Campaign Base Camp: The Town of Ardhmen
The port town of Ardhmen in Syrkarn is a welcome sight for those making the months-long sea voyage from Khorvaire. Even so, a first impression of this ramshackle collection of fishing huts, tents, and patchwork buildings can leave explorers somewhat underwhelmed. Ardhmen is more than it appears, however, as detailed by designer Scott Fitzgerald Gray.
Sarlona is a land of lost histories, contemporary intrigues, and clashing cultures, and nowhere is this more evident than in Syrkarn. Though nominally a protectorate of Riedra, Syrkarn and its people have never been under the direct control of the Inspired. Today, this nation is the land of Riedran exiles, native eneko (half-giant descendants of the ogre kingdoms of old), and the adventurers who seek to uncover Sarlona's secrets.
A generation ago, the town of Ardhmen was a fishing village built up on the rubble of a city that had flourished and fallen twelve hundred years before. Today, the fishing boats and their weathered crews still ply the waters off the Syrkarn coast, but their huts and drying racks are surrounded by an ever-increasing number of farmers, traders, guides, and adventurers. Though still a small town, Ardhmen has become perhaps the most important small town in Sarlona. Kalashtar returning from Khorvaire to Adar, adventurers hoping to cross the frontier into Riedra, and those seeking to explore the wonders of Syrkarn itself all start out from Ardhmen's stone docks.
Small Town, Population 1,400-1,600
"Ardhmen!" they called out a half-hour before, but in all that time, you've been scanning the horizon to no avail. Your passage has calmed since the ship rounded the cape and left the Sea of Rage behind, but though you can see other ships ahead, the city remains somehow obscured from your sight.
Then you realize suddenly that the reason you can't see the city is that there isn't one.
Before you, the great stone docks of the past eclipse a field of fishing cogs and haphazardly scattered neighborhoods of canvas, sod, and stone. A half-dozen wood-frame buildings along the waterfront rise to a story-and-a-half, but the remainder of the town is all single-floored huts and longhouses spread against the setting sun. In Stormreach, you remember the ruins climbing skyward from the steep shoreline, but the flatness here makes it hard to tell where the shore even begins. In Sharn, you've seen house enclaves that took up more space than this.
The Gateway to Sarlona, they called it when you boarded the ship in Regalport all those months ago. You realize now why they were smiling.
Despite its small size and almost complete lack of history, Ardhmen serves as the point of arrival for many Khorvairian adventurers and explorers bound for Syrkarn and Riedra itself. Most legitimate trade ships from Khorvaire make for the major ports of Riedra, but the Inspired allow no unauthorized vessels in their waters. Ardhmen is likewise the most common starting point for adventurers bound for Adar, since its treacherous shores offer few landing sites and little protection from the Riedran forces who besiege that land.
Passage to Sarlona from Khorvaire is a long and arduous journey by any means. Chapter One of Secrets of Sarlona discusses travel options for Sarlona-bound adventurers, and lists times and costs for sea passage from Regalport in the Lhazaar Principalities to Ardhmen, the route most commonly taken by those heading for Syrkarn.
Ardhmen was once the site of the great port city of Irsthaana in the Kingdom of Lamecha, but the magewars of twelve centuries past laid the city waste. What that arcane conflagration started, the Inspired-ordered exodus in the aftermath of the Sundering completed. Today, only Irsthaana's great stone docks remain, silent sentinels jutting out into the green-black waters beyond. Over the centuries in which human exiles and eneko tribes resettled this empty land, those docks became the site of a fishing village named for the eneko sahar who founded it -- Ardhmen.
The first Lhazaar privateers to run the gauntlet of Riedran vessels patrolling the Aventus Islands made landfall at Ardhmen shortly after the end of the Last War. However, with the dawn of a new age of exploration in Khorvaire, Ardhmen has undergone a change in strategic importance to which the town and its people are still struggling to adapt.
Demographics: Humans 50%, eneko 40% (15% permanent, 25% nomadic), kalashtar 3%, dwarves 2%, shifters 2%, other (changelings, elves, half-elves, half-orcs, warforged, Chosen) 3%.
Economics: 1,200 gp purchase limit; 10,800 gp asset limit.
Because it has a higher-than-average percentage of adventurers and explorers passing through it at any given time, Ardhmen has a higher gp purchase limit than most towns of its size.
The Lay of the Land
Ardhmen is a deepwater port on the southeast coast of Syrkarn. Within the sheltered waters between the twin capes of Syrkarn and Adar, Ardhmen is further protected by a ring of rising hills that divert the prevailing winds off the Sea of Lost Souls. The great stone docks of old Lamecha have stood here for uncounted centuries, but the town around them has arisen in a relative heartbeat.
The four hundred fisherfolk who earn their living and sustenance from the sea are the longest-standing residents of Ardhmen, and many of their families lived here when the village was new. The thousand-strong population that long ago eclipsed the fishing families as Ardhmen's primary residents are the farmers, laborers, sailors, traders, and guides who service the Lhazaar privateers plying the Sea of Rage with trade goods -- and the adventurers and explorers who travel with them.
Migrant and seasonal populations make up the balance of Ardhmen's people. This includes the aforementioned adventurers, most of whom make Ardhmen their base of operations before heading for the Tundra, Adar, or the Riedran frontier, and wandering tribes of eneko that travel the Syrkarn trade roads throughout the year.
Though the town might appear ramshackle, its construction is anything but. Syrk culture reflects a deep connection to art and architecture that extends from the days of old Sarlona. Whether stone, wood, or canvas, the shelters of Ardhmen have a kind of utilitarian beauty to them and are built to last a lifetime.
