Hence, I like the idea that she can hide from her natural form using the magic she’s learned; but her default state is one that’s forced upon her. It’s as perfect as undeath can be. It’s immortality without any need for blood or anything else. But it remains undeath: a cold life without the physical joys that come with our physical weaknesses. Again, it’s why the Aereni will raise someone from the dead as opposed to making them Deathless if they die too young; they haven’t had time to experience all that true life has to offer.

Now again, I’m all for the artistic shaping of the lich form – bones of ebony, runic engravings, and so on. I just like that form being clearly dead because that’s what it is – a soul torn from the natural cycle of life and death and kept in place by the darkest of forces.

My final point here is that I want a clear distinction between deathless and undead. Per 4E, the Mabaran forces are so dangerous that if the lich “lifts its reactor shielding” it can kill anyone who comes within 25 feet. The line of Vol maintained that their Mabaran techniques were superior to those of the Undying Court because they ensured that the undead could survive on its own – that it could take what it needed from the world, while the Deathless rely on the energy being given. As such, I don’t see the fundamental principle of Vol’s line being “serenity”; I see it as grim determination to battle death to the end.

Changing topics, bear in mind that the modern religion of the Blood of Vol is not the faith of the line of Vol. It is a modern adaptation that has gone in a different direction. The line of Vol was content with lichdom as a form of immortality. For the modern faith, undeath is not the answer; it’s a temporary measure. The goal of the modern faith is to unlock the divine spark of the soul and to acheive personal divinity as a living being… and the belief is that once you’re undead, this spark is lost. This is backed up by the fact that Erandis can’t use her mark. Essentially, she’s immortal yet forever denied her true potential. The goal of the Seeker is to get the potential; those who become undead are in fact martyrs.

(Edymnion) I would question Erandis not knowing what her own phylactery was for that very reason.  If her body is destroyed, as per being a lich she’ll always reform from the corpse closest to her phylactery.  I would assume this has happened to her several times over the millenia, and that she’s smart enough to realize that she keeps waking back up in the same general area that she’d start testing it.  Laying out some gentle repose bodies and waiting for the next time and seeing which one she wakes up in next.  Repeat until she finds it, if she didn’t already know where it was.  After all, she’s very clever, and she’s been a lich for a very long time, its not like she’s got that much else to do.

My point is EXACTLY that. If she follows the standard rules and reforms in the immediate area of her phylactery, then she’ll know where it is. And if she can figure it out, so can the Deathguard or her enemies in Argonnessen. Most liches transform themselves. They’re already powerful wizards. Erandis wasn’t; it was a last ditch effort by a powerful wizard determined to keep her in existence at all costs. Thus, my assertion is that she DOESN’T reform near her phylactery. She reforms in a random, unpredictable location. Thus, she was probably killed a half-dozen times in the first century after her rebirth, before she grew in power and found a safe haven. But each time, she appeared somewhere new and it took her enemies time to track her down again. And over time she became that powerful wizard.

There’s nothing on it one way or the other in canon sources. It’s simply my personal opinion based on the fact that her state is something that was done to her instead of by her, and done with the determination to preserve her against extremely powerful and brilliant enemies.