This first installment of Keith Baker's new Eberron Expanded column focuses on adapting material from Lords of Madness: the Book of Aberrations, for use in an Eberron campaign.
Overview: The Role of Aberrations in Eberron
In Eberron, all aberrations share a common bond. Thousands of years ago, beings known as the daelkyr led an extraplanar incursion into Eberron. True lords of madness, these shapers of flesh brought with them a host of horrors from the plane of Xoriat. As the daelkyr sank their talons into Eberron, they twisted and corrupted any other creatures unfortunate enough to fall into their clutches. Eventually, the shapers of flesh were defeated and sealed in the underworld of Khyber, where they continue to create new terrors even now.
But the daelkyr were not responsible for all of Eberron's aberrations. According to myth, the world was formed from three dragons. Eberron, the Dragon Between, is the source of all natural creatures, and Khyber, the Dragon Below, spawns fiends and aberrations. So while the daelkyr create monsters in the darkness of the underworld, Khyber continues to generate horrors of its own.
Although many aberrations -- including beholders, mind flayers, and grell -- are natives of Xoriat brought to Eberron by the daelkyr, their creature type remains aberration, not outsider. Just as elementals and lycanthropes can be found on Lamannia and fey exist in Thelanis, aberrations have a place in Xoriat.
Except for matters relating to history, the material in Lords of Madness dovetails quite nicely with that in the Eberron books. For example, aboleth tactics, glyphs, and feats can be taken directly from the book, but a DM wishing to use these creatures must decide how they fit into the history of Eberron, Khyber, and Xoriat. The following sections look at each of the chapters in Lords of Madness and suggest ways to adapt the featured aberrations for use in an Eberron campaign.
According to Lords of Madness, the civilization of the aboleths is the most ancient in existence. The memories of these creatures stretch back to a time before time, and they can recall ancient evils that have long since faded from human knowledge. Only a few simple changes are needed to adapt this concept for use in an Eberron campaign.
The mythology of Eberron mentions a war that took place at the dawn of time. Most legends speak of the rakshasas as the first fiends and refer to them as the most ancient enemies of the light. But these creatures were not the only children of Khyber -- the oceans became home to the aboleths at about the same time as the first rakshasas were created. The rakshasas ruled the land, but the aboleths held sway in the deep waters, unknown to all but a few. Both battled dragons and couatls, and in time, both saw the Elder Evils cast down and bound by the Silver Flame. After this defeat, the aboleths retreated to the depths where no dragon could follow them. In the hundreds of millennia since, they have slowly returned, spreading their influence across the world. Now the aboleths wait for the day when the Silver Flame will gutter and die, allowing the Elder Evils to return and claim the world as their own.
If you accept this version of Eberron's history, the aboleths become contemporaries of the Lords of Dust and enemies of the Chamber and the Church of the Silver Flame. The Elder Evils -- those ancient powers bound by the Silver Flame -- are also known as the rakshasa rajahs, though this latter name is simply a title. Eberron's history portrays these overlords as unique spirits with powers far beyond those of any rakshasa, and the Elder Evils detailed in Lords of Madness certainly fill the bill. Thus, they can also serve as the powers behind the Lords of Dust and the Carrion Tribes of the Demon Wastes.
Like the dragons and the rakshasas, the aboleths have the perspective required to study and understand the Draconic Prophecy fully, and they have discovered segments of it hidden in the deep waters. Like the rakshasas, the aboleths seek vengeance against the dragons and intend to twist the path of the Draconic Prophecy. As a result, characters working for the Chamber can easily be drawn into conflict with aboleths and their agents.
Beholders served as living artillery during the daelkyr incursion, using the terrible power of their eyes to shatter whole goblin armies. In Eberron, beholders do not reproduce naturally and have not created a culture of their own -- they are simply the immortal servants of the daelkyr. Most continue to serve their masters, commanding subterranean outposts of aberrations or serving as the hidden leaders of various Cults of the Dragon Below. Others lead solitary lives, contemplating mysteries or studying the world. Such lone beholders may manipulate humanoid communities, but their actions are rarely driven by a desire for personal power.
Aside from the material dealing with beholder culture and reproduction, all the information presented in Lords of Madness applies to the beholders of Eberron. Members of the Cults of the Dragon Below believe that these creatures function as the eyes of a greater power. Some insist that they serve Belashyrra, a powerful daelkyr who is also known as the Lord of Eyes. Others claim the beholders are the eyes of Xoriat itself -- that while they serve the daelkyr, they are conduits to a power even greater and more terrible than the shapers of flesh.
The mind flayers are the chief servants of the daelkyr. The elder brains may be daelkyr creations, or they may actually be spiritual and physical extensions of the daelkyr. In either case, the elder brains form the backbone of the telepathic network that links the daelkyr together and allows them to monitor their servants.
Eberron is not the first world that the daelkyr have attacked. It is possible that the mind flayers were created when the daelkyr destroyed the native world of the gith races. If so, the githzerai and githyanki are descendants of those few survivors who fled to Kythri and the Astral Plane, while the mind flayers are descended from survivors of the progenitor race who were twisted in the same manner as the dolgaunts and dolgrims.
Once, a mighty dwarven empire lay beneath the Ironroot Mountains. The founders of the modern Mror clans were exiles from this kingdom. When their descendants finally returned to the depths, they discovered that their ancestral homeland had been annihilated by the daelkyr long ago. But some traces of that ruined kingdom remain -- and among those remnants are the neogi.
Just as the dolgaunts were created from hobgoblins, the neogi were created from dwarves. Though the neogi bear no physical resemblance to their predecessor race, the greed that burns at the heart of the dwarven psyche remains, driving the neogi to consume and control.