Around the docks, the newer wood-frame buildings of the wealthier traders maintain an air of whitewashed respectability amid the muck. Things get consistently more disordered as Ardhmen expands out toward the hills that separate the town from the sweeping plains beyond. Small knots of human fishing huts bump up against the raucous campfires of eneko tent enclaves. Clapboard taverns rise alongside sod-walled stables and houses of undressed stone, scavenged from the remains of ruined buildings lost beneath the wind-whipped grass.
Like Sarlona itself, Ardhmen is unexplored territory, and the DM can customize the town to serve the needs of any party or campaign. Presented below are a few notable locations, personalities, and adventure hooks designed to serve as starting points or additional twists in a Sarlona campaign.
Elves, half-elves, gnomes, halflings, half-orcs, and warforged are all but unknown in Sarlona, and Khorvairian explorers of those races often feel the foreign nature of this land much more acutely than their human and shifter counterparts. Though changelings can be found in Riedra, they are rare in Syrkarn, and their high standing in the Path of Inspiration means that they often find themselves distrusted by native Tashanans, Adarans, and Syrks.
For members of the "foreign" races, Gilmaezie's stands like a beacon at the edge of a lonely sea. An expatriate Ghallanda halfling name Bilborton Gilmaezie is the owner and barkeep of this dockside watering hole -- the definitive gathering place for Khorvairian adventurers and exiles in Ardhmen. The tavern stocks a better selection of Khorvairian spirits than most public houses in Khorvaire, and those spirits flow in volumes that help keep prices only 10% above the Player's Handbook standard. The tavern's main bar and common room can hold upward of two hundred people, and the place is rarely less than half full. Whatever social and cultural baggage its patrons have carried with them from Khorvaire is left outside the tavern's always-open doors.
Aside from his house specialty (a spiced blend of spirits known as the Ardhmen Reaper, 5 sp per mug), Gilmaezie is best known as a broker of mercenary services. Though sellswords looking to ply their trade will find Ardhmen a much poorer market than most cities of Khorvaire, adventurers looking to join an expedition or seeking compatriots for a mission of their own are well advised to start here.
Adventure Hooks: Gilmaezie's provides a default clearinghouse for campaign hooks. PCs newly arrived from Khorvaire with no specific plans can find themselves offered employment, overhear mysterious rumors, or become the subjects of mistaken identity here. Any interaction in Gilmaezie's might be a stepping stone to a Sarlonan adventure. See the 50 Sarlona Adventures sidebar in Secrets of Sarlona for ideas.
Opilano (NG male human expert 4) is the sahar of Ardhmen -- the nominal leader of the town and perhaps Syrkarn's most vocal ambassador. Recognizable in his ever-present cloak of bright green, the portly Opilano is a constant presence greeting travelers on the docks as the ships of the principalities come in. Though the trading post he founded even before the arrival of the first Lhazaar ships still bears his name, its day-to-day operation is left to his daughter Ghillan and her eneko husband Ahmax Tumagin. Opilano's is the largest of Ardhmen's half-dozen trading posts, all of which carry standard adventuring gear and tools and skill kits from the Player's Handbook and the Eberron Campaign Setting.
The High Cost of Living
Prices for goods and services in Khorvaire are effectively fixed by that land's long-established markets and the mercantile strength of the dragonmarked houses. A longsword in Khorvaire costs 15 gp because that's the price set by the Cannith guilds whose members make them.
A world away from the stability of Khorvaire, prices in Syrkarn reflect the laws of supply and demand. Characters might find themselves on both sides of substantial variations on the standard prices for equipment in the Player's Handbook and other supplements.
When the PCs are buying goods or services in Ardhmen (including transport and lodging), the DM should adjust regular prices by 1d20-5%. That is, standard pricing can run from 4% lower than normal to 15% higher than normal. PCs selling nonmagical gear in Ardhmen should have the selling price (normally 50% of the standard) adjusted by 1d20-15% (from 14% lower to 5% higher than normal).
Adventure Hooks: Opilano does more trade with farmers, hunters, and fishers than with adventurers, but his position as sahar keeps him on the lookout for those whose skills might help the town (and for those likely to cause trouble). Ardhmen has a loose militia consisting of fishers and farmers who can heft a club or flail if need be, but Opilano likes to support their numbers by talking professional sellswords and adventurers into taking short-term contracts as "stalwarts of Ardhmen." In exchange for a minimum one-month commitment, Opilano arranges free board at any of the town's many rooming houses and a stipend of 10 gp per week per person. The job of such stalwarts usually consists of making sure that other gangs of adventurers keep the peace, but skirmishes with agents of the Inspired are not unheard of.
The Brass Dragon
Run by Elibadhma Galgalmemean (NG male eneko expert 6), this smithy and pawnshop is the best place in Ardhmen to buy or sell jewelry, armor, and weapons. Elibadhma maintains a virtual lock on the Ardhmen armaments market by virtue of being the town's best weaponsmith and armorer (+15 Craft [weaponsmithing], +15 Craft [armorsmithing]). Though gruff, the eneko loves a good war story and knocks 5% off the price of his weapons with a DC 15 Diplomacy or Perform (oratory) check made to regale him with tales of adventure.
Adventure Hooks: Elibadhma's skills do not run to magic. As a result, he often finds himself in possession of cursed weapons unloaded by unscrupulous adventurers. One such blade might be resold to a PC, or to an NPC adventurer while the PCs are acting as stalwarts of the town.
