I have Eberron on the brain lately. My home game is reaching that nice cruising altitude where it feels like it has its own momentum and I’m uncovering the story rather than pushing it up a hill. I got into a hyperfixation last week trying to read more about Aerenal, where the majority of Eberron’s elves live.
It’s a good time to be an Eberron Fan. The series on DM’s Guild, “Oracle of War” has 16 adventures released out of 20 expected and a bundle sale is probable. Between those, random DM’s Guild adventures, the Convergence Manifesto series, and Embers of the Last War AL Season, even if you only play pre-published modules there are plenty to choose from. Exploring Eberron was released last year and is a must have book for dramatically expanding lore and player options for the setting. I have been unsubtle in my efforts to suggest how cool Eberron is to my formerly in-person group.
To that end, I have been torturing myself by sketching out some potential characters. This will end in tears. Either the games will be low level and I won’t get to use the fun high level shit or we’re going to be locked in published more railroady adventures that these characters might not fit in with.
One point of commonality in characters I’ve played over the years is that they tend to be fish out of water. Not that they’re all Tritons but that they tend to be cultural outsiders. They are ill-equipped in some fashion to deal with their surroundings. Tando Tossbottle, my OG OC, Halfling Rogue, was a courtier and a diplomat, not the kind of person you send to the Tomb of Annihilation. Savitri was an Aasimar researching Waterdeep for the Upper Planes. Saaragar was the Triton. Ivar is a wereraven stuck in hybrid form wandering around Barovia. I’m sure there are interesting stories to tell with Bob the Human Fighter but I’m not sure I’m interested in telling them.
I also tend to make straight characters. I’m not talking sexuality, what I mean is I try to meet the criteria of, “does this feel like an actual person in a persistent world?” What is this character doing, why are they on this adventure, what would they be doing if they weren’t on this adventure? This is something that drives me nuts about organized play but it’s part of that brand, the idea that once the game stops that character no longer exists. That just always hollows the game for me.
Undying Court Elf Cleric
This is the product of my Aerenal deep dive over the last week or so. Eberron’s brand is to take all your classic fantasy races and tweak them a bit in a logical way. The Halflings are tribal clans riding dinosaurs. The Dwarves are oil barons. The standard Tolkienesque elves in Eberron are necromancers.
The idea here is that the Elves turn their best and brightest individuals into undead. Over the course of their 25,000 year history they have quite a few elves and collectively, they have godlike power. There’s more to it than that but this essay isn’t a complete history of Eberron Elves. They have a lot in common with Wakanda in terms of being an advanced paradise. At the same time, setting creator Keith Baker has highlighted that their obsession with tradition has caused stagnation and shorter lived human races are catching up to them by leaps and bounds. This makes it logical that you have elves with centuries of experience who can be first level characters. As a cleric, their “deity” is the group of their ancestors known as the Undying Court.
Mechanically, I like the idea of the Grave Domain for this cleric. Knowledge would also fit, but most home games tend to be a little more combat focused than would be rewarding to the Knowledge Domain, with it’s huge skill and investigation features. Life also fits but it’s a little standard and OP for my taste. I like the appeal of being this force for good but also a little goth and weird. I also really want to use the Aerenal Elf options in Exploring Eberron, Keith Baker’s DM’s Guild Eberron supplement. Aerenal Elf is an elf subrace in the book. It is basically a High Elf but with +1 Wisdom, Expertise, and a Cleric cantrip that all adds up to making it more suited to Cleric. There is also the “Aerenal Half-Life” feat which gives you some clericy features like the ability to convert Necrotic Damage to Radiant Damage and resistance to both. These options are a little too strong compared to the PHB choices but they’re flavorful. I don’t know if I could sneak them past a DM.
This Fish Out Of Water aspect to being 500 years old adventuring among a short lived culture appeals to me. But I can see how it might make this character a bad fit in some campaigns especially published adventures. To spare a long diatribe on the social contract, it’s a player’s responsibility to bring a character appropriate to the adventure the table is running and the culture of your particular table. We talk about session zero but I have a real hard time telling a friend, “No don’t bring this character to this game.” That’d be wise but I’d rather save some conflict for the player to read the room. Without a long talk with the DM it’s probably not going to be fun to play a character at the table who doesn’t want to do the “Rats in the Cellar” bullshit that adventurers usually get saddled with.
So as much as I would love to explore what it is like the be an Aerenal Elf and a person of faith in a game it would be selfish, inappropriate, and no fun for me and the DM to play a character whose stance on adventures is “Does this affect me and if it doesn’t I’m not interested.” That’s a problem playstyle. It’s a give and take where the players need to bite on the plot hooks and the DM needs to throw some bait on there for everyone. I don’t know if this character would be interested in running a tavern or hunting down 500,000 gold but they’d be really interested in saving the world.
