Tone of the Dragonmarked House

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This discussion started in the Fading Dream Thread, but I think the subject is larger than that and I'm curious to hear other peoples' thoughts, so I thought I'd start a thread on it.

56961808 wrote:
To run a bussiness, you also need to have customers, and unlike monarchies, ranking tends to be granted based on merrits more than on birth. Events also show that they are anything but a single big entity, they are fractured and have large differences of opinion both between the Houses and within the House. While obviously every DM is free to picture the Houses as he wants to, for me it is the automatic assumption they are corrupt mega-cooperations from the Shadow Run universe that is somewhat grating.


To start with, let me just say that I don't see the houses as corrupt. Part of this came up from discussion of the depiction of the houses in the Thorn of Breland series. I don't think it's too much of a spoiler to reveal the following things that occur in that series.

House Cannith asks the Citadel for a Favor. This is essentially the entire premise of The Son of Khyber, so again, not much a spoiler: House Cannith tells Boranel that they'd appreciate it if the Citadel took care of the Son of Khyber, the new Tarkanan leader. This grates on Thorn, because she signed on to work for Breland, not to work for Cannith. However, I don't think it casts Cannith in an especially bad light, if you look at the big picture. They consider House Tarkanan a threat. Their alternative is to engage in commando operations against the Tarkanans on their own, using, say, Thuranni assassins. Instead they go to the King and openly request that the situation be dealt with through the agencies of the crown. What's potentially troubling is the idea that Breland needs them enough that they can't or won't say "We don't see this as a problem; we're not going to do anything about it and you'd better not take illegal actions yourself." In the current setting, it is important for each of the Five Nations to maintain the favor of the houses, and so Breland is willing to do that favor. Thorn sees it in the light of "Some merchant baron is telling my king what to do" and she doesn't like it; but again, it would be WORSE if Cannith took unilateral action themselves. This is an exercise of power, but I don't see it as corrupt.

The Actions of Merrix d'Cannith. From the very begining, we've established Merrix as a man who pursues his own agenda. The existence of his secret creation forge - built in violation of the Treaty of Thronehold - has been part of canon from the begining. In The Son of Khyber, this further enhances Thorn's suspicions: here we have a man who's pushing her king around AND violating the laws of the land... and who's in possession of a tool that can create a warforged army! But with that said... is he creating a warforged army? I'll spoilerblock this next bit just to discuss what we actually see in the book:
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Within the forgehold itself, we have some new forms of warforged. We also have the greater issue of the warforged child. Thorn jumps on this as "OMG! He can create warforged that look like people! Who KNOWS what he's going to do with this?" But I don't actually think there's any signs that he has any malign intent. He's created guards for his secret factory, which contains valuable and dangerous stuff - and which, as it turns out, is attacked by terrorists. He and his wife have created a warforged child. Yes, he COULD create a warforged Boranel and secretly rule Breland, but I don't think there's any indication that he would. He's a brilliant warforged innovator. He doesn't want his work to be held back by what he sees as a foolish law. But again, I don't see him harboring dreams of conquest.

As for his actions in The Dreaming Dark (and I would not read this if you haven't read the series)...
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We know that he has Lei excoriated, and we don't know why. If you've read both series, there's a number of possibilities. Perhaps he simply knows that Lei is not, in fact, a Cannith heir and thus has no place in the house. Perhaps he knows that Lei's parents were Traveler cultists engaged in dangerous and forbidden experiments. Most likely, it's both; he's been exploring Lei's parents' work, and wants her out; he then uses their work as the basis for his own "child" in Son of Khyber.

In any case, Merrix was presented from the very begining as lawful evil: a man who wants order in his life, but who is willing to take any action to acheive his goals. Does he want to conquer the world? No, I don't think he has the slightest interest in that. But he will take ruthless actions to acheive his ends. He's not altruistic.

There's a Deneith Sentinel Marshal who hates people with Aberrant Dragonmarks. This guy's an @$$hole. No argument there. But to begin with, there's no reason to assume that most Deneith are like him - as noted by the fact that the main character of my Dreaming Dark series is himself a Deneith heir. Beyond this, the idea that there's people in the houses who hate aberrants is hardly a news flash; you may recall a thing called the War of the Mark. And finally - great, we've got a bigot who hates a particular "race" of people. Look around Sharn and you'll encounter hate crimes against kalashtar, warforged, Thranes, Cyrans, and any number of other categories. He's a bigot - but this again isn't supposed to be a slam on the houses as a whole. Daine's a nice guy from House Deneith; Sorgan's a bastard from House Deneith. 

The Twelve are torturing trolls in a secret research facility. I could spoilerblock this, but it's really secondary to the plot of the novel in question. This is a bad thing for two reasons: it involves the tortrue of sentient creatures and (because of that) it's illegal. But like Merrix, it's possible that the people involved believe that work they are doing could utterly transform modern medicine, and that the laws are holding them back. I'd suspect that the majority of citizens of the Five Nations don't have a lot of sympathy for trolls and aren't going to feel too bad about troll torture, just as the majority aren't concered about whether bound elementals are happy; most people have never seen a troll, and consider them "monsters." Justified? Maybe not. But that's something the Good folks of the world will worry about; the Unaligneds and Evil aren't going to worry. And this isn't touching the issue of whether the torture is a necessary part of the research - if adrenaline is actually connected in some way to regeneration. But as I said before, it wasn't my intent to suggest that the people in this scene would do the same thing to humans or halflings or elves - even those with aberrant marks. They are performing experiments on monsters, which they justify the same way people who work on monkeys or squeeze cosmetics in the eyes of rabbits do... and hey, a rabbit won't try to eat you if he gets loose.

Meanwhile, Lei, Daine, Jode, and Drix are all members of Dragonmarked Houses. Looking at them...

Lei is excoriated by Merrix, for reasons I won't go into here. However, this is political; this doesn't shed an ill light on the house itself, or suggest that Lei in some way isn't a good representative of the house. She's not corrupt, evil, or involved in nefarious schemes; she's an artificer who worked for the Cyran army maintaining warforged and war machines. A good person doing a job.

Daine leaves House Deneith because he is sick of mercenary work and wants to fight for a reason beyond gold. This doesn't cast Deneith as corrupt or evil; it presents it as a guild in the business of selling mercenary services. They do exactly what they say they do, and Daine just ends up wanting something more. But this doesn't make the others evil bastards; they are just people doing a job, while Daine wanted to fight for a cause.

Jode is a little more mysterious, in that it's unclear what his status is with Jorasco. But we see Jorasco a few times in the novels, and they're never presented in a harsh light... just as people who heal for gold. The worst view of Jorasco comes at the Pit, but again, nosomantic chiurgeons are out there; that doesn't change the fact that most of the house is made up of the local healers who fix you up for a handful of galifars. Looking to The Son of Khyber, I don't have a copy on hand to check the page reference, but I recall that Filleon has a bit where he talks about being raised as a healer in House Jorasco, and that it sounds like a good place. They kick him right out when he turns aberrant - but the house itself isn't a den of corruption.

Drix is a sign of how diverse Cannith is. Lei is a member of a core family raised in an enclave. But in addition to the Forgeholds, Cannith has the tinkers who wander from village to village; that's where the house got its start, and the practice continues to this day. Drix is from this side of the house. Merrix would look at him the way a noble might look at a peasant smith. But that's because Merrix is an arrogant jerk. Drix is still a member of Cannith, as was his father who followed the same trade. The whol point of this is to say that Cannith ISN'T just the megacorp we see in Sharn. Drix may not interact with the enclave folks, but he's still true Cannith.

