Thelanis in Play: Manifest Zones

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

Manifest zones are places where the walls between worlds are thin, where the influence of a plane can be felt on Eberron. A manifest zone could extend for miles, encompassing an entire forest or city… or it could be as small as a single well or a stone arch in the midst of a grove.

Every manifest zone influences its environs in a manner connected to its plane. However, two manifest zones tied to the same plane can have wildly different effects. By and large, Thelanian manifest zones tend to impart a sense of otherworldliness to their environs. Plants might be unnaturally healthy, colors especially vivid. This could be idyllic; hostile creatures might avoid the tranquil grove and its always-pure fountain. But it could just as easily be unnaturally menacing. You’re safe in Taiden Wood as long as you stay on the path… but those who venture off the path are rarely seen again.

Overall, Thelanian zones tend to fall into one of three categories.

Gateways. There are many tales of heroes or adventurers who accidentally find themselves in the Faerie Court, certainly more so than any other plane. This is due to the fact that many Thelanian zones serve as portals between the worlds. These are rarely constantly active. Instead, they are triggered under certain circumstances: a particular confluence of moons; a hunter pursuing a particular beast; someone newly in love, or someone whose heart has just been broken. Needless to say, these circumstances can be whatever you want them to be… as long as this justifies the fact that people aren’t using the portal every day. For purposes of an adventure, this is an easy way to take players to Thelanis. It can happen accidentally; they happen to hit the right circumstances to activate the gate and are suddenly in Thelanis. It may take a while for them to realize this, if the local environs are similar on both sides. More important, the gate may not work both ways – so one of the biggest challenges may be finding a way back! Alternately, the adventurers might know about the gateway and have to figure out how to activate it – whether to escape an unbeatable foe, to find someone who has been lost in Thelanis, or to reach an artifact or ally in the Faerie Court.

Beachheads. Sometimes a manifest zone actually brings a piece of Thelanis directly into the material plane. This is the case with the Feyspires introduced in the fourth edition of D&D (and featured in The Fading Dream), and is the general concept of the Twilight Demesne in the Eldeen Reaches. Like the gateways, these are typically temporary. Coterminous periods, phases of the moon, or special circumstances might trigger a beachhead. It could be that the locals know about it and that the arrival of the beachhead is a celebrated and anticipated event… whether by the community as a whole or by a small sect, such as a group of Greensingers who celebrate with the Fey on nights when three moons are full. Or the beachhead may be a cause of alarm – such as Taer Syraen in Karrnath, where the local warlord is concerned that the Feyspire is an invading force. The Feyspires are full cities, but a beachhead could be anything. Perhaps an archfey’s tomb appears once each century, providing a rare chance to delve into this dungeon. Or a monster appears and haunts the region for one night a month; will you track it down before it disappears again?

Influence. The most common manifest zones simply bring some of the flavor of Thelanis to the region without offering a direct connection. As described above, this influence could be seen in the environment. You can’t actually go to Thelanis, but you might find a dryad in the woods, or a talking wolf that embodies your fears. Such influence can also be intangible. Perhaps if you make a promise in the grove it must be kept, or if you bury your sword and the hair of a murderer by the blood-red tree it will become a bane blade for purposes of taking vengeance.

The critical point is that Thelanis is the place where the world works like a faerie story – and that the manifest zone can bring a touch of that into the real world. You can have magic that doesn’t strictly follow the rules, like the unbreakable vow… or simply something unexpected, like the dryads in the trees.

Putting all of this together, here’s a few ideas for Thelanian manifest zones.

  • Taiden Woods. People have always shunned this dark forest. In the past a few local lords have sought to cut it down, but none have succeeded. Some say the trees won’t burn, and that they bleed when cut. All that is none for certain is that there is a path that runs through it, and those who stay on the path are safe… but those who leave it are often never seen again. Walking the Taiden path you may hear lovely voices calling to you, or beautiful music. But if you value your life and those you love, never leave the path. Taiden Wood shows the influence of Thelanis, but the last few sentences suggest the idea of a gateway. It doesn’t always happen, but if you hear the music and follow it you will find yourself in Thelanis – and this is why many of those who leave the path truly never return. Beyond this, the wood is home to a few dryads that don’t like people, some enhanced predators, and a few other lesser fey. 
  • The Tomb of the Forgotten King. In the Mror Holds, the old miners tell a story of the Tomb of the Forgotten King. It varies from telling to telling, but core details remain the same. It cannot be found by those who seek it out; instead, it is found when a traveler seeks shelter in a cave and discovers deeper passages. Following these tunnels, they find themselves in a ancient tomb. Jewels are embedded in the walls. Coins are heaped on tables, spilling onto the floor. In some versions of the story, there are guardians patrolling the tomb, spirits of stone and metal. In others there are deadly traps. But one detail remains the same throughout all the tales: treasures taken from the tomb always bring misfortune, curses that linger until the thief finds the tomb again and returns what they have stolen… or until the robber dies. In one story the explorer finds the casket of the king himself, and from it takes the Final Blade, whose wounds cannot be healed. He uses it to settle a feud with a rival clan… only to die when he stumbles and cuts his own wrist with the blade. His daughter returned the blade to the tomb, and it has never been seen again. Here we have a beachhead – a piece of Thelanis that comes and goes. It’s also a dwarven tale, so the fey in this tomb will be spirits of stone and steel. Adventurers could stumble upon this by accident, only to have a dwarven PC recognize it from the tales. Will they seek out the Final Blade? 
  • The Grove of Promises. There is a fountain in a nearby forest. No one knows who built it, but its water is clear and pure and it has never run dry. Local stories say that if you make a promise to someone and then share a drink from the fountain that you must keep your word – that if you are false, you will sicken and die. The people of the town perform marriages in the Grove. Young lovers sneak away to pledge their hearts. There are even merchants who like to seal their deals in the Grove. The people of the town never break a promise sworn in the Grove… will you? This is an example of influence. Breaking a vow made on the fountain will afflict the liar with a disease; it can be survived, but it won’t be pleasant. It’s possible that there is actually a fey tied to the fountain who judges such things and can make the punishment more or less severe; and during a coterminous phase, that fey might even be able to manifest and leave the fountain. 