Until recently, the neogi were only a legend. Perhaps they had slumbered for a time and were finally awakened when dwarf explorers ventured too far into the depths of the Ironroot Mountains. Now, however, the neogi can appear anywhere in northwestern Khorvaire. Their tunnels stretch far from the Ironroots, and neogi raiders have been encountered in the Lhazaar Principalities, Karrnath, and the Talenta Plains.
Although the neogi are surely daelkyr creations, they have no direct tie to the lords of Xoriat in the present day. Thus, the neogi culture from Lords of Madness is usable as is, except that neogi ships do not travel between worlds. It is quite possible, however, that the daelkyr possess an as-yet-unrevealed ability to control the neogi. If so, the slavers may someday be quite surprised to realize that they are slaves themselves.
Grell are vicious predators driven by their disturbing appetites. Unlike many of Eberron's other aberrations, these natives of Xoriat were not introduced by the daelkyr. Rather, they drifted into the world through the soft spaces that existed between the planes in the time before the Gatekeepers raised their seals.
All of the material on grell in Lords of Madness can be used as is except one item: The grell of Eberron possesses damage reduction 5/byeshk.
The daelkyr are infamous for their use of symbionts and grafts, so it comes as no surprise that the shapers of flesh were also responsible for the tsochar -- parasitical creatures that can enslave or destroy the beings they inhabit. The tsochar are living weapons that the daelkyr release whenever they invade a world. Once freed, the creatures spread out to infiltrate the native species and steal the arcane knowledge of any creatures that might threaten the forces of Xoriat.
The tsochar are deeply religious, but in Eberron, they give their devotion to the daelkyr and the powers of Xoriat rather than to Mak Thuum Ngatha. Tsochar are often associated with the Cults of the Dragon Below, and bonding with a tsochar is among the greatest honors to which a priest of such a cult can aspire -- even if it means his eventual death. A tsochar can be an excellent vector for introducing a cult into a new region -- the fiery street preacher who suddenly appears on the streets of Fairhaven could be a tsochar plant.
Though they remain loyal servants of the lords of Xoriat, the tsochar consider themselves superior to all other daelkyr creations. Unless they are in a clear position of power, they prefer to avoid other aberrations altogether, In particular, a strong rivalry exists between the tsochar and the mind flayers because the former creatures envy the favored position of the illithids.
The Aberration Hunter
Chapter Nine of Lords of Madness provides options for creating player characters with a focus on aberrations -- both characters who hunt such creatures and those who have been tainted by their presence. A detailed discussion of all these options would constitute an article in its own right, but this new material is most relevant to three particular aspects of the Eberron Campaign Setting.
Prior to the Xoriat incursion, the dragon Vvaraak came to Khorvaire and taught a group of orcs certain rituals to defend the natural world from alien influences. Thus were born the Gatekeepers (described on page 241 of the Eberron Campaign Setting). The Gatekeepers are the ones who eventually defeated the daelkyr and bound them in Khyber. Today, the few remaining Gatekeepers guard the ancient seals and hunt the twisted servants of Xoriat.
The abolisher prestige class is a perfect match for the Gatekeeper order, and all of the general feats presented in Lords of Madness are highly appropriate for Gatekeeper rangers or druids. The keeper of the Cerulean Sign and the topaz guardian both share the goals of the Gatekeepers, but they use different techniques. Characters with these classes are more likely to be found among the people of the Seren Islands, who have also been taught by dragons. A dragon of the Chamber who expects to be dealing with aboleths may be able to call on keepers of the Cerulean Sign to aid her in battle.
The darkrunner prestige class is suitable for Gatekeepers, but it is also appropriate for the dwarves of the Mror Holds. Many dwarves are interested in unearthing the history of the fallen kingdom, and some of the greatest heroes of the Mror clans are those who have fought aberrations in the depths below the Ironroot Mountains.
The sanctified mind prestige class is most appropriate for a kalashtar character. Though it is well-suited to fighting the psionic powers of aberrations, it also represents an excellent match for the kalashtars' ongoing struggle with the Dreaming Dark.
The Cults of the Dragon Below
The Cults of the Dragon Below are the primary source of aberrant corruption in Eberron. The fleshwarper prestige class and the aberrant feats presented in Lords of Madness are all appropriate for cultists, as are the Hatred and Corruption domains. The fact that the cults are not unified in belief or structure can be reflected by making different domain choices available to members. Instead of allowing free access to all domains, the DM should choose three of the following for each cult: Corruption, Dragon Below, Earth, Evil, Hatred, or Madness.
The aberrant dragonmark described in the Eberron Campaign Setting can serve as an interesting tie to Lords of Madness. Such a mark typically appears when members of two different dragonmarked bloodlines have children. Although aberrant dragonmarks seem relatively harmless, providing weak powers that cannot be increased, a great deal of superstition surrounds them. In fact, stories say that they actually twist the bearer's body and mind.
But what if these tales were true? If you use this variant, the Aberrant Dragonmark feat becomes an aberrant feat and can be substituted for Aberrant Blood to meet the prerequisites of any other aberrant feat. An aberrant dragonmark may not seem so bad, but when your character develops inhuman reach or inhuman vision, his companions may well start to worry.
About the Author
Keith Baker has been an avid fan of the Dungeons & Dragons game since grade school. His life took a dramatic turn in 2002 when he submitted the World of Eberron to the Wizards of the Coast Fantasy Setting Search. In addition to developing the Eberron Campaign Setting and Shadows of the Last War for Wizards of the Coast, Inc., he has produced material for Atlas Games, Goodman Games, and Green Ronin.