What I've tried to show in my novels is that the houses maintain a strong prejudice against aberrant marks; that they include ruthless, bigoted, and yes, evil people; but that they also produce good people and others who are simply devoted to their work.

With that said...
While obviously every DM is free to picture the Houses as he wants to, for me it is the automatic assumption they are corrupt mega-cooperations from the Shadow Run universe that is somewhat grating.


As I said above, I feel that the houses are broad entities in which the majority of the heirs are just doing their jobs - that corrupt or power-hungry schemers are in the minority. With that said, let's look at a few things about the houses overall.

They ARE mega-corporations. It's not a word I'd use in the world. But let's just look at the facts. The houses are global in scope and each one dominates a particular field of trade. If you set aside the "corrupt" baggage that comes with the term and look to the simple facts, the houses are global trade entities. Yes, some are more fractured than others, but in most cases that's recent: the Cannith split has happened in the wake of the loss of house leadership during the Mourning, and the Phiarlan/Thuranni split happened within the last few decades (whereas the house has been around for over a thousand years). Sure, look to House Tharashk and you can see that the patriarchs of the house have differences of opinion when you deal with them one on one - but they still present a united front to the Twelve and the rest of the world. Most of the houses have a clear hierarchy and single leader or small council of leaders. You have the independent arms and people like the Cannith Tinkers; but when people say "House Lyrandar", they are refering to the concrete core of the house, and not the random licensed captain. But core point? They are global economic entities, which fits the bill of "megacorporation" as far as I can see.

They have maintained monopolistic power for centuries. There's no antitrust law in Galifar, and the houses are monopolies on a level we simply don't have in the modern USA. If Cannith is Microsoft, there's no Apple - and if someone started Apple up in a garage and it posed a serious threat, you can be sure that Cannith would either absorb or eliminate it. This is something we've said numerous times: the houses have an innate edge because of their magical gifts and their existing infrastructure, but the reason they don't have any real challengers in the modern world is because they have taken action to keep it that way. "Corrupt"? Not necessarily. But they are profit-making entities who are prepared to take action to maintain their profitability. If you want them to be altruistic, hey, they can offer innovators fabulous wealth and profits to join the Cannith family; if you want them to be more sinister, they can use Thuranni assassins to firebomb the garage workshop. Either way, the end result is that the houses haven't allowed any significant challenge to their trade dominance to rise.

The War of the Mark. It was quite a long time ago, but it nonetheless shows the ruthlessness the houses are capable of. Now, this again speaks to HOUSE LEADERSHIP. Does this mean that Lei or Drix would support aberrant genocide? No. But even Lei is shown to be influenced by house propaganda where aberrants are concerned. The members of the houses see themselves as part of their house, and this is generally as strong as a patriot's loyalty to his nation; this is something that could be an issue if you go that way.

Altruism in the Houses? Set aside the issue of corruption: is there any reason to see the houses as altruistic? They are profit-making entities that maintain monopolistic power. Again, Jorasco isn't the Red Cross; it's an HMO, if you will. It heals for gold, and we've already established that this makes it one of the most loved and hated houses. Deneith fights for gold, not for a cause; that's the job. They're not evil, but they are pragmatic. Now, any business can profit from displays of charity and altruism and I think it's quite likely that there's a Jorasco charity clinic out their somewhere. I'm sure there are individual Jorasco healers who are kind and empathetic folks... again, Jode's Jorasco. But that doesn't change the fact that as a whole the house is a mercantile entity in the business of selling healing services for gold - and that it has managed to maintain a virtual monopoly on these services, which suggests a willingness to suppress independents who challenge its dominance.

The Korth Edicts and the Treaty of Thronehold. The core issue with "corruption" is the fact that the houses are sometimes shown to be "breaking the law." The point to me is that they don't believe that kings and queens have the right to place these limits on their activities. Those who break these laws see aristocrats and feudal systems as a thing of the past. This question - the balance of power between the feudal monarchy and the corporate entity - is intended to be a theme of the setting. But who's to say the monarchies are in the right?

Anyhow, my point is that I don't intend the houses to be seen as evil, because the whole point of Eberron is that most things aren't black and white; there are shades of gray. The houses are a source of innovation. They are a source of many conveniences that define modern civilization; without Sivis communication, Jorasco medicine, and Lyrandar transport, Khorvaire would be a tremendously different place. They have power, but without them, the world wounldn't be the same. And if they want more power - well, they are businesses, not charities.

Anyhow, what do other people think about the issue?

I'm not sure "corrupt" is a word I'd use for the Dragonmarked Houses.  Corruption implies that they are somehow violating their own principles, rules, or legal obligations.  The Five Nations don't really seem to have much legal hold over the Houses, other than requiring that they obey the law while they are operating in public.  And the houses are themselves amoral agents; the only real principle they have is to profit and accumulate wealth.  There's nothering inherently evil about that.  The Houses are useful, and probably were kept in check when Galifar was united.  There's no doubt that services like the Lightning Rail and House Sivis' communication stones have had a positive impact on society.  Most of the people who work for the Houses are just, well, working--they are craftsmen collecting a paycheck.  I don't see anything controversial about saying that the Houses themselves, if not necessarily the individuals who belong to them, are amoral.


They are dangerous however, because right now they are massively powerful amoral agents that are barely kept in check by any kind of law or civil authority.

I don't know exactly what the rationale behind monarchy is in Eberron--I guess that kings and queens are theoretically divine agents of the Sovereigns?  Monarchies have obvious problems, but on some level even kings and queens govern by the consent of the governed.  On some level if the people of Aundair don't think you're their legitimate Queen, then you're not--the nature of Aundair exists in the people who make up Aundair.  But the Dragonmarked Houses don't need legitimacy granted to them by the people of any nation, or even by most of their employees.

The dragonmarked bloodlines do complicate that a bit--the Dragonmarked Houses can't function if they don't have enough people with the appropriate dragonmarks.  But that's still a very small and elite group of people upon whom the legitimacy of a Dragonmarked House rest.  Most of the people who work for House Orien can't just decide they don't like the direction things are going and take it over, because they can't operate the Houses' rails and carriages.  The heads of the Dragonmarked Houses have a much stronger hold over their domains than a corporate CEO, or even a monarch.

One of the themes of the Eberron game I am currently running is that the Last War was something of a last hurrah for the dragonmarked houses. The Last War saw such a surge in demand for every service provided by the dragonmarked hosues, and their coffers so swelled with gold, that they did not see stars aligning to hollow out the Korth Edicts.

The classic example of what's going on in that game is the lightning rail: During the Last War, demand for the usage of the lightning rail to move men and material surged to untold heights. House Orien could not hope to expand the lightning rail to meet the demands with its own capital, so it looked for outside investors, and found them in the aristocracies and national governments of the Five Nations. This rail-building boom kept House Orien fat and happy until the Last War ended and demand for virgin rail-laying tanked, in which House Orien was rudely awoken to the fact that its building boom for others had left it in direct control of only 10% or so of the entire lightning rail network, having effectively destroyed its monopoly on rail transport during a century of good times. (This has left House Orien being more of a union than anything else: It still drives the majority of lightning rail engines, even if it doesn't own the trackage, but it still faces reasonably still competition from the tried and true "charm monster and then ask real nice" approach to making an elemental engine go.)

In addition to being the victim of their own success, and tying into it at that, is that in this particular game is that the monarchies of the Five Nations are -- or were, in Cyre's case -- all self-aggrandizing. The Last War saw immense centralization of a great many things, to mobilize the resources necessary for each of the combatant states to sustain a war effort spanning decades. This included a not-insubstantial amount of subordination of the dragonmarked houses to the powers of the emergent nation-states of Khorvaire, usually in direct contravention of the Korth Edicts: Said subordination was usually gussied up as part of a massive procurement of services, with promises that whatever subordination or abridgment of the Korth Edicts would be eliminated after Galifar was restored. Though with the end of the war, none of the powers that be have yet found a compelling reason to let the dragonmarked houses off of the leashes they willingly donned, which has caused no small amount of friction within the houses and between the houses and various national governments.