Ghallanda Halfling Cleric, Bard, or Rogue
Speaking of characters who would like to run a Tavern, House Ghallanda! Eberron has large corporations called the Dragonmarked Houses. They’ve used their magically adept bloodlines to monopolize certain industries in the setting. I have a few Dragonmarked characters on my “To Play” wishlist. Picking a Dragonmarked race, like picking a religion, immediately puts you into a faction and answers some basic questions about your character’s place in the world.
The halflings of House Ghallanda dominate the hospitality industry in Eberron. They own and license inns, hotels, taverns, and restaurants. In Eberron, the blink dog sigil holds the same meaning as the St. Bernard with a barrel around its neck. This is a PC that would happily accept a tavern from Volo.
The Dragonmarked Halfling Race is in Rising from the Last War. It becomes your halfling subrace as opposed to a Lightfoot or Stout. You get a +1 stat bump intended for Charisma. Like all Dragonmarked you get a +1d4 bonus to specific skills. In this case those are Charisma (Persuasion), Brewer’s Tools and Cook’s Utensils. You also get the Prestidigitation cantrip and you can cast Unseen Servant and Purify Food and Drink once per day each. You also get a bunch of spells you can add to your spell list. By RAW you are kind of shit out of luck if you choose a non casting class except there are items in Exploring Eberron that allow you to use these racial spells. If you are playing a Dragonmarked Character, ask your DM about getting one of these items. They’re obviously useful for a non-caster but they’re also useful for casters like the bard which only know a set number of spells.
For this subrace, those spells are Goodberry, Sleep, Aid, Calm Emotions, Create Food & Water, Leomund’s Hut, Aura of Purity, Private Sanctum, and Hallow. Exploring Eberron posits that a character with a Siberys dragonmark might gain the ability to cast Magnificent Mansion once per day. The concept of a “Siberys Dragonmark” is a Supernatural Gift as described in the 5e DMG.
What I like most about this potential character is that it’s a supporting character well suited to adventure with players who are new to Eberron. It would be in character for this PC to explain the proper nouns to the other PCs. When the party doesn’t know who King Boranel is, this character can tell them without being in a position to outshine the rest of the party. A Cleric, Bard, or Mastermind Rogue makes them more of a support character. And it would be in character for them to fuss over the little lifestyle expenses for a more hack and slash party that tends to handwave things like “what did we eat last night” or “how are we paying for our rooms.”
For a build I really like the idea of putting two levels of Order Cleric on either a Lore Bard or Mastermind Rogue. Order Cleric gives you the ability to make other people make attacks as you cast spells. It also includes heavy armor and at level 2, the ability to Charm EVERYONE in a certain radius. That is Ghallanda as hell. So I think Order Cleric 2, then Lore Bard would be the best expression of this idea. I also like the idea of taking the Telepathic Feat so you know what people around you need. Makes you the perfect valet.
One challenge I see with this character is that it is really really easy to make a bard with no combat abilities whatsoever. When I think about what spells this character might take I think of Tongues, Create Food, Charm, and Suggestion. Is this a character that would take Thunderwave? Bards are already not really damage dealers but this is pretty bad. There’s a minimum level of combat that most 5e characters need to be prepared for and I’m not sure this PC qualifies. This character is kind of bordering on NPC with their role as the party valet. This character seems like they would be great at using heavy armor and sanctuary and then use the help action to boost the party.
If I had no idea what I was doing or what campaign I was getting into this character would work with anything. This would fit into any Eberron party.
Mark of Shadow Sorcerer or Wizard & Cannith Artificer
I’m putting these two together because they’re the same kind of idea. The appeal of the Mark of Shadow Sorcerer or a Mark of Making Artificer is the synergy. These are the perfect races for these particular classes.
Let’s start with the Mark of Shadow Elf. I am not certain if Wizard or Sorcerer would be better. With the Illusionist Wizard you get the most powerful illusion spells and more flexibility than the Sorcerer since you can change spells every day. But I’m drawn to the Shadow Sorcerer again for that powerful thematic synergy. And also, the lore for Mark of Shadow Elves in Eberron is that they are artists. Performing, visual, written arts of all sorts. Being an artist and Charisma caster just fits so well. So despite the obvious power advantage of the Wizard, I would rather pick the Sorcerer.
The Mark of Shadow Elf replaces your subrace so you get its features instead of Drow or Wood Elf. You get a +1 to Charisma although you probably want to just make the stat bumps +2 Charisma and +1 Dex (with the DM’s permission to be sure). You gain a +1d4 bonus to Performance and Stealth. You know the Minor Illusion cantrip and can cast Invisibility once per day as a racial feature. You also gain spells for your spell list. These are all already on the Sorcerer and Wizard spell list except for Pass Without Trace and for some reason Mislead is only on the Wizard’s spell list.