The Green Anvil
The Green Anvil was originally just "The Anvil," but the image on its ancient signage long ago turned pale green under the harsh Syrkarn sun. The smith Olana (N male human expert 3) has little skill beyond the forging of plow blades and horseshoes. However, an exclusive arrangement with the eneko who trade among the wandering half-giant smiths of the Andnemun Desert gives him a corner on the market for masterwork arms in Ardhmen. What few realize is that Olana underwrites his profits as a weaponer with a well-established dreamlily smuggling operation, shipping the drug to Khorvaire through contacts on the Lhazaar ships.
Adventure Hooks: Smuggling dreamlily is becoming an increasingly dangerous game in Sarlona, and against the likes of the Dream Merchants, Olana is out of his league. The smith-turned-smuggler might seek the PCs' aid if the Dream Merchants come for him, or he might attempt to frame the party for a smuggling job gone bad.
The Hawk and Moon
Though the smugglers and black marketeers known as the Dream Merchants are rare outside the bastion cities of Riedra, they maintain a quiet presence on the outskirts of Ardhmen. A DC 20 Gather Information check will direct PCs seeking to buy or sell "unique" items to the Hawk and Moon, a junk shop whose dusty wares hint that its most profitable deals are done under the counter. The Hawk's proprietor Dhasuun (CN male human expert 4/rogue 2) is the Dream Merchants' agent in Ardhmen and can be a vital resource for PCs seeking information on Riedra -- especially those hoping to cross the often dangerous Syrkarn-Riedra frontier.
Dhasuun is the only source in Ardhmen for the special substances and items of the Player's Handbook and Eberron Campaign Setting. However, he does most of his business in magic and psionic items, and in the mundane necessities more important than magic to adventurers in Riedra. Chief among these are Riedran traveling papers, for which Dhasuun is one of the few reputable sources in all Syrkarn. Dhasuun's papers are identical to those purchased through the Dream Merchants in Riedra, but they cost a premium of 600 gp each. Dhasuun can also provide notarized sentira parchment at 250 gp per sheet, and will forge a visa for another 75 gp. Dhasuun's forgery skills are exceptional, however, and his work can be revealed only by a DC 25 Search check.
Dhasuun can get his hands on any magic or psionic item up to 10,000 gp in value (at the DM's discretion) in 2d4-1 weeks. He charges a 10% premium for such items over and above their standard cost. As well, he happily purchases any magic or psionic items the Dream Merchants can resell in Riedra. Such items can be sold for the full 50% of their normal value, though cash in excess of Ardhmen's 10,800 gp asset limit will take Dhasuun 1d4 days to procure.
Adventure Hooks: Outside his mercantile activities, Dhasuun's job is to ensure that the robust trade in Ardhmen never threatens the Dream Merchants' established operations. As such, he watches for any signs of PCs attempting to smuggle goods in or out of Riedra itself, and he has no qualms about clandestinely directing agents of the Thousand Eyes to those he finds suspicious. On more than one occasion, Dhasuun is rumored to have sold adventurers Riedran traveling papers, then sent them straight to a waiting patrol on the far side of the frontier.
Volgo's Voice of Khorvaire
Volgo Kyrinala (CN male gnome expert 5/rogue 5) is a former House Sivis heir who has established a communications link between his stationery shop and notary's office in Ardhmen and the Sivis message stations of Khorvaire. Volgo curses his former house incessantly, telling how he was excoriated after being falsely accused of selling sensitive military communications in the dying days of the Last War. Now, his operation is designed in some small part to complicate his former house's official dealings with the Inspired.
A staff of a half-dozen expatriate Sivis heirs (all with the whispering wind ability of the lesser Mark of Scribing) keeps Volgo's four speaking stones active around the clock. The great distance between Sarlona and Khorvaire means that messages often take up to three days to cross the sea, so Volgo does a brisk business with the sending ability of his own greater mark. Messages sent by speaking stone cost the normal 5 gp per page, though clients can pay a flat 20 gp surcharge to avoid the service's 1d4-day backlog. Volgo charges an inflated 350 gp for each use of his sending ability, which he can use once per day.
Some speculate that Volgo and his staff might actually be clandestine operatives working for House Sivis, not against them. The pretense of the gnome's hostile mercantilism could simply be a canny attempt to do an end run around the Thousand Eyes' close watch over Sivis's only official enclave in Dar Jin.
Adventure Hooks: Since Volgo began operations, one of his assistants has been keeping secret copies of any particularly interesting messages she sends. Though the young gnome has no overall goals beyond an obsessive interest in other people's business, agents of the Thousand Eyes have recently gained access to her diaries, which include knowledge of any messages the PCs have sent or received.
Summit Road Safe House
The Summit Road is the secret organization charged with gathering intelligence in the defense of Adar and escorting travelers through the defenses that guard the mountain refuge. Every visitor to Ardhmen hears rumors that Summit guides are plentiful in the town, but these rumors are never spread by the guides themselves. Those guides who are active in Ardhmen encourage (and in some cases even start) false rumors regarding the Summit Road's presence in the region, keeping the organization's real activities hidden beneath a screen of speculation.
Longtime residents of Ardhmen know for fact that a Summit Guide safe house exists within the town, but its location has yet to be exposed. In part, this is because the Summit Road operates not one but four separate safe houses in Ardhmen, only one of which sees use at any given time. Summit Road guides are stationed at one of four different rooming houses in a randomly rotating schedule, allowing them to constantly shift their base of operations in Ardhmen and keep their activities hidden from prying eyes.
