On Playing a Dragonborn in Forgotten Realms: Part 2

Hello, readers!

I’ve had a follow-up question to my earlier post about dragonborn from Micha. Do you have more of these? I’m happy to answer them as time allows. Like I said before: this stuff is coming out my ears!

So,  the vayemniri don’t care for dragons.   How is the relationship with metalic dragons?   I would assume that the tyrranical dragons of Abir were chromatic.   Do they see a difference, or have both dragon types been lumped together?   Since we have a new world that lacks a history of dragon overlords, would a visiting dragon be treated with hospitality, or are we talking prejudice?    How would the vayemniri look at the dragon worshipping kobold?

 And what about the Wall of the Faithless?   I assume that is still around, and I imagine its demonstratably real.

 

Good questions! Let’s break it into two parts.

DRAGONS
To the first point, I cannot speak with absolute authority—the information on Abeir is–intentionally, I suspect—a little thin, so you can craft your own lore. But the impression I’m left with is one of a world corrupted by the tyranny of the Dawn Titans/primordials. The laws of nature in Toril are not the laws of nature in Abeir, and so metallic dragons aren’t necessarily as good as they were at the beginning of time or in the current age in Toril.

Here’s why I say that: the dragons in Abeir gained their power in a lot of the same ways the dragonborn gained their freedom. They begin as the steeds and property of the titans. They fight them, defeat them—mostly—and throw off the shackles, then set to building their own empires on the backs of humanoids. Chromatic dragons and metallic dragons are in the same boat here, and once different dragon kingdoms start establishing themselves, it’s very plausible to me that each dragon is only thinking of their counterparts. Humans, elves, dragonborn, etc.—these never get a real chance to gain a solid foothold the way they do in Toril. They are chattel and creatures—not “real” like dragons. And so even given the possibility of a metallic dragon that is capital-G Good, with the general state of things they’re probably good in a very paternalistic way: they treat their slaves very well, but they’re still slaves. Poor things couldn’t make it on their own. More likely, I would think, is the possibility that Abeir has corrupted them too. Humanoids are acceptable collateral damage in stopping chromatics/primordials/etc.

But that’s not how metallic dragons are in Toril—this is true. And if you look at the sourcebooks, there are definitely examples of dragonborn who are convinced that metallics are different, including the worshipers of Bahamut, the Platinum Cadre. On an individual level, this is extremely plausible.

On a cultural level, the Vayemniri haven’t had enough time to adjust and the right overtures haven’t been made.

Assume one silver dragon arrives to welcome them to the neighborhood (and I’m going to assume that takes a little while, given the previous neighbors were not the dragons’ best friends either). The whole city is going to go into defense mode. Every dragonborn in the place is going to go, “IT’S THE BIG ONE!” and beat the war drums (there are literal war drums on the market level, per Whisper of Venom!). Even if they can’t defeat that silver dragon, even if that silver dragon is just trying to give them a fruit basket, they know you can’t take chances with dragons and they’d fight like their lives and their offspring’s lives depend on it. The dragon, I would think, would bail out and tell other dragons that those people are crazy. Don’t bother.

Could good dragons change the Vayemniri’s perception? Maybe. With time, or maybe with a mass show of goodwill, like a big flight of them settling down at a safe distance with muffin baskets. But they don’t really know, necessarily, what they’re up against. What they have to, in a sense, prove they aren’t. They really can’t just say, “Guys, we’re not like that!” because that’s what an Abeiran dragon would say! And come to it, the Vayemniri aren’t really missing out on much by not dealing with good dragons.

(As for kobolds, I would expect they don’t like kobolds at all.)

FAITHLESS AND GODS
This is a tricky one, because this is a case where they are potentially losing out. For those who haven’t delved into the nuances of the religion and afterlife of the Forgotten Realms, divine magic comes from the gods, who are very much real and have definite opinions about who deserves that magic, and the dead are judged by Kelemvor, the god of the dead, and then claimed by the gods who love them best. Those who worship no gods, who deny the gods, are hung on the Wall of the Faithless for eternity—unless they take a deal from a devil to escape to the Nine Hells and take their chances.

(…I think. There are a lot of ideas that seem to collide in this, which kind of makes sense. I don’t imagine a lot of people come back with detailed accounts of the bureaucracy of the afterworld.)

So the dragonborn are not atheists, specifically. It’s hard to exist in the Realms and not accept that there are gods. But they don’t have any interest in them. Mehen describes the gods at one point as being like beggars—you give them a little attention and they’ll be after you and your coin purse for all your days.

Which means dragonborn ought to end up on the Wall of the Faithless.

There are two things about that though. One, for all that sounds like a terrible fate, I don’t know that it’s not better in the eyes of the dragonborn. If the alternative is having your soul go to some god’s plane of existence, separated from your clan for eternity, and then serve that god for eternity, I can see a lot of Vayemniri asking if the Wall’s available.

Two, the question that needs to be asked is actually “What’s the afterlife of Abeir like?” There are no gods in Abeir—the gods got Toril, and the Dawn Titans got Abeir, and the Dawn Titans don’t collect souls. For all but the last hundred years of their existence, the Vayemniri dragonborn haven’t worshiped gods because there weren’t gods to worship.

