Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Let's Read Wayfinder's Guide to Eberron: Dragonmarks and Magic Items

Dragonmarks are a unique facet of the Eberron campaign setting; they are essentially tattoo-like markings that appear on people related to specific bloodlines that manifest magical powers. To bear a dragonmark means that you belong to a familial dragonmarked house. The dragonmarked houses function much like megacorps in cyberpunk games: they represent powerful dynasties whose powers have enabled them to form monopolies over their areas of expertise. Not everyone born to a dragonmarked house has a dragonmark, but those who do gain powers related to the house's economic and political purposes. 

The dragonmarked houses of Eberron include:

  • House Medani, the Mark of Detection, detectives and bodyguards, half-elves.
  • House Tharashk, Mark of Finding, detectives and bounty hunters, humans and half-orcs.
  • House Vadalis, Mark of Handling, animal breeders and trainers, humans.
  • House Jorasco, Mark of Healing, healers and hospitals, halflings.
  • House Ghallanda, Mark of Hospitality, inns, taverns, restaurants, halflings.
  • House Cannith, Mark of Making, manufacturing, humans.
  • House Orien, Mark of Passage, land transportation and the lightning rail, humans.
  • House Sivis, Mark of Scribing, communications, gnomes.
  • House Deneith, Mark of Sentinel, mercenaries, humans.
  • House Phiarlan, Mark of Shadow, entertainment and spying, elves.
  • House Thuranni, Mark of Shadow, assassins, elves.
  • House Lyrandar, Mark of Storm, sea transportation and weather control, half-elves.
  • House Kundarak, Mark of Warding, prisons and security, dwarves.

As you can see from the list of dragonmarked houses above, each house is linked to a D&D race from the 3.5 Player's Handbook. The integration of dragonmarks into character creation is actually quite slick. In a previous Eberron Unearthed Arcana, dragonmarks were feats, which didn't serve the setting very well. Since only the variant human race begins play with a feat at first level, this restricted dragonmarks to fourth level characters, which didn't fit the setting's lore. Wayfinder's Guide presents each dragonmark as either a mechanical replacement for a character's race or subrace, which opens up the possibility of starting a game as a member of a dragonmarked house.

The powers granted by a dragonmark include a mix of ability score increases, special powers, spells, and intuition dice. Intuition dice begin as d4s that get added to ability checks with skills and tools that are pertinent to a dragonmarked house's specialties. For example, halflings with the Mark of Hospitality get a bonus to Charisma, the friends and prestidigitation cantrips, and intuition dice on persuasion checks and checks that involve brewer's tools and cook's utensils. Each entry on a dragonmark is about a page long and gives a good overview of the house connected to it, a few ideas for characters who might possess that mark, and the abilities associated with it.

At eight level a dragonmarked character can forgo their ability score increase to take a feat called Greater Dragonmark that increases the power of their mark. Their intuition dice increase from d4 to d6, and they gain the ability to cast a few higher level spells through their dragonmark. Some of these spells are quite high in level, but since they aren't combat-centric spells they don't seem likely to create balance problems.

Another feat, Aberrant Dragonmark, is offered for characters who wish to obtain a dragonmark that is unconnected to any of the dragonmarked houses. This feat grants a cantrip and a first-level spell from the sorcerer's spell list, and the ability to spend hit dice to increase the level you cast your spell at--at the cost of taking damage equal to a roll of however many hit dice you spent on it.

Magic Items
Most settings with "magical technology" also feature magical fuel; Deadlands has ghost rock, Malifaux has Soulstones, and Eberron has dragonshards. Dragonshards come in three types. Eberron dragonshards can used in place of material components in spells, to create magic items, and to fuel lightning rail trains and elemental airships. Khyber dragonshards are used for binding planar entities, phylacteries, and necromantic rituals. Siberys dragonshards are used for dragonmark focus items, eldritch machines, and for the creation of legendary magic items and artifacts.

Dragonmark focus items are usable only by people with the relevant dragonmark; they are either standard magic items that are cheaper to produce because they are attuned to a specific mark or they amplify the power of a mark for a related purpose. Eldritch machines are plot-point devices, such as magical seals keeping cosmic evils at bay. This chapter also includes some magic items that are common conveniences in the setting (such as stones that clean your body and clothes when you touch them), arcane foci (and rules for wielding them two-handed to get some rifle vs. pistol differentiation), and warforged components (arms blades! wand sheaths!).