Adventure Hooks: The Summit Road will likely play a part in the plans of any adventurers bound for Adar, but PCs seeking Summit guides might have their work cut out for them. Alternatively, PCs checking into an innocuous rooming house might find themselves incorrectly identified as Summit Road sympathizers by Riedran agents believing they have cracked the organization's veil of secrecy.
The Three Branch Council
As Ardhmen's importance as an international port of call grows, Adarans, Tashanans, and Syrks alike have begun to send delegations to the town to discuss the common issues their people share while living in the shadow of Riedra. These meetings take place four times per year in Three Branch House, an upscale rooming house whose owner Yrdivan (CG male human psion 1/expert 2) is a Riedran exile with a passionate hatred of the Inspired.
Councils are typically chaotic affairs, and infighting between allied factions (particularly the shifters and dwarves of the Tundra) is common. Despite that, the councils are an effective clearinghouse for intelligence of Thousand Eyes activities along the frontiers and within Riedra itself. Members in active opposition to Inspired rule also use the council as a forum for their own views (whether true or not), hoping to spread their hatred of the lords of Riedra across Sarlona and beyond.
Virtually anyone can participate in the Three Branch Council, but knowledge that Riedra maintains a constant watch on Ardhmen (as it does all Syrkarn) means that members typically make no effort to hide their activities. Instead, they trust in detection magic and psionics to weed out spies, and in the expectation that the Thousand Eyes will risk no direct confrontation in a town so densely populated (for Syrkarn, at any rate). So far, the Thousand Eyes has allowed the Three Branch Council its freedom, though many suspect this only proves that the council's plans must inadvertently serve the interests of Riedra in some way.
Adventure Hooks: Despite the openness of its operations, the Three Branch Council is involved with a number of covert operations and clandestine activities. Whether native Sarlonans or Khorvairian observers, PCs wishing to take part in the council will be welcomed (or possibly even recruited) by one of its regional factions. In particular, characters who have come up against the Inspired or their agents in Khorvaire can use the council as a means of taking the fight to their foes.
At the same time, the unified front presented by the council's fluctuating membership hides deep divisions between the Adarans (who live at constant war with Riedra) and the Tashanans and Syrks (who have much to lose should they decide to formally join that war). PCs with a connection to Adar might discover that the Three Branch Council has secret ties to Riedra and is designed to weaken the defense of the mountain land.
Syrkarn's east coast is well traveled by fishing boats and smaller craft. "Brinehand" Barnan (LN male dwarf warrior 3/expert 2) is a seafaring Tashanan whose thickly muscled arms can pull a scull faster than most of his kin can run. The deep-keeled sloops he builds and hires are his own custom design. Half the size of a standard keelboat, they are weighted and balanced specifically for the often treacherous open water between Syrkarn and Adar, and they can maintain a speed of 4 miles per hour under sail.
A hired ship has a crew of six and can carry up to twelve passengers and their gear at a rate of 1 sp per mile. Barnan's crews travel north only as far as the mouth of the River Qitha, since they have no interest in drawing the attention of the Riedran forts that line Jathara Sound beyond.
PCs who have brought their own transportation from Khorvaire can hire Barnan to oversee necessary repairs while in port. The crews Barnan hires (typically experienced sailors from the fisherfolk families) are first-rate and can handle virtually any work that might be needed after a rough sea crossing. Barnan and his crews can do mundane repairs on airships and elemental galleons, but there are no facilities or NPCs in Ardhmen capable of repairing the bound-elemental workings of such vessels.
Adventure Hooks: Barnan's crews do not engage Riedran forces or attempt the dangerous crossing to Adar under any circumstances, but characters are free to buy one of his ships outright (3,000 gp). Adar is a land at war, however, and strangers intent on sailing there should give its settlements (particularly the secret port at Dvaarnava) a wide berth.
Within Ardhmen itself, Barnan can prove a useful ally for PCs who have a vessel of their own that needs repairs or docking while the party heads inland. Though Barnan is unscrupulously honest, PCs might find themselves caught up in intrigue if their vessel becomes a target for thieves, smugglers, or operatives of the Thousand Eyes.
Though eneko make up a good portion of the permanent residents of Ardhmen, the nomadic culture of the mongrel ogres sees a constant flow of traders and laborers moving through the town. The nomadic eneko tribes have established a permanent tent city at the edge of town on a plain they call Madrasyla ("the high ground" in an ancient Giant dialect). There, a constantly shifting population of traders, herders, and laborers thrives. The human farmsteads that surround Ardhmen rely heavily on migrant eneko labor for their year-round equatorial growing season. Many of those eneko with primary vocations as herders, hunters, or traders still spend some of their time in Ardhmen working the wheat fields and the sepse crops.
When the constant influx of new wanderers gradually pushes Madrysala's population past some unofficial threshold, its longstanding residents take to the open road again.
Adventure Hooks: The constant turnover of its population makes Madrasyla an excellent source of up-to-date information on the lands beyond Ardhmen. In particular, PCs seeking information on the yuan-ti or the cults of Karrak the Final Guardian can often find newly arrived nomads in Madrasyla whose travels have brought them into contact with these groups.
The eneko are a social and civilized people, but explorers from Khorvaire are often unsure how to approach these gentle giants. Syrk culture involves an almost ceremonial degree of confrontation, argument, and standing down that takes some getting used to. As a result, violence too often ensues when Khorvairian adventurers find themselves confronted by apparently angry eneko whose only goal is to assess a newcomer's character.
The Whispering Arch
A quarter-mile past the nominal outskirts of town, a great stone arch rises over the dusty trade road. Thought to have marked the start of some great thoroughfare of the ancient city, it is the only structure beyond the docks to have withstood arcane conflict and the ravages of time.