But I'm rambling again. To each their own with regard to the dragonmarked houses.
I'm not sure "corrupt" is a word I'd use for the Dragonmarked Houses.  Corruption implies that they are somehow violating their own principles, rules, or legal obligations...  And the houses are themselves amoral agents; the only real principle they have is to profit and accumulate wealth.  There's nothering inherently evil about that. 


That's essentially my point. The houses have international influence and power that rivals that of the Five Nations. They seek to prosper and accumulate wealth, and to this end the seek to ensure that no rival entity can challenge them in their field of expertise - something accomplished both by improving their own techniques and by taking aggressive action to deal with rivals. As shown by Merrix's forge, the Mournland Magebred, the Pit and other places, they are willing to ignore the restrictions placed on them by the Five Nations if these interfere with their goals. In essence, they do not recognize the right of the Five Nations to make laws binding them. And why should they? They are international entities, and their success comes from the talents and gifts of their families. They were thriving forces before Galifar existed, and their inventions and services are a vital part of life in Khorvaire. Galifar placed limits on them because its united power was strong enough to threaten them, and in exchange they had the right to maintain monopolies in their fields (IE, no antitrust like we have in most of our societies). But with the collapse of Galifar, things have changed.

Nonetheless, my point is that for the most part, I see the houses as simply wishing to expand and prosper, and not to be held back by Kings and Queens in the process. This isn't innately evil or corrupt; it's business. In fact, Cannith's request in The Son of Khyber can be seen as more polite than taking unilateral action. It simply highlights the fragile nature of the balance of power between house and nation, which troubles Thorn, who dislikes the thought of Cannith as a force that can dictate policy to her nation. This shift in the balance of power is one of the central themes of the setting, not necessarily as something that's good or evil, but just an exploration of the balance between an old aristocracy and rising mercantile force.

One malevolent element comes in how far the houses are willing to go to maintain their monopolies, and that's certainly up to you.

One aspect of the previous conversation was how the houses are often depicted in a negative light in fiction or adventures, so this is what the players see... something that also happens with the Church of the Silver Flame. My point there was simply that the CotSF is an institution founded on principles of charity and defense of the innocent. It is a nonprofit entity with a compassionate mission*. No matter how you slice it, the houses are completely different: they are businesses whose purpose is to profit and expand. They've never claimed to be altruistic, even if they surely promote themselves as "building a better tomorrow" or what have you. My feeling is that the compassionate/charitable foundation of the Silver Flame is often ignored or forgetten, when it is still supposed to represent the bulk of the followers of the faith and to be what draws most people to the faith. In the houses, most people aren't evil or corrupt: they are people doing a job. This isn't enough for Daine, who wants to fight for something more than gold; but note that Lei had no problem serving Cannith throughout the war, and only left the house because she was kicked out... and as I said, I see her as as being kinder and more altruistic than Daine. 

* One may note that this "compassion" doesn't extend to werewolves, the inhabitants of Droaam, etc. And you'd be absolutely right, which also ties to the willingness of the people of the Pit to torture trolls. The Church of the Silver Flame sees its mandate as defending the innocent from evil; they would include flesh-eating trolls as "evil" (regardless of the technical alignment of the troll). If a troll had a history of living peacefully in a village and all the villagers said "Leave Charlie alone!" the paladin would likely respect their wishes, but the instinct is "protect human/elf/halfling/dwarf from werewolf/vampire/troll/etc." Followers of the Sovereign Host generally hold that monsters such as the troll, harpy, and medusa are creations of the Shadow and perversions of nature - while the people of Droaam hold the Shadow as a Promethian figure who gave them gifts the other Sovereigns were unwilling to share with their people. This is something called out in The Queen of Stone; the point is that the "monsters" aren't necessarily monsters, but they are still seen as such by the majority of the Five Nations. Which is all just coming back to the fact that a savant's willingness to experiment on a troll is more a statement about his prejudiced view of trolls than his overall moral stance towards others. 
The Last War saw immense centralization of a great many things, to mobilize the resources necessary for each of the combatant states to sustain a war effort spanning decades.


Interesting! This is essentially the exact opposite of the themes I generally explore. In my games/books, the point is usually that it's the last hurrah of the monarchies - that the aging aristocracies really lack the power to control the houses, and the nations need the houses more than the other way around. A key point here is how you play the monopoly itself. I've always said that the key to dragonmarked power is the dragonmarked focus items that can only be used by marked individuals. You can't use charm monster on a message stone; you either have the mark or you don't. I wasn't involved in the sourcebook that added the charm option for elemental vessels, and personally I generally ignore it, saying that the elemental is bound too deeply to be influenced by such techniques*. If the services of the dragonmarked houses can be easily replicated or performed by unmarked individuals, then it's clearly harder for them to maintain control; if the services can only be performed by the dragonmarked, then it's very difficult to control them. In my opinion, the Twelve is putting heavy pressure (including both positive and negative methods) on the Zil to keep them from producing an airship that an unmarked individual can control; it's essentially the story of the oil industry and the electric car.

To each their own with regard to the dragonmarked houses.


Certainly, which is the point of the thread. I hadn't considered this direction in my campaign, and it's interesting to hear where you've gone with it.

* One reason I go this way is that it makes it easier to avoid the issue of "elemental slavery". If you can directly communicate with the elemental, it's hard to get around the issue that you are dealing with an enslaved sentient being. In my vision, the elemental is essentially being used as a raw motive force. The dragonmarked heir interfaces with it and directs its power, but it's the same way that someone with Control Weather directs the weather - they take the power and shape it, as opposed to asking it for a favor. Thus they can argue that the elemental isn't even aware of being bound or that its consciousness is too alien for us to understand.

That's essentially my point. The houses have international influence and power that rivals that of the Five Nations. They seek to prosper and accumulate wealth, and to this end the seek to ensure that no rival entity can challenge them in their field of expertise - something accomplished both by improving their own techniques and by taking aggressive action to deal with rivals.



Sure, I basically agree with your point.  I guess the point I was trying to make, perhaps not clearly, is that I see a nuance in the portrayals.  Many members and employees of the Great Houses may not be evil--probably are not.  The goal of profit, in and of itself is not bad, nor are many of the services that the Houses offer to the public.  But the Houses as they exist probably are bad and dangerous.  I think it's inevitable that the Twelve will seek to undermine the nations of Khorvaire, in the name of expanding profits and eliminating competition and obstacles.  And they are very likely to succeed at elminating competition, because the key to their power is dragonmarks, which are hereditary.

That might not sound so bad, since those same nations just spent a century engrossed in a terrible and pointless war, but I'm guessing that they would be inclined to be fairly oppressive governors, if only in the name of efficiency, stability, and profit.  And I think that most Khorvarians would put up with it as long as the lightning rail ran on time, so to speak.

So I think that an overall portrayal of the Dragonmarked Houses as negative is probably correct, even though individual members will have as varied personalities and morals as non-members.  Maybe moreso, because people with allegiences to governments, religions, or other groups usually choose their associations based on some sort of shared ethos.