Post your thoughts or questions below!

10 thoughts on “Thelanis in Play: Manifest Zones

  1. Apologies if you’ve already covered this in the Thorn of Breland series:
    Taer Syraen in Karrnath & Shae Joridal in Darguun are both considered threats to their surrounding nations, so is there any cooperation/coordination/intelligence sharing between either the nations or spires to eliminate the threat or protect the spires?

    • We’re essentially in a cold war situation. Everyone’s afraid of a second Mourning, and no one’s grievances were truly settled by the Treaty of Thronehold. Everyone knows another war could easily happen should the Mourning be resolved. Given that, it would take something very significant to engender international intelligence sharing. As is, the spires are more mysterious than threatening. Most are still unknown to the surrounding nations, and they can easily deflect mortal scrying. Shae Joridal seems more threatened than threatening; currently it’s been unable to break the Darguul siege. Taer Syraen is a mystery and its arrogance and refusal to negotiate angers Kaius, but it hasn’t proven itself to be a dire threat… yet.

      Given that, The Fading Dream (third book of Thorn of Breland) revolves around the King’s Citadel discovering some of the Feyspires and wanting to unravel the mystery and evaluate the threat. In the course of it, we also do see some discussion between the Archfey of the Spires. So check that out if you want to see my thoughts in more detail!

    • Pretty much the same as Thelanis and everywhere else. As someone called out last week, the Secrets of Xen’drik sourcebook has a minor encounter with a nymph who’s popped in from Thelanis and settled in. And one story maintains that the elves were created after the Cul’sir giants sacked a Feyspire and experimented on its inhabitants.

      Is there a specific aspect you’re curious about?

      • What about Thelanis manifest zones in Sarlona? Do riedran tollerate them?

        Should we have some very, very Ancient Dragon tale empowering a very, very powerful half-dragon half-fey somewhere?

        • What about Thelanis manifest zones in Sarlona? Do Riedrans tolerate them?

          There is a specific branch of the Riedran military called the Edgewalkers; their purpose is to defend Riedra from extraplanar incursions and threats. In Riedra, Taiden Wood would be isolated with a mile-wide perimeter zone and patrols of Edgewalkers to make sure no one is accidentally lost within. Essentially, the Edgewalkers are what you might have if Galifar had nationalized the Gatekeepers. If you’re curious about the Edgewalkers, they are described on page 68 of Secrets of Sarlona.

  2. So would it be a fair cop to say that any (or all) of these types of manifest zones could show up in Hareth’s Folly? Actually, on that note, what type of architecture would Hareth used to represent Thelanis? Theaters? Buildings made from living trees?

    • So would it be a fair cop to say that any (or all) of these types of manifest zones could show up in Hareth’s Folly?

      Given that Sharn is in a manifest zone to Syrania, it’s questionable whether you can have other manifest zones within that zone… but I could certainly see a gateway that opens under the right circumstances, Sigil-style. But in general, Hareth’s Folly is about appearance as opposed to function. Given that, I would say it’s almost like Disneyland. Hareth would have something that is clearly reminiscent of a classic fey story. You might have something like Rapunzel’s Tower, where you can only enter it by climbing to a high window, or a structure that appears to be made out of ice reflecting the Castle of the Prince of Frost. Whatever it is, the idea is that people would say “OH! He’s made a copy of that shoe that the old lady lives in. How strange.”

      • I note from Khyber’s Harvest that “the village of Blackroot is located on a manifest zone – a nexus point between Eberron and the planes of Xoriat and Mabar”.

        • Sure, but who wrote Khyber’s Harvest? Some clown named… Keith Baker? Well, OK then.

          Though in fairness, this states up front that it’s a double manifest zone. Sharn has always been described as a manifest zone to Syrania, not a manifest zone to multiple planes.

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