Travelers who approach Ardhmen along the road by night sometimes tell of hearing faint sound as they draw close. From the darkness ahead comes the distant noise of a bustling port city -- ships' bells, uncounted voices, the clack of wagon wheels, and the roar of beasts exotic and mundane. Invariably, the phantom noise fades away when any creature passes within 100 feet of the arch. However, it is well known in Ardhmen that characters who spend a full night within that range receive a +10 circumstance bonus on a single Knowledge (local Syrkarn) or bardic knowledge check made at dawn the next day.
Adventure Hooks: Though PCs can make use of the whispering arch as they seek information helpful to the mission at hand, the old magic here sometimes has a mind of its own. Characters camping within sight of the arch or passing through it might be suddenly stricken with visions of the old city of Irsthaana. Such visions might provide the party with important clues to the location of an ancient relic, or inspire contact with a current-day descendant of some figure of Sarlona's distant past.
Many have speculated on how the old city of Irsthaana could have been so completely reduced to rubble by time and weather while its millennia-old docks continue to stand as strong as the day they were built. Though the docks radiate faint conjuration magic, none have explained how such a minor dweomer could protect against the ravages of long centuries. What none suspect is that the conjuration in question does not protect the docks, but simply serves as the conduit to a spirit of the Elemental Plane of Earth bound within the stones themselves. The spirit constantly replenishes the strength and structure of the docks.
Adventure Hooks: The ancient process by which elemental strength was bound within the Ardhmen docks differs greatly from the elemental binding of the gnomes of Zilargo, and the juxtaposition of these two techniques can cause instability. Elemental vessels are exceedingly rare in Ardhmen, but PCs with a wind galleon or airship might see their vessel's bound elemental break free of its confinement while in proximity to the magic of the docks. Alternatively, the appearance of a wild zone in the harbor might interfere with the docks' protective elemental magic. As the stone of the docks begins to decay at an advanced rate, it threatens ships in port as well as the future of the town itself.
The Thousand Eyes
Riedra has no official presence in Syrkarn, but its agents are known to watch that land with an unceasing vigilance. However, unlike the clandestine operatives spread across most areas of Syrkarn, the artist and sculptor Jhaazari (LN female Chosen expert 3/psion 2/fist of Dal Quor 1) is known as an agent of the Inspired within Ardhmen, and she makes no effort to keep her motives and allegiance secret.
Most folk in Ardhmen engage in honest business that they know should cause the Inspired no trouble, and they are happy to have Jhaazari report that back to her masters. Those who oppose the rule of the Inspired in Riedra and their constant eye on Syrkarn take a less charitable view of her activities, but are more concerned with discovering the identities of the secret accomplices they know she must have.
Adventure Hooks: At any given time, there are up to five mind seeded Riedran spies in Ardhmen. Three of these are a rotating crew of Thousand Eyes agents who come and go in the guise of travelers, explorers, and sellswords working the trade roads. Inspired agents returning from clandestine duty in Khorvaire often travel through Ardhmen rather than Dar Jin in order to follow and report on the activities of high-level Khorvairian adventurers.
The other two Inspired agents are among the NPCs mentioned above. The DM should determine which of the townsfolk are secretly agents of the Thousand Eyes -- and what their orders and mission might be.
Fist of Dal Quor
Looking to start a Sarlonan campaign? Planning on using Secrets of Sarlona to provide a boost to a kalashtar PC or the Riedran villains dogging a party's plans in Khorvaire? The fist of Dal Quor prestige class is a character option well worth considering. As warriors on the front lines of a thousand-year conflict, the fists define the elite combat traditions of two races dedicated to each other's destruction. Learn more in this overview by the class's designer, Scott Fitzgerald Gray.
The fists of Dal Quor prestige class represents not one but two martial traditions -- that of the kalashtar who fight for their lives and freedom in Sarlona and beyond, and of the Chosen and Inspired lords of Riedra whose quori masters hunt those kalashtar. Groomed as elite warriors and the leaders of the most dangerous missions in their endless conflict, the fists of Dal Quor seek any advantage in combat and are known for fiercely hunting down opposing fists in the enemy ranks.
Development Notes: Kalashtar Fists of Dal Quor
When I received the opportunity to take on my first freelance design project for Wizards of the Coast, Secrets of Sarlona was one of four books up for grabs -- and the one I most desperately wanted to work on. Despite having edited a fair chunk of Eberron material over the previous two years, Sarlona remained as much of an enigma for me as it was for any Eberron DM or player. Tantalizing glimpses inside the Quor Taraiin Races of Eberron, the dark secrets held by the Riedran monolith in Explorer's Handbook, cool prestige classes like the quori mindhunter in Magic of Eberron -- every secret revealed about the mysterious homeland of the Inspired simply whets the appetite for more.
Sarlona was a blank slate that the design team had the enviable job of having to fill, weaving together a rich tapestry of forgotten histories, complex politics, lost races, and dark legends. As the book took shape, it began to focus more and more on the intricate complexity of this strange land. Thus, it was kind of ironic that when it came time to sketch out a quori/kalashtar-related prestige class, the idea that finally took root in my mind was a fairly simple one.
By their naturally psionic nature and cultural history, Kalashtar PCs and empty vessel villains are perfectly suited for any number of psionic prestige classes. Expanded Psionics Handbook and Complete Psionic both present useful options for psionic kalashtar PCs and the Chosen masterminds they fight against. At the same time, however, psionics adds a level of complexity to a campaign that can be daunting, especially for many beginning players.