I would rather do the Shadow Sorcerer even though the Illusionist gets better illusions. The Shadow Origin gets 120 foot Darkvision (so screw you Shadow Sorcerer Drow) and the Darkness spell for free. You can also spend two sorcery points to cast it and if you cast with the points you can see through the magical darkness. You also get a feature that reduces you to 1 HP instead of zero with a saving throw. At 6th level you can summon a dire wolf of shadow. Cool huh?
Eberron’s Mark of Making Human is a variant on the default human in the PHB. You gain +2 to Intelligence and +1 to another stat. You gain a +1d4 bonus to artisan’s tools and proficiency with one type of tools. You learn the Mending Cantrip. You also gain the Magic Weapon spell but it lasts one hour instead of one minute and it isn’t concentration. You are casting the spell with this racial feature, it’s not like you can just throw this out to the whole party. Like all Dragonmarked Races you gain spells for your class list. For the Druid, Cleric, and Artificer who have access to their whole spell lists this gives the most benefit.
The Artificer was introduced in Rising from the Last War. It got updated in Tasha’s with a new subclass. For those subclasses, I’m a little torn between Artillerist or Armorer. On the one hand, I love the Armorer’s flavor. It’s Iron Man! Buuuut on paper the Artillerist is just so much better. If I was starting a game at level 9+ when the Armorer’s class features really start kicking in I’d consider it. But below that it just can’t compare with the Artillerist in combat. I’m not usually the guy who only wants to play the mechanically strongest option but I also don’t want to be a chump.
In the Lore, the humans who bear the Mark of Making are the captains of industry in the Eberron setting. They’re probably the most prominent of the Dragonmarked Houses in the setting. This Mark of Making race and Artificer class are just great together.
Again like the Ghallanda Halfling these are members of the Dragonmarked Houses. Picking a Dragonmark House immediately aligns you with a faction in Eberron and being a PC means you’ll certainly be one of the most powerful members of your house.
Pallid Elf Bard or Warlock
This comes half out of a desire to play a Warlock that doesn’t take Eldritch Blast or Hexblade and half out a desire to play Cole from Dragon Age. My thinking here is that the character is a Living Spell, a Level given shape and form by the strange energy released on the Day of Mourning. This is flavor I’d want to get permission from the DM to use. Most living spells are evocation or conjuration. You encounter living fireballs, living lightning bolts, living Mordenkainen’s Sword. For this character, I envision a living Bless spell or maybe living Geas.
In Dragon Age, Cole is a Spirit of Compassion. He is literally the emotion of Compassion given a human form. Cole is driven to help people with his every action. When he starts out, twisted and unsure what he is, he mercy kills people who genuinely desire to die. But as time goes on he gains a measure of control over his abilities and uses them to help others.
Cole also has certain powers. He has a sort of invisibility where no one seems to notice him and people who do might forget him. He can also erase people’s memories and read their thoughts. He fights like a melee rogue.
What does this mean for a D&D character? Well for starters, I think you pick a Pallid Elf with the Haunted One background. The Pallid Elf is from Wildemount and what we’re here for is their advantage on Insight Checks. For class you have some options. The Inquisitive Rogue, the Whisper Bard, and the Great Old One Warlock all give you part of what I would consider to be Cole’s abilities. At the end of the day though, you probably won’t get all of them or they’ll be expensive enough that the build really doesn’t feel complete until a high level.
This gets to the idea that Cole the Character kind of works better as an NPC but I still love the character and want to bring it to a D&D campaign someday. I think the easiest way to get there would be to use the Whisper Bard. This gets you the ability to truly help and inspire others while at the same time you get these kind of edgy powers. Cole’s powers of memory manipulation and thought detection are typically “evil” coded powers but Cole uses them for good. The Bard also gets Detect Thoughts and Modify Memory.
What the Whisper Bard doesn’t get is a good boost to damage like you might get from the Rogue or Extra Attack which the Warlock gets through Thirsting Blade. Sure you get Psychic Blades but you can’t do it that often and it doesn’t add much damage. So if your campaign is going the distance I’d love to put a few extra levels on there of one or both classes. One thing I strongly recommend picking up with a feat is the “One With Shadows” Invocation. This gives you the ability to become invisible when you don’t move.
Lore wise, I think the way to go is that this spell in the Mournland took the form of a young soldier killed that day. After that, you can just go. It’s a character with a supporting character ethos. You’d want to work with your DM to make sure the campaign has an altruistic bent. This character would not hang out with an excessively mercenary party. In the Dragon Age game, Cole will leave the party if his disapproval gets too great.