Interesting! This is essentially the exact opposite of the themes I generally explore. In my games/books, the point is usually that it's the last hurrah of the monarchies - that the aging aristocracies really lack the power to control the houses, and the nations need the houses more than the other way around. A key point here is how you play the monopoly itself. I've always said that the key to dragonmarked power is the dragonmarked focus items that can only be used by marked individuals. You can't use charm monster on a message stone; you either have the mark or you don't. I wasn't involved in the sourcebook that added the charm option for elemental vessels, and personally I generally ignore it, saying that the elemental is bound too deeply to be influenced by such techniques*. If the services of the dragonmarked houses can be easily replicated or performed by unmarked individuals, then it's clearly harder for them to maintain control; if the services can only be performed by the dragonmarked, then it's very difficult to control them. In my opinion, the Twelve is putting heavy pressure (including both positive and negative methods) on the Zil to keep them from producing an airship that an unmarked individual can control; it's essentially the story of the oil industry and the electric car.



The power of the dragonmarked houses is one of the setting's lodestones, and dispensing with it would be silly as all get-out. "Last hurrah" was a bit of a misnomer, in hindsight, as it implied that a decline was inevitable, which it is still not. The dragonmarked houses in the game I run still very much retain excellent positions in the commanding heights of the economy: The last hurrah was of the sanctioned monopolies and the guild socialism afforded by the Korth Edicts. Dragonmarks, post-Last War, are a competitive, rather than absolute,  advantage: The supply crunch on dragonmarked souls, combined with the long lead-time required to produce a new dragonmark user, spurred development of ways to provide the marquee services of the houses through non-marked house members. Which, in turn, led to reverse-engineering by the various state actors for usage by non-marked folks in general. So, with a couple of well-trained magewrights and consumption of residuum, it'd be possible to operate a sending stone: Given the costs associated with dragonshards, it's usually cheaper to simply use House Sivis's operators.

Re: the Zils, I'd see it as the other way around. The elemental foundaries of Zilargo would stand to make a fortune if they could figure out how to make a vessel which could be reliably controlled without the need of the Mark of Storm. I always chalked up their inability to do so as a result of the inability to square the circle of enslaving an elemental, which you discussed previously.


* One reason I go this way is that it makes it easier to avoid the issue of "elemental slavery". If you can directly communicate with the elemental, it's hard to get around the issue that you are dealing with an enslaved sentient being. In my vision, the elemental is essentially being used as a raw motive force. The dragonmarked heir interfaces with it and directs its power, but it's the same way that someone with Control Weather directs the weather - they take the power and shape it, as opposed to asking it for a favor. Thus they can argue that the elemental isn't even aware of being bound or that its consciousness is too alien for us to understand.



I tend to play the elemental in elementally bound vessels for laughs: The walls really do have eyes, as it were, and one of the ways the elementals tend not to go insane from being bound is by being horrible gossips. So it's good to actually have them be physically present and capable of being interacted with. I was a little glib with regard to charm monster, as I'm not a fan of it either. I always viewed the binding as locking the elemental within an inescapable crystal prison: It can see and hear what's going on outside, but nothing can get in and it cannot get out, to the point of an elemental bound in a Khyber shard not being targetable. I always liked the idea of having to convince the elemental to let itself be bound: It's a fascinating concept, one that I think fits Eberron's more cosmopolitan tone. Getting your hands dirty with all of the moral and ethical foibles of just binding a sentient being is so passe, after all, when you can haggle with it and convince it to spend a century bound up in your service of its own volition. (The types of adducements required to make an elemental do such things, I think, offer a DM a chance to stretch his imagination.)

I think it's inevitable that the Twelve will seek to undermine the nations of Khorvaire, in the name of expanding profits and eliminating competition and obstacles. 


I forgot to mention the Twelve, which ties to your point, Tuums. In my view, the Twelve is the organization that is actively seeking to promote the influence of the houses overall. Individual houses have their own rivalries; the Twelve is the force that wants to overcome forces that threaten all the houses, whether that's government constraints or rival mercantile forces. If one nation turns on Cannith, that's just one house - but if Cannith successfully appeals to the Twelve, then it's the threat of losing the services of ALL of the houses that will hopefully bring the recalcitrant nation to heel.

On the positive side, the Twelve is also the force that seeks to bring the houses together in spite of their rivalries to create tools that no single house could create on its own. The elemental airship combines the abilities of House Cannith and House Lyrandar. The Kundarak Vault Network involved Kundarak, Orien, and Cannith. In the Pit you see Vadalis and Jorasco working side by side to unlock the secrets of regeneration, supported by Orien and Deneith. This cooperation doesn't erase the rivalries between Deneith/Tharashk, Thuranni/Phiarlan, Orien/Lyrandar, Cannith/Cannith, etc but it provides a bridge to overcome those for specific goals... whether related to research or politics. I see the Twelve as being an important force in the future of Khorvaire, and one that's often overlooked in the existing material.

Of course, that suits a campaign like yours well, Tuums. Downplaying the Twelve helps if you want the houses in a weaker position.... whearas if you want to play up their rising power, the Twelve is at the heart of that. 
I think that was directed more at Skeptical_Clown than me, though I admit I routinely forget about the Twelve. Because of the vagaries of the Last War, I always imagined the Twelve suffering from regulatory capture and becoming a de facto Karrnathi institution. (A fate mirroring what became of the Arcane Congress.) The Twelve sadly get far too little play in the sourcebooks, though, which is indeed sad. As every time one needs a plot device, the Twelve is the perfect source for gee-whiz artifice.

Ironically, in my current game, since the Twelve is viewed as having become a de facto arm of the Karrnathi state, the biggest source of cooperation between the dragonmarked houses are the Blackwheel Company. (Which was bought out by the non-Deneith houses for the purposes of having a well-armed and well-trained paramilitary force that were loyal to neither national governments nor the Blademarks.)  And the PCs have managed to get the Blackwheels operating in Khorvaire. Should be fun when they finally cross paths with them. (The party managed to insinuate that they were Blackwheels to get out of a tight spot with House Lyrander. The Blackwheels were rather...unhappy about hearing that they were being involved in things outside of there current zone of operations, especially they involve Aundairian politics.)
I always chalked up their inability to do so as a result of the inability to square the circle of enslaving an elemental, which you discussed previously.


I agree with the idea that the Zil haven't figured out how to create an elemental galleon that can be controlled without a Wheel of Wind & Water - it's not that they specially built the ships so you had to be Lyrandar to control them, but rather that Cannith and Lyrandar were able to create a control mechanism tied to Dragonmark power that they haven't yet been able to replicate on their own.

This ties to one of the key underlying assumptions of the setting: that magic is like a science, and like any other science, you can't just do something because you want to; there are problems that simply haven't been solved yet. By 3.5 rules, it's technically possible to create a magic item that can do almost anything (using the optional magic item pricing guidelines). You can figure out how much it should cost to make an at-will sending item - something that represents a vast improvement over the House Sivis message stones. The idea in the setting isn't that people simply don't do this - but rather that they can't. It's theoretically possible to create such an item, and if it could be done, this is what would go into it and how much it would cost. But no NPC has yet managed to crack that formula. What's just a "Use this spell and multiply the cost for at-will use" for us as DMs requires an arcane breakthrough in the setting. Thus, the reason no one's made an anyone-can-control-it airship is because in theory, it's a thorny arcane problem that great minds have been working at for the last three decades without success.

Now, PCs are remarkable people - so it could be that your wizard or artificer is the one that figures out how to make the Sending tool or the Free Airship. But that should call out just how amazing you are - that you're the Tesla of Khorvaire.

In 4E, this ties to rituals. I've posted on this subject at length on other threads - I'll point to posts #14 and #20 in this thread as the first one I could find. The short form is the idea that as opposed to marks allowing you to use ritual books with certain rituals, they allow you to perform those rituals without the book. This still requires training, which costs the same amount as the listed market price of the ritual; so the main effect is that you can't lose your ritual book (or lend it to someone else).