After quickly abandoning a handful of ideas that really just seemed to be attempting to put a Sarlonan spin on what had already been done, the idea came to me of using the kalashtar's psionic potential to create a prestige class built on the martial traditions of that race. Though it would play to the kalashtar's psionic heritage, the fist of Dal Quor was all about getting the job done in brutally efficient physical fashion. As I said in one of the voluminous IM/email/message board exchanges between Keith Baker, Glenn McDonald, Chris Sims, and myself that accompanied our design work on Secrets of Sarlona: "I personally love the complicated prestige classes with initiation rituals and fifteen levels of bureaucracy and a thousand words of organization details, but sometimes you just want to beat things up."
Underlying the class was the idea that kalashtar PCs often make a basic choice between acknowledging or ignoring their psionic heritage. For those kalashtar characters not interested in taking levels in a psionic class or prestige class (including those characters playing in a nonpsionic campaign), the fist of Dal Quor provides a way to acknowledge the kalashtar's psionic nature in a different way.
From Concept to Execution
Sarlona is a land virtually unknown to those in Khorvaire, and one of the biggest challenges that the Secrets of Sarlona design team faced was how to write a book that revealed some of those secrets but still maintained Sarlona's status as a land of mystery. With that in mind, the fists of Dal Quor became members of a secret martial tradition. Elite warriors of the kalashtar, the fists would lead mainstream forces in Adar or undertake solo missions against the elite Chosen of Riedra -- those who the kalashtar refer to mockingly as "empty vessels."
On the face of it, the fist of Dal Quor bears a superficial similarity to any number of "bruiser" prestige classes. However, a fist's martial prowess and special abilities stem not from rigid battlefield training but from the psionic nature of his very spirit. Just as the monk channels ki into unique combat skills, the fist of Dal Quor channels the essence of the Region of Dreams on the battlefield.
At the same time, the class had to remain open to all sides of kalashtar culture and history. The mountains of Adar are home to monastic traditions that predate the Inspired's arrival in Sarlona, but the kalashtar's favored class is psion. In considering class abilities, it was important for this combat-oriented class to allow a character to build on his existing strengths rather than simply turn him into a psionically powered brawler.
Though many fists of Dal Quor build on the psionic traditions of their people, this class is first and foremost a martial one. Chosen and Kalashtar fists channel their natural psionic potential into fearsome combat abilities, allowing them to strike for maximum damage and efficiency. Though it places them front and center in their people's thousand-year war, this class also offers characters the freedom to fight that war on their own terms.
Becoming a Kalashtar Fist of Dal Quor
As befits the elite troops in a war whose front lines stretch from Adar to Khorvaire, every fist of Dal Quor brings something different to his pursuit of the class. Likewise, every fist uses the class's strengths and signature abilities in his own way.
For a kalashtar PC with a martial bent, the fist of Dal Quor makes an excellent option. The class's d10 Hit Die provides necessary staying power on the battlefield, while its base attack progression keeps pace with all but the most heavily combat-oriented classes. At the same time, psions, wizards, and other characters seeking to increase their combat prowess find the fist of Dal Quor a better option than taking multiclass levels in fighter, or than pursuing martial prestige classes (such as those found in Complete Warrior) whose prerequisites they typically have trouble meeting.
The fist of Dal Quor's entry requirements are designed to provide a degree of consistent background among members of the class. At the same time, those requirements allow entry by a wide range of character types.
- The fists of Dal Quor must be Chosen, Inspired, or kalashtar.
- A base attack bonus of +4 provides easy entry to the combat-oriented classes, but also allows an 8th-level psion or wizard to help herself to a combat edge that her foes will never see coming.
- Knowledge (the planes) 4 ranks is a cross-class investment for most classes. This study represents the prospective fist's dedicated focus on his connection to the power of Dal Quor.
- A fist of Dal Quor must have taken any one psionic feat. In a psionic campaign, characters have a wide range of choices. In a nonpsionic campaign, the Kalashtar Mindlink or Quori Dread feats from Secrets of Sarlona make good selections for a kalashtar PC.
- Proficiency with any martial or exotic weapon requires an additional feat for many noncombat types, but covers the traditional combat classes (psionic and nonpsionic), the monk, and the soulknife (whose mind blade is treated as an exotic weapon for the purpose of gaining entry to this class).
Soulknives and psychic warriors of the prerequisite races are perhaps the most obvious candidates for entry into the fists of Dal Quor, but any monk or rogue can take up the path with the requisite study and a single psionic feat. Even more esoteric combinations suggest themselves. A rare kalashtar barbarian could take this class to add stunning strike and sudden strike damage to the rage-fueled devastation he deals on the battlefield.
Playing a Kalashtar Fist of Dal Quor
Though every character taking up the fist of Dal Quor path will find their own way to make best use of the class's abilities, there are a number of key concepts that can be kept in mind.
Hit Fast, Hit Hard
The path of the fist of Dal Quor is a martial tradition, and those who follow it do so with only one end in mind. Though his reasons for getting into combat can be many and varied, a fist of Dal Quor fights only to win. Characters limited in their damage potential by low Strength can make great use of the class's sudden strike ability. Those characters who rely on Dexterity and the Weapon Finesse feat for their attacks can use sudden strike to make up the difference on damage, while characters already dealing impressive Strength-based damage (or those who have a sneak attack or sudden strike from another class) become even more deadly.
The Old One-Two
The fist of Dal Quor's stunning strike and sudden strike abilities are designed to be used in concert -- a successful stunning strike denies a foe his Dexterity bonus to AC so that a sudden strike's extra damage can take him out. (If you have only the minimum +4 base attack bonus when you take up this class, you gain the extra attack at 3rd level that allows you to combine these abilities to full effect.) In melee combat, you likely target one foe at a time, making it important to coordinate attacks with your allies -- and trust those allies to cover your back while you focus on the most dangerous foes.
