By Keith Baker
As I was writing about the daelkyr in my last Eberron post, it occurred to me that my emphasis on how alien and unknowable they are might make it hard for people to understand how to work them into a story. Eberron has a host of major villains ready to go, and sometimes it’s not always clear what differentiates them. So I figured I’d do a quick run-down of the big bad guys.
The Dreaming Dark seeks to take control of mortal civilization in order to preserve the current status quo in Dal Quor. Thus, its primary goal is conquest. However, the quori prefer to conquer in such a way that their subjects embrace their oppressors. If you look to Sarlonan history, they instigated a series of wars and political upheavals and then the Inspired emerged as the saviors who brought order to this shattered land. They are more likely to do the same thing in Khorvaire than to invade with a Riedran army. It’s entirely possible that they instigated the Last War as the first stage of this plan. The question is who they will use as their figurehead leaders. They don’t need to replicate the culture of Riedra in Khorvaire: they simply need a scenario in which mortals embrace a new, absolute ruler. Is Queen Aurala secretly a quori figurehead (which would explain her warlike ambitions)? Have they assumed control of one or more of the Dragonmarked houses? Whatever it is, the main role of the quori is to cause chaos and then to provide a seemingly perfect solution.
The Daelkyr are essentially alien scientists and artists, and their primary goal is change. When they first arrived, they engaged the Empire of Dhakaan with armies of aberrations. They took creatures of Eberron and twisted them to produce monstrosities. For the last seven thousand years they’ve been bound in Khyber, and many wonder why they haven’t been working harder to escape. The main point is that they aren’t interested in conquest: they are interested in transformation. Even from the depths they can work through their cults and their agents; read this blog post for information on why someone would be a part of a daelkyr cult. They may BE changing the world in ways people don’t even realize; one interesting idea is that the dragonmarks were actually created by the daelkyr. If you WANT a daelkyr to burst out of Khyber with a devastating army of aberrations, you can have that. Just bear in mind that they aren’t seeking to conquer or colonize Eberron: they simply want to change it. If you’re going to use a daelkyr as a major villain, think about how it seeks to change the world.
The Lords of Dust are driven to free their ancient Overlords. Thus they are driven by Prophecy. The release of an Overlord will likely shatter modern civilization. Thus the Lords of Dust have little interest in conquest… unless conquest is necessary to release the Overlord. Each Overlord has a sequence of events that must come to pass to release it – a combination to its lock. It’s up to you to decide what that combination is. So if you WANT the combination to involve the conquest of Aundair by the Carrion Tribes of the Demon Wastes, than the Lords of Dust will be working to conquer Aundair. You could have a Lord of the Ring plotline – they need to recover a lost artifact and return it to a specific location at a specific time – in which case the conflict would all be based around the artifact and those who possess it. Or their actions could be far more subtle: they need Queen Aurala to restore Galifar, and thus they are helping her conquer the other Five Nations, but they are acting behind the scenes and even she doesn’t know it. Another way to look at the Lords of Dust is The Terminator: They have a vision of the future, and they are taking the actions required to make that future come to pass. Their actions don’t always make sense to us because we don’t understand the dominoes they are lining up. Why are they helping Aurala? What’s that do for them? We’ll find out when she’s murdered on the day of her coronation and Sul Khatesh is released from her bonds.
The Aurum is an alliance of powerful and wealthy mortals, and they seek to increase their own power and influence; as such they are often driven by Greed and Ambition. In a sense, they are a cabal of Bond villains, and pretty much any James Bond plot could be laid at the feet of the Aurum. While they work together when it serves their purposes, their schemes are often the schemes of an individual Aurum concordian – thus, foiling a plot doesn’t necessarily make you the enemy of the entire Aurum. Likewise, their schemes are often on a smaller scale than those of the daelkyr or the Dreaming Dark. They want to acquire a particular thing, gain control of an organization or piece of land, eliminate a particular person. Where the daelkyr and the quori are cosmic threats, the Aurum are fundamentally human villains (even if they are dwarves or elves).
The Emerald Claw are driven by Erandis’ desire to restore her dragonmark and gain ultimate power. Like the Aurum, their actions are generally more straightforward and serve a specific purpose. Erandis is going to set off a necrotic generator that will turn everyone in Sharn into a zombie because she hopes that harnessing that power will unlock her mark. She’s going to send an army of undead against Arcanix because she needs a particular necromantic tome or artifact. The actions of her followers may be cloaked in political schemes – many agents of the Emerald Claw believe they are laying the groundwork for Karrnathi dominance – but ultimately, any large-scale Emerald Claw action is somehow about increasing Erandis’ power or furthering her personal goals.