The core of this idea, however, is that the mark abilities predate the physical rituals; in many cases a ritual was developed specifically to emulate a mark ability, IE "We've seen Kundarak use the Mark of Warding to create a mystical alarm - how can we do that without the mark?" Where this gets interesting is if you then say that there are a certain number of rituals that, at this point in time, are only available to those who possess a mark. So, perhaps the Mark of Warding is the only source (in Khorvaire, at least) for Arcane Lock; the Mark of Scribing is the only source of Comprehend Languages or Sending; the Mark of Healing is the only source of Cure Disease. If this is the case - there are critically useful rituals that only the Dragonmarked can perform - then you have a clear, concrete mechanical foundation for the economic monopolies they are supposed to possess according to the setting flavor. And you have the fact that if someone - such as a PC - could create one of those dragonmark-only rituals, they could put a crack in the economic foundation of that house.

Limiting rituals in this way is certainly a big step, but it's always been my idea that the houses are supposed to have a meaningful monopoly on certain magical services. With that said, I'd look at this as a rule made to be broken. For example, I allow Lyrandar to Control Weather via their mark (a serious omission in the current mark list, IMO) and also allow druids to use the ritual, but don't have it as a generally available ritual. I limit Cure Disease to Jorasco, but may also allow a particularly devout priest of Olladra or the Silver Flame to perform the ritual as a personal miracle; it's just not something that has yet been cracked for "mass production" as an any-ritual-caster-can-use-it thing.

Anyhow, I'm getting off track, and this is all in the realm of house rules. The point is that I like exploring the consequences of the houses having power, and thus it's interesting to me for them to have power; if Jorasco was the only place where you could get a disease cured in five minutes, how much power would they have? Mind you, an Olladran clinic would have expert healers who would provide all the benefits that the Heal skill can provide; Jorasco isn't the only source of aid. But if you just want it gone NOW, they're the only ones who have that ritual. How much power does that give them? What could they do with that? In your scenario, Juums, even if people can't replicate the effects, would you get Jorasco folk enslaved and forced to use their marks for the state?


I always thought the Houses were operated more like Guilds then actual mega-cooperations. The difference is subtle, since in both cases prizes and quality are controlled by a central body. The difference lies in the fact that there is less control in Guilds about how individual bussinesses operate and those individual bussinesses have a bigger say in how they do their job. For example, House Cannith will not close down a blacksmith in a village because the profit margins are only 1% as opposed to 40%. In fact, as long as the blacksmith pays his membership fees, sticks to standard prices and do not deliver too shoddy a quality compared to price I doubt they care whether or not he even makes a profit.

I always thought the Houses were operated more like Guilds then actual mega-cooperations.


Have you read Dragonmarked, Madfox? It's discussed on pages 10-12.

THE GUILDS
The vast majority of the people who are employed by a dragonmarked house have no blood tie to the houses. Instead, they belong to one of the house guilds. These guilds are vast, sprawling entities that cover a wide range of occupations.
 Why join a house guild? To begin with, each guild maintains a network of trade schools. The price of education includes a period of service to the house, along with a long-term tithe. Both vary based on the amount of gold the apprentice can bring to the table, but a house always looks for a long-term investment from its students.
 Students of a guild school must sign contracts forbidding them from future competition with the business of the house. A would-be magewright can learn his craft at House Cannith’s academy easily enough, but he must swear to serve the Fabricators Guild thereafter. Should he start an independent business that challenges the guild, House Cannith will bring the full weight of the law to bear.
 Resources are a tangible benefit of joining a guild. An alchemist associated with the Fabricators Guild purchases exotic components and reagents directly from House Cannith, providing him with supplies that independent competitors might have a hard time acquiring. As such, guild merchants sell goods or services that independents simply cannot provide. The reputation of a guild is also a powerful tool. When people are paying 50 gp for a potion of cure light wounds, few of them will take a chance on any vendor not displaying a House Jorasco banner.
 A guild merchant gets more business, but he must pay dues to the house along with a share of his profits. In addition, he must meet the standards of quality and behavior set forth by the house. Observers can appear at any time to audit a guild business, and members who fail to uphold the standards of the house can be penalized or stripped of guild status.

Guild Membership
Each of the three types of guild membership reflects a different connection to a dragonmarked house.
 The most common type of guild businesses are those licensed by the guild but not bound to its structure. Licensees are trained by the guild and pledge to uphold its standards, but receive no regular direction from guild administrators. A licensed inn is named by the owner and has its own menu, but the Ghallanda seal on the door promises courteous behavior and fair prices. Likewise, a sea captain licensed by the Windwrights Guild is not bound by the routes or schedules of the guild. However, his ship must pass inspections, and he must uphold the honor code of House Lyrandar, in addition to paying the house a percentage of his profits. A licensed business can display the guild seal using black paint or ink.
 Bound businesses are those funded by a guild in exchange for a greater share of profits and a controlling hand. Though a licensed Lyrandar captain owns his ship, a bound captain’s ship belongs to the guild, and guild administrators dictate his routes. The Gold Dragon Inn is a popular bound business of Ghallanda’s Hostelers Guild, and an innkeeper who runs one is expected to prepare the same menu as every other Gold Dragon Inn. Licensed businesses often have their own flavor, but a customer who goes to a bound business knows exactly what to expect. Bound businesses display the guild seal in silver, and the names of many bound businesses are as well known as the houses themselves.
 Rarest among the guilds are the house arms: businesses directly managed by blood heirs of the house.
House arms are not a separate type of business, but are themselves either licensed or bound. A Sivis scribe might choose to head up a bound house arm (for example, a notary’s office operated according to terms set by the house) while a Tharashk inquisitive establishes his own licensed house arm (a private investigation service that can be run according to the character’s whim). House arms are simply representative of a direct connection to a house’s hierarchy that most licensed or bound businesses do not have. These businesses display the guild seal in gold, and often display the seal of the house as well.

Guild Wars
House administrators seek to squelch competition between guild businesses. House Cannith has fixed the price of longswords at 15 gp across Khorvaire, and every licensed or bound smith is expected to hold to that price.
 Though adventurers might encounter licensed artisans fighting economic duels in the shadows, a more common scenario is independents being pressured to join a guild. The houses seek to maintain a monopoly on their trades, and if a master artisan begins to draw significant business away from a guild, its house will take action. A guild representative might appear, extolling the benefits of membership. The merchant might become the victim of a campaign slandering his skills. The local guild viceroy might use his political influence to tangle the independent in red tape or strangle his access to supplies. If all else fails, an independent might find himself dealing with burglars, vandals, or even threats to his life. 

The difference is subtle, since in both cases prizes and quality are controlled by a central body. The difference lies in the fact that there is less control in Guilds about how individual bussinesses operate and those individual bussinesses have a bigger say in how they do their job. For example, House Cannith will not close down a blacksmith in a village because the profit margins are only 1% as opposed to 40%. In fact, as long as the blacksmith pays his membership fees, sticks to standard prices and do not deliver too shoddy a quality compared to price I doubt they care whether or not he even makes a profit.


For a licensed blacksmith, you're absolutely correct. As long as he maintains guild prices and standards, they aren't going to care whether he makes a profit or not. The issue is that when you're dealing with Joe Drego, Licensed Blacksmith, people wouldn't refer to it as dealing with "House Cannith". He's got the black seal on his sign that lets people know he's got that Cannith seal of quality - but the sign still says "Joe's Smithy". Joe isn't a heir, he's not involved in House politics, and he's not actually welcome in the center of a House Enclave (though as a guild member he's welcome in the outer ring). In the case of a bound business, the house has a closer connection and may well take an interest in profits, since it gets a share of the profits. And in a house arm or enclave, you're dealing with a direct connection to the house hierarchy.