Development Notes: Chosen Fists of Dal Quor
Designed to be equally attractive to martial characters and manifesters alike, the fists of Dal Quor quickly took shape as the elite warriors of the kalashtar. These would be the squad leaders and covert agents who take the fight to the Chosen -- those from which the Inspired arise, bitterly named by the kalashtar as "empty vessels."
However, this line of thought led to an immediate question. If the fists of Dal Quor were the elite forces in the kalashtar's war against the Inspired, who exactly were they fighting? Where were the equally elite combat troops that Riedra would have arrayed against the kalashtar fists? Even if Secrets of Sarlona had the space for an additional Chosen-only prestige class, such a class would have been of primary interest only to DMs, and so was a nonstarter from a design perspective.
However, Keith Baker had a touchstone that the Secrets of Sarlona design team came back to again and again -- what we came to call the idea of "shades of gray." In Eberron, things should never simply be black-and-white, right-or-wrong, neat-and-tidy. Eberron is contradictions, contrasts, moral dilemmas. And so it occurred to me to wonder -- given how much the Chosen and the kalashtar hate each other, wouldn't it be interesting to create a tradition that actually unites them in some way? Imagine a single common thread between these two bitter enemies -- a military tradition that crosses over cultural and racial lines, and that both sides lay claim to even as they decry the other as usurpers of their birthright.
From Concept to Execution
With the mechanics already in place, developing the fists of Dal Quor as a twofold tradition became mostly a matter of filling out the class's background material. However, the origins of the class have been intentionally left open and ultimately up the DM's interpretation. Both sides of the kalashtar-Chosen divide see themselves as the true champions of the fist of Dal Quor path, and they each view the other race as having stolen the tradition. As a result, fists of either race have an automatic nemesis in each other.
The most significant difference between the two traditions was an obvious one. Since the Inspired allow no inkling or mention of any connection between themselves and the power of their quori masters, the Riedran fists of Dal Quor could use that name only within their own ranks. To all others, the Riedran fists are the Sentinels of Inspiration, the legendary vanguard in the war against those who oppose the path of Inspiration and seek to return Riedra to chaos.
For a DM seeking to create a memorable combat-centered villain, a Riedran fist of Dal Quor is a good choice. Riedran fists are active in Adar, Syrkarn, and even Khorvaire itself, using infiltration and assassination to disrupt the flow of information and resources between Adar and its allies. At the same time, remember that things in Eberron should never be cut-and-dried. As members of an elite order built on great secrecy, the Riedran fists have the potential to play against type and expectation. For example, a Chosen within the ranks of the fists of Dal Quor may not have bonded yet with a quori spirit. Such an NPC might become one of the exceedingly rare Chosen who reject the teachings of Inspiration, horrified by the revelation of quori power in Riedra. Such a character might even become an ally to PCs opposing Inspired rule.
A fist of Dal Quor can be as much about subtlety as raw destruction, however. Because its power derives from your own psionic potential, your stunning strike works just as well with ranged weapons as melee weapons. Remember also that your sudden strike can be used against ranged-attack targets (including those stunned by your initial attack) within 30 feet.
Valor Is the Better Part of Discretion
Your psionic potential drew you to the tradition of the fists for a reason. No matter what your original calling, you are a warrior now, and the stakes are often higher than just life or death. When you fight in your own defense, you might give quarter to the foe foolish enough to attack you in the first place. When you fight the war of your people against those who would see you destroyed, death on one side or the other is the only outcome.
When the Battle Is Done
Almost as important as your combat prowess is your reputation as a fist of Dal Quor, though this reputation might not always be an asset. Among the kalashtar, the fists of Dal Quor are given wide-ranging respect and can expect aid or assistance from any who know them. Among strangers, however, a fist of Dal Quor is often cautious about revealing his calling.
Kalashtar must be perpetually wary of attempts to infiltrate their ranks. In the past, Chosen fists of Dal Quor have made attempts to enter the mountain strongholds of Adar and disrupt kalashtar operations in Khorvaire by posing as kalashtar fists. Furthermore, kalashtar fists whose identities are known often find themselves targets of the Inspired in Sarlona and Khorvaire alike.
The Two Traditions
The fists of Dal Quor prestige class represents not one but two martial traditions -- that of the kalashtar who fight for their lives and freedom in Sarlona and beyond, and of the Chosen and Inspired lords of Riedra whose quori masters hunt those kalashtar. Groomed as elite warriors and the leaders of the most dangerous missions in their endless conflict, the fists of Dal Quor seek any advantage in combat and are known for fiercely hunting down opposing fists in the enemy ranks.
Becoming a Chosen Fist of Dal Quor
Like their kalashtar counterparts, Riedran fists run the range from hardened soulknives and psychic warriors seeking to hone their existing combat skills, to psion agents of the Thousand Eyes whose missions require a covert warrior's skills.
As with a kalashtar fist of Dal Quor, the more unusual class combinations are sometimes the most effective. Kalashtar agents in Sharn might be quick to suspect a well-muscled and well-armed Riedran warrior of being a covert agent of the Sentinels of Inspiration, even as an unremarkable psion fist of Dal Quor passes them by without notice.
Playing a Chosen Fist of Dal Quor
Earlier, you read a general overview for playing a kalashtar fist of Dal Quor, and the same advice holds true for the Riedran fists. However, whether you're a player looking to bend the rules by playing a Chosen PC or a DM in search of a memorable villain, you need to keep few things in mind when playing a Chosen fist.