So my thing is that when I say "House Cannith does something" I'm not actually talking about the licensees; they're an extremely diverse bunch with a distant collection to the house. I'm referring to the house hierarchy and its bound businesses.
I'd forgotten that the "restricted tools" thing I mentioned above is in fact covered in Dragonmarked, on page 12...

TRADE SECRETS
The Dungeon Master’s Guide provides rules by which any wizard or artificer can create a wondrous item that can reproduce the effect of a House Sivis speaking stone. Why hasn’t the Arcane Congress created its own network of orbs of sending to compete with the Speakers Guild?
 Eberron is a world in which arcane magic resembles technology. As with technology, innovations in magic take time. Furthermore, intrinsic to the setting is the idea that dragonshard focus items are more effective than other forms of magic items. The historical development of the speaking stone would thus have been much more straightforward than the creation of similar wondrous items that anyone can use.
 The DM is the ultimate arbiter of how easy or difficult it should be to create contemporary magic items that compete with the services of the guilds. For example, the Arcane Congress has been trying to perfect mass teleportation for centuries. If a player character wizard wants to crack that mystery, he might need to unearth a schema from Xen’drik, or acquire an especially rare material component in a manifest zone tied to Kythri. New magic items might also be difficult to reproduce, at least in the volume necessary to threaten a guild monopoly.

As always, the key phrase there is "The DM is the ultimate arbiter." While I'm quoting Dragonmarked, that's just the default version of the world and in theory, what people are drawing on when creating novels and such. I'm certainly interested in hearing what other people are doing, like Juums' Houses-Against-The-Wall scenario.
Just going back to our previous discussion about the houses in the novels, MadFox, my main point is that when we get a situation like "House Cannith has asked the Citadel to do something" we're talking about Merrix and his seneschals; Joe the Licensed Blacksmith doesn't know and doesn't care. He learned magecraft at the guild school; that allows him to perform his work more efficiently; and the seal on his sign lets people know that his work will be up to Cannith standards. But his shop is still Joe's Smithy, and he's not part of the schemes of the Twelve or Merrix. If he's an amazing blacksmith and produces masterwork stuff, he'll do better than the non-masterwork guy down the street, because he can sell his goods at the masterwork prices. If he's INCREDIBLY good, the quality of his work may be noticed by the observer on their annual visit, and they might try to lure him to work at the enclave and draw him closer into the house - your meritocracy element. But the typical smith, the typical ship captain, etc may be licensed by the houses, but they aren't under their iron heel on a daily basis and their shop still has their personal flair.
Some aspects of the licensed business seem to be those fulfilled by the government in our world. For example, a Ghallandra-licensed establishment will be certified to be sanitary; in our world, the local government is the arbiter of the health code.

Similarly, a Cannith-licensed industrial center will not only adhere to Guild-mandated quality and price standards, but also adhere to Cannith-mandated labor standards.

Hmm. Are there labor unions in Eberron? I'm guessing no.....

The thing is that, without a Dragonmarked license, well, things get kinda creepy. You may joke that the local Ghallandra-licensed inn is serving Rat Meat Pie, but the local inn that isn't Ghallandra-licensed may very well be doing that.

Thinking about it some more (thank you, Keith, for reminding me of the licensed and bound aspect of the Houses), you will probably see some aspects of the Houses' porfolio be more heavily biased towards being House Arms. A Sivis Message Station, for example, is going to be a House Arm, because you can't run the Speaking Stones without Sivis 'marks. Barristers, though, are probably going to be far more likely non-Arm businesses; licensed or bound, doesn't matter.

I don't see any real aspect of the Houses business being weighted towards licensure or binding; I mean, I guess "local" or small businesses are more likely to be licensed, but aside from that, I can't think of any real section of the Houses business that would be disproportionately bound or licensed.

Last, is there a picture of the Tower of the Twelve anywhere? I had an idea for a motivational poster. 

Gold is for the mistress, silver for the maid

Copper for the craftsman, cunning at his trade.

"Good!" said the Baron, sitting in his hall,

"But Iron -- Cold Iron -- is master of them all." -Kipling

 

Miss d20 Modern? Take a look at Dias Ex Machina Game's UltraModern 4e!

 

57019168 wrote:
I am a hero, not a chump.

Interesting! This is essentially the exact opposite of the themes I generally explore. In my games/books, the point is usually that it's the last hurrah of the monarchies - that the aging aristocracies really lack the power to control the houses, and the nations need the houses more than the other way around.



In a campaign we started here before it was moved to the PbP forum, the collapse of the monarchies was actually a key factor in breaking some of the Houses too. What happens to Cannith's or Denieth's profits when civil wars and the breaking off of a lot of areas into individual statelets means that nobody in power can afford to pay for their services? There's only so much credit that can be extended with no guarantees of repayment, whether loans through Kundarak to wouldbe clients or more directly in the form of 'use now, pay later' deals by the houses that need to sell their services to survive.
First thing for people working on providing new features should remember: People hate change for the sake of change. They usually don't mind genuine improvements, but change just because it's change and therefore cool tends to get hackles raised. Second thing for people working on providing new 'improved' features should remember: It shouldn't be hard for users to figure out how to turn them off if they don't like them. Just because the programmer thinks he's had a great idea doesn't mean everyone else is going to agree with them.
Some aspects of the licensed business seem to be those fulfilled by the government in our world. For example, a Ghallandra-licensed establishment will be certified to be sanitary; in our world, the local government is the arbiter of the health code.


True. That's the value of the Ghallanda seal, even when it's on a licensed pub that's not run by a Ghallanda heir; it tells you that they're up to house standards and not serving rat meat.

Thinking about it some more (thank you, Keith, for reminding me of the licensed and bound aspect of the Houses), you will probably see some aspects of the Houses' porfolio be more heavily biased towards being House Arms. A Sivis Message Station, for example, is going to be a House Arm, because you can't run the Speaking Stones without Sivis 'marks. Barristers, though, are probably going to be far more likely non-Arm businesses; licensed or bound, doesn't matter.


Indeed. Certain houses are more strongly focused on arms, while for others the arms are just a small part of the overall mercantile structure. Look to Lyrandar and all elemental vessels will all be gold seals, but the house also has many licensed captains - the seal simply tells you that the ship gets inspected regularly and the captain has Lyrandar training. Anything requiring the mark has to be an arm, but the houses have also established themselves in the mundane aspects of the field... hence the idea that a mundane blacksmith may not make or sell warforged, but Cannith has still set the standard and price of the weapons and armor you find in the PHB; they are the reason a longsword is 15 gp and chainmail is 40 gp.

I guess "local" or small businesses are more likely to be licensed, but aside from that, I can't think of any real section of the Houses business that would be disproportionately bound or licensed.


Well, there's a few different factors, which Madfox has already raised. A licensed business receives less support from the house, but also owes little to the house. A bound business is less risky, but owes more to the house and has less room for personal expression. The Ghallanda seal on the Slug'n'Grub Pub tells you that there won't be rat in your pie, but the menu and recipes and such are up to the owner... Whereas the Gold Dragon Inn is expected to conform to house standards in terms of appearance, menu, and preparation. So you know the Gold Dragon Inn will have tribex stew and it will taste about the same as the tribex stew at the last GDI, but... it will taste about the same as the tribex stew at the last GDI. The longsword will be 15 gp whether you buy it at the Cannith Armory or at Joe's Smithy, but the blades at the Armory will be precisely identical, while the blades at Joe's will have cosmetic variation (even if they all conform to the +3/1d8 standard set by the house).

But yes... at the end of the day there's room for both styles in most businesses.


A question for you, Keith: Does a proprietor necessarily have to have a 'mark for the business to be a House Arm? Or is the fact that they're d'whatever enough to let them throw the gold seal on there?

Gold is for the mistress, silver for the maid

Copper for the craftsman, cunning at his trade.

"Good!" said the Baron, sitting in his hall,

"But Iron -- Cold Iron -- is master of them all." -Kipling

 

Miss d20 Modern? Take a look at Dias Ex Machina Game's UltraModern 4e!

 

57019168 wrote:
I am a hero, not a chump.
A question for you, Keith: Does a proprietor necessarily have to have a 'mark for the business to be a House Arm?


No. The gold seal is about the direct connection to the house; just by his family connections, an heir of the house is going to have access to better resources - and will have had access to excellent training in his field since childhood. Look to Filleon in The Son of Khyber; he talks about his upbringing in Jorasco and the extensive training he receives. So the idea is that a healing house with actual Jorasco heirs will be superior to one that's just got outsiders with a house license; they'll have more extensive supplies, better training, and so on. At least, that's what the gold seal suggests; whether it's true or not is another question.

Now, you can't offer mark-specific services without a mark - so you can't run a message station without a Mark of Scribing. But bear in mind that the PROPRIETOR of an arm that employs marked individuals may not have a mark himself. More often than not, the more powerful a mark you possess, the more useful you are in the field; as such, administrators are often unmarked, because they are going to follow paths within the house that are vital to house businesses but don't require marks. 
What happens to Cannith's or Denieth's profits when civil wars and the breaking off of a lot of areas into individual statelets means that nobody in power can afford to pay for their services? 


Well, one point is that many houses are shifting the services they offer. The houses thrived for centuries before the war, and they need to shift back to those prewar functions. There's a huge need for reconstruction. Beyond this, while the war is over, no one won and everyone's waiting for it to begin again... and as our history shows, a cold war is a great motivator for an arms race. Can the nations afford to buy tons of Cannith war machines? Not really. But can they afford to be the one nation that DOESN'T buy Cannith's revolutionary new weapon or defense? ... Not really. So you may see nations cutting back, raising taxes, or making hard decisions in order to keep on the cutting edge of mystical development.

But it's certainly the case that Deneith is one of the hardest hit by peacetime. A century of war has surely swelled the size of the Blademark dramatically; what do you do with all these soldiers after the war is over? One point is to look at similar outfits in our world. A private security firm often contracts with specific powerful families, or more often than not... corporations. So it may be that House Deneith's best clients in the present day are actually House Orien, House Kundarak, House Cannith, etc. Many houses have there own forces for small and specialized work (the Kundarak Ghorad'in, Cannith warforged, etc) - but under the Korth Edicts, the other houses are very limited in the amount of military forces they can maintain. In the present, some are ignoring the edicts and building up forces - or making allies with outside forces, like the Lyrandar-Valenar alliance. Nonetheless, looking to bulk, many houses will employ Deneith for general security - hence the Deneith guards at the Pit.

Anyhow, no argument that the breakdown of Galifar is shaking up everything economically... but my point that governments aren't the only clients out there, and the shake-up may force the houses to explore these other options.
In my game, we have an airship from house Lyrandar, with a Deneith Sentnal Martial aboard. The goal was to set up Lyrandar with a sort of Starfleet feel, where the characters are backed up by an entity that they feel is fundimentally positive and powerful, that is seldom available to help you out in the middle of a mission, and also offers a degree of autonomy.

The characters are acting as a PR arm of both houses, doing good deeds, with nominal fees for expenses, or asking exorbidant fees for missions no one else can do.

But the secondary goal is always generating positive stories for the press. Basically, the PCs are also being played by the house, so that even the PCs think the house is out for the public good, while other arms, not involving the PCs engage in more questionable activities, until the PCs stumble across the other agents.

So far, we have been presenting both houses to the characters as shining beacons of hope and light. However, that has been largely to make incidents where the houses are less than perfect, that much blacker. Really only the Ship's captain, and the Martial are aware of the darker side of the profit motive driving the house.

Additionally some of our setting specific Monopolizing agents are:


  • We set up Vedalis as playing Matchmaker for the Dragonmarked houses, to improve the chances of getting a mark.

  • The Mark of making allows mages to work together to overcome level and feat restrictions on items.

  • Teleportation is not castable without a mark of passage, or craftable without a specially charged sybris shard from Orien. So any teleportation items are defacto produced by the house.



We set up Vedalis as playing Matchmaker for the Dragonmarked houses, to improve the chances of getting a mark.


Entertaining idea! Puts me in mind of the movie Gattaca.
I think it's possible there will be a guild shift within House Deneith. It's possible the house itself will work more stringently to promote the Defender's Guild as a way to compensate for the decreased emphasis on the Blademarks after the Last War. One thing House Deneith prides itself on is absolute neutrality and adherence to their contracts: If a contract is made for a bodyguard, they fulfill that contract to the letter. In this regard, the house may work to snag different types of bodyguards, be they military (Blademarks transferring to the Defenders), magical (arcanists that are required to deal with magical threats or create magical defenses), or clandestine (secret bodyguard, in the same vein as the King's Dark Lanterns)

In the grander scheme of things, the dragonmarked houses are a boon AND a bane to Khorvaire. Their work has clearly advanced Khorvaire to a hefty degree with the lightning rail, the airships, and so on, but you know, it's always possible these advances may have come forward without the houses if there were simply some like-minded folks WITHOUT dragonmarks who came along as most of these advances involve the use of Khyber dragonshards, which brings me to why they can be a problem: They monopolize. Their tactics for eliminating independents creates not only a huge power vacuum, but an inability for differing thought and techniques unless the one who pushes for these new things is already a member in good standing of one of the houses, so it can be a huge problem as they are pretty obsessed with making sure they have everything associated with their field.

These are just my thoughts. I'd take 'em with a grain of salt, but I'm pretty sure on them.
It's possible the house itself will work more stringently to promote the Defender's Guild as a way to compensate for the decreased emphasis on the Blademarks after the Last War.


Certainly. Though just as a side point... As of 998 YK, the Last War has only been over for two years. No one won. Galifar is still broken. Thaliost is in the hands of Thrane, the Eldeen is a slap in Aundair's face, the Cyrans want a true homeland, and Droaam, Darguun, and Valenar make lots of people nervous. The only reason the war is over is because of the Mourning - because without knowing what happened to Cyre, people simply can't take the risk that continuing the war will destroy another nation. But if tomorrow there was absolute proof that the Mourning had nothing to do with the war and could not happen again? Things would get very interesting very quickly. And there are wizards and artificers in every nation trying to find that answer - and ideally, find a way to harness that power for their own ends.

The Last War is over, but the Cold War is just begining. For all that it's disavowed the Emerald Claw, Karrnath hasn't destroyed Fort Zombie or Fort Bones. Cannith isn't suddenly beating all its swords into plowshares, because at any minute there could be a huge demand for swords. The same applies to House Deneith. Perhaps you don't need their rank and file soldiers. But you know they've got their elite units. If you're Boranel, do you just sit back and let Aurala put all of Deneith's best mercenary troops on retainer because things are quiet now? Or do you try to shake some gold free to hire some of their best forces... if only to keep them out of enemy hands? 