Pride and Purpose
In the end, the strengths of the Chosen fists of Dal Quor are often their greatest liabilities as well. As elite warriors of Riedra, the fists of Dal Quor occupy the upper tiers of that society's rigid class structure. They are the best of the best and they know it -- and everyone beneath them is expected to know it, too. This sense of entitlement is often well deserved, since the ranks of the Sentinels of Inspiration include some of Riedra's deadliest soldiers. However, despite the harmonious ideals of Riedran society, Chosen fists can find themselves the target of jealousy and spite.
A typical upper-echelon operative of the Thousand Eyes or the Harmonious Shield is a member of a rigidly hierarchical military caste. His missions are assigned him, and his career depends largely on his ability to follow orders. While the fists of Dal Quor answer to the command of the Harmonious Shield, they are typically tied to no specific unit or assignment. Even those fists tasked with specific missions of espionage or assassination have great latitude in how they carry out their orders -- and in the secondary assignments they set for themselves. As a result, Chosen fists who find themselves in need of assistance are often loath to ask for it, and such requests are sometimes met with polite indifference by commanders quietly envious of a fist's position and privilege.
These creatures resemble horses as they first approach, but closer view reveals the distinctive horns cresting their heads. Their gray-white flanks merge with the mist of the steppes, and they watch you with a gentle and intelligent gaze.
Rendesa CR 4
Usually LN Large magical beast (psionic)
Init +3; Senses darkvision 60 ft.; Listen +7, Spot +7
Languages Quori, Riedran (can't speak)
AC 18, touch 12, flat-footed 15
(-1 size, +3 Dex, +6 natural)
hp 28 (3 HD); fast healing 2
Fort +7, Ref +6, Will +3
Speed 60 ft. (12 squares)
Melee gore +8 (1d8+6) and
2 hooves +3 (1d6+3)
Space 10 ft.; Reach 5 ft.
Base Atk +3; Grp +13
Psi-Like Abilities (ML 3rd; details in EPH):
1/day -- mindlink, inertial armor (+5 AC)
1/week -- body equilibrium
Abilities Str 22, Dex 16, Con 18, Int 5, Wis 15, Cha 13
Feats Alertness[B], Endurance, Run
Skills Jump +18 (+22 with running start), Listen +7, Spot +7
Rendesa are intelligent, noble creatures, highly valued as mounts.
Strategies and Tactics
Though curious, rendesa avoid contact with the humanoids whose territory they often share. If threatened, however, they defend themselves fiercely, with males typically taking the fight to attackers while the females and young escape to safe ground. When danger presents itself, rendesas manifest their inertial armor ability, using mindlink to instinctively coordinate their attacks.
Raised by the Inspired as elite mounts and guard animals, rendesas are commonly seen in the service of Inspired and Chosen in Riedra. However, herds of these creatures still roam wild across the Sarlonan plains.
Individual (EL 4): Lone rendesas (often male) are seen wandering the Sarlonan plains from the Tundra to Syrkarn. Among the half-giants of Syrkarn's northern steppes, these wanderers are seen as an omen of imminent change -- sometimes good, sometimes ill.
Herd (EL 8): Migratory herds of rendesas typically consist of six adults (males and females in equal number) and as many foals and yearlings. The suggested Encounter Level assumes three adult males and two yearling males (treat as an adult with only two hoof attacks) defending the females and young.
Characters with ranks in Knowledge (arcana) can learn more about rendesas. When a character succeeds on a skill check, the following lore is revealed, including information from lower DCs.
14 Rendesas are a unique Sarlonan steed, raised to serve as the mounts and messengers of the Inspired. This result reveals all magical beast traits.
19 Rendesas are native to the plains of Riedra, the Tundra, and Syrkarn, and wild herds still roam there. Their young can be trained to the saddle, and they fetch a hefty price.
24 Rendesas have a wealth of psionic abilities all their own, and woe be to any who attempt to harm them.
The graceful rendesas are native to Sarlona, but their origins are a mystery. Some believe they are descended from creatures of Dal Quor who escaped from that plane before its connection to Eberron was severed. Others claim that the merging of quori spirits and a now-extinct Sarlonan steed brought them into being.
Rendesas are migratory, moving north to south as winter advances across temperate Sarlona. They have no set migratory routes, however, since they are intelligent enough to not overgraze their fragile feeding grounds. As a result, they are rarely seen in the same place in successive years.
Environment: Rendesa herds wander the temperate and warm plains of Sarlona, from the southern Tundra to the Lamecha lowlands in Syrkarn.
Typical Physical Characteristics: An adult male rendesa stands some 8 feet tall and can weigh up to 2,500 pounds. Females are only slightly smaller. Their range of color is uniform, from ghost-white to a pearly gray, but many rendesas are dappled with distinctive black or blue markings. Both males and females possess the species' distinctive horns, which appear at about a year old.
A rendesa's psi-like abilities also do not manifest until one year of age. Captured young are thus extremely valuable, since they have fewer abilities with which to defend themselves.
Alignment: Rendesas are usually lawful neutral. They carry themselves with a grace that seems to exceed their limited intelligence.
Rendesas neither carry nor store treasure of their own. However, they are in high demand as mounts outside Riedra (within that nation, only the Inspired and Chosen ride them) -- a rendesa foal can fetch a high price from horse traders in the Tundra and Syrkarn.
About the Author
Scott Fitzgerald Gray spends a lot of time editing or writing within the Eberron campaign setting.