Obviously, you can take this any way you want; you can certainly decide that people truly are tired of war and are trying to scale down. But I've always seen the threat of the Next War as a looming theme, with no nation wanting its enemies to get too much of an edge. This is the time for Raiders of the Lost Ark; if you find out that Aundairian forces are looking for an artifact weapon in Xen'drik, do you ignore it or do you try to find it first (if only so "top men" can take care of it)?
Their work has clearly advanced Khorvaire to a hefty degree with the lightning rail, the airships, and so on, but you know, it's always possible these advances may have come forward without the houses if there were simply some like-minded folks WITHOUT dragonmarks who came along as most of these advances involve the use of Khyber dragonshards...

Maybe, but compared to what little is known of the goblin empire, in some regards human magical advances (no signs on airships, and lightning rail for example) seem* to have surpassed that of the goblins. This suggests that without the marks things might not have proceeded as they did, or at least not as fast. On the other hand, Dhaakaan artificers did create a lot of powerful weapon orientated items that few humans, if any, could copy now-a-days and the whole goblin/hobgoblin/bugbear thing appears to be a breeding experiment that would make Vidalis proud. So that difference might have to do more with interest (goblins being more martially orientated then the commercial humans) and opportunity (elemental binding stolen from Xendrik) then apptitude.

* And to be honest, although there are no references to things like airships, lightning rails and teleportation portals in the Dhakaani empire, knowledge of such things might very well just be lost. Now personally, I like the difference since it does give humanity something else besides copying everything they learned from previous civilizations, but that is up to each DM.

And to be honest, although there are no references to things like airships, lightning rails and teleportation portals in the Dhakaani empire, knowledge of such things might very well just be lost. Now personally, I like the difference since it does give humanity something else besides copying everything they learned from previous civilizations, but that is up to each DM.


My intent with the Dhakaani was that they'd followed a different path than the humans of Khorvaire. They made advancements in certain arts - metalurgy, for example - that surpass the current accomplishments of humanity. They had the capacity to create artifact level items, though these things couldn't be mass produced. Their magic was largely based around the Duur'kala, so for example I could see them developing a ritual similar to sending allowing a Duur'kala to pass a message to another Duur'kala... but not as "mechanical" as the message stones. But as you say, to each their own.

Certainly, my recommendation that certain rituals be restricted to the Dragonmarked is based on the idea that other rituals that can be used by marked or unmarked began as mark-only, but that arcanists have found a way to duplicate them. It's not that sending can only be performed with a mark; it's that it's easy for someone with the mark to do, while finding a way to do it without the mark is a difficult challenge. The marks also serve as inspiration; an arcanist can observe a Kundarak warder create an arcane lock and say "OK, how do I do that with the tools I possess?" I certainly think all of these things would and will in time be possible without dragonmarks; it's simply supposed to be that they are more difficult to produce and would require a greater level of innovation.

Now personally, I like the difference since it does give humanity something else besides copying everything they learned from previous civilizations, but that is up to each DM.


Just as a note, bear in mind that in a number of places where this occurs in Eberron, innovation is still key. For example, we've suggested that the Zil got the inspiration for elemental binding from the work of the Sulat League in Xen'drik. But that was simply the inspiration; the Zil have acheived things that the Sulatar have never accomplished, even though the Sulatar have been binding elementals for thirty times as long as the Zil. It's Newton's Apple; the first Zil elemental binder was inspired by what he saw in Xen'drik, but his work is entirely original, not simply a giant's trick with a new label pasted over it.
I think it's important to remember what each civilization was concerned with being good at. The current civilization is driven by commerce of every kind, thus using whatever means to advance this area via speaking stones, airships, lightning rail, etc. The current population cares more about civilization in and of itself. That's probably why the Sovereign Host predominates.

The Dhakaani Empire, on the other hand, wasn't driven by that. Their architecture, for example, while spectacular, was meant to be more functional and memorable, not necessarily convenient. Their speciality ran towards war, which is the reason for why their arms and armor are considered unparalleled in quality. The Dhakaani were about mastering the art of war. After all, they never even made sailboats. They wanted to be the best in martial combat, and they were. At the height of the empire, only the elves matched them, and it was only because the elves had the benefit of a longer lifespan and arcane skill.

The current populace isn't trying to make superior armor, and probably never will. Think about the Spartans: Their armor is believed to be the strongest in the world, yet for all our technology, it can't be duplicated. The same holds true for the Dhakaani. They were driven to create the best weapons and armor, but current-day Khorvaire just doesn't have the obsession for combat the Dhakaani had to master the craft.
This has been an interesting read on the Houses and their Guilds.  It's interesting because similar issues and questions were raised quite some time ago, before Dragonmarked came out, in a thread I wrote about how I saw the Houses and Guilds might work in Eberron. 

The Houses

I like the idea of the Houses having advantages/tricks/methods that allows them to produce things that otherwise current magical theory would say is impossible/way too expensive.  It adds to the 'magical' element of the Houses and helps to limit those oh-so-clever players who use all the tricks in the PHB to break a game world.  I'm all for keeping a sense of wonder.

It's also important to remember that just because people can do something, doesn't mean they will, or have the time, or the interest.  Changing something like a Guild's direction of business would involve overcoming a lot of institutional inertia and stubbornness.  It can be done --look at General Motors today-- but that's after decades of stagnation and sluggish half-hearted attempts.  And General Motors had serious competition from a number of sources: imagine what it's like for the Dragonmarked Houses, with their vurtual monopolies.
Good to see you again, FBM - thanks for the relink!
Likewise, Hellcow.  It's nice to be remembered.  Cool

Working with what I mentioned, with the Houses I think it needs to be kept in mind that they (or their leaders) sometimes don't make what we could consider rational decisions from a straight game mechanical standpoint.  Too often players look at something in game and think, "What's the + he's getting for this?"  or  "How much gold could be gotten from doing this?"  But if we're trying to breathe life into a game, sometimes the NPCs need to be... well, human.

As you mentioned Merrix up thread, he's a good example.  What he's doing is risking the future of his part of the House, and his powerbase as he's flanting the Law.  But he sees it as important to him and somewhat of a calling to run the creation forge.  

Another example might be Houses Cannith and Deneith.  They probably had a fairly good business relationship during the first part of the Last War, with Cannith selling arms to Deneith who needed the best equipment.  Buyer and seller were well served by the relationship.

But then Cannith was producing warforged: now, suddenly, Cannith is competing with Denneith for mercenary contracts.  Deneith probably felt very betrayed by this, as this cut into their market niche.  While the warforged are no longer being made (officially), I would play it as Denneith still having a grudge against Cannith.  Makes no sense now, but businesses are made up of people, and people sometimes do irrational things.

In a similar fashion I play Orien as having a full-on hatred for Lyrandar airships, since they allow the House of Storm to do some overland travel, something the House of Passage was generally in charge of.  I also have Orien sinking huge amounts of gold into trying to develop their own airship program (based off their old Overland Flight dragonmark ability), but for some reason known only to the Prophecy, it's just not working.  No game mechanical reason why it shouldn't, but the fluff of the world suggests it.

Or maybe House Orien does have the ability to create airships, but their two top artificers are not sharing the necessary key information with each other because of an old family grudge.  Irrational, yes, but also competely human.

Now if the players want to upset that balance and somehow find out a way to give Orien airships, well, that could be a good story filled with exciting discovery and inter-House politics.

I would not describe the Houses as corrupt, but they are monopolies driven by people with a lot of power, and having that kind of power generally means having a big ego.  And egos sometimes get in the way of good business sense.  People get set in their ways, have pet projects they support even when all evidence suggests otherwise, and to top it all off there are also centuries of family squabbles and feuds.  The Houses and their Guilds are not inheirantly bad... but they are monopolies, they want your gold, and they are run by squabbling merchantile dynasties. 
Great Read. BUMP
Thanks, Isran! I should post some of this on my HDWT site, especially since much of it relates to the recent Cannith-Sivis discussion there. 
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