This is where it’s fun to piece together the bits of information given in the FRCG and other sources: They’re as close to atheistic as you can be in a world where gods literally pop down. They have no formal temples or shrines in their city. But they have catacombs—they have funerary customs, and those funerary customs include preservation of the dead. If all these are true, this tells us a couple of things:

  1. The gods haven’t made Djerad Thymar a priority. Gods, it’s been theorized, gain strength and power and realness from worship. This is a city of tens of thousands where there is no competition for worship, and converts are individual and minute? The only group with numbers worth noting are the Platinum Cadre, the worshipers of Bahamut. Are the gods super racist or impossible divas? “No, you come to me!” Or are they holding off for some reason? Regardless, I would argue that the gods are culpable, too, in the faithlessness of the Vayemniri.
  2. The Vayemniri probably have some sense of an individual soul. Funerary customs are really interesting and bring up a lot of fascinating nuances between cultures, but if you’re preserving the body (e.g. keeping it intact) it’s usually because that person’s immortal soul needs it. (It’s alternately possible that there were a lot of problems with necromancy in Abeir, and keeping your ancestors’ bones close is how you prevent them being defiled by assholes. But that still assigns value to the body.)
  3. They built this enormous city with catacombs—they arrived with this custom in place.

 

All these things come together in a few possibilities:

  1. Do Abeiran souls go to the same afterlife as Torilian souls?
    1. YES. Is their lack of worship still relevant?
      1.   YES. The Wall of the Faithless is full of Abeirans and this is what the Vayemniri expect from their afterlife.
      2.  NO. The gods are scooping up deserving Abeirans from the Fugue Plane, and since they clearly haven’t signaled the rules have changed, they continue to scoop Vayemniri and the Vayemniri continue to live their lives to the best of their abilities, without giving the gods much thought.
    2. NO. Is there an Abeiran afterlife?
      1. YES. Then the Vayemniri may well go to a kind of limbo state, like a god-less upper plane. A god could step in and claim them, but it would be a hard sell.
      2. NO. Then the Vayemniri’s souls may be obliterated.
      3. WELL…SORT OF. The Vayemniri’s souls persist as ghosts that stick around their bodies. Maybe your ancestors literally influence you this way.

There are other possibilities, too, and I have my favorites. But suffice it to say, nothing is canonical yet.  And one reason for that is that the dragonborn probably lack divine magic: you probably don’t get a lot of dragonborn returning from the dead to tell everyone what they experienced. You probably also don’t get a lot of quick, complete healing, which is also interesting in my opinion. The dragonborn probably have a very different experience of injury and disability than the rest of Faerûn–someone like Shestandeliath Geshthax, the patriarch of his clan, whose right arm was amputated, is probably a stranger sight in other parts of the world where a priest can regrow that arm, but in Djerad Thymar he’s an elder who’s seen battle, probably one of many.

I suspect, too–given this and given the text which describes them as avid gardeners–that dragonborn have a more robust knowledge of what I’d call traditional healing–their healer’s kits should come with an extra bonus.

 

Enjoy this breakdown of dragonborn culture? Consider pre-ordering Ashes of the Tyrant, the upcoming Farideh novel that ties into the Rage of Demons storyline and returns to Djerad Thymar. 

Have more questions about dragonborn? Ask ‘em here, or use the contact form and I’ll write another post.

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Gen Con 2015 Schedule

Good morning all!

Today’s the day to register for Gen Con events, and I have a few for you (just under the wire)

SEM1577058—Writer’s Craft: Atmospheric Writing
Thursday, 12:00-1:00 PM
“Authors often want to give a story a particular “feel,” such as dread, wonder, romance, or weirdness. Learn how to create atmosphere through word choice, sentence construction, & other techniques.”

SEM1577059—Editing Your Work
Thursday, 1:00-2:00 PM
“Writing requires more than putting words on paper; you also have to edit & revise your work to make it as good as possible. Learn the best ways to edit your writing from some masters of the craft.”

SEM1577142—Crafting Languages
Saturday, 3:00-4:00 PM
“A good fictional language adds depth to your story; a bad one can ruin it. Learn from authors with experience at imaginary languages how to avoid pitfalls & use language to enhance your story.”

WKS1578872—Finding Work for Your Inner Critic: Self-Editing for Fiction
Saturday, 9:00-11:00 AM
I’m doing a workshop! Possibly because I’ve lost my ever-loving mind! But no, seriously, I’m glad Marc Tassin was interested in this idea. See, if you write, you know the voice of your Inner Critic and you know you have to ignore it. But the truth is, I never stopped listening to mine. I just learned to put it to work at the right time. Bring some pages of a current work, a notebook, and a pen. The workshop costs $8, which covers the cost of the room, a lot of handouts, and maybe some donuts, since this is the first time I’m running it. We’ll see.

WKS1577147—Read & Critique
Sunday, 9:00-11:00 AM
“Each attendee reads something they’ve written, and our panel of experienced authors provide on-the-spot feedback. It’s a fantastic opportunity to get personal feedback on your work! Only participants will be allowed in the room during the Read & Critique session. Each attendee should come prepared with a few pages of their writing (typically 5-10 minutes worth). Attendees should also bring material for taking notes. Attendees who are unable able to read their own work should talk to the facilitator at the start of the session and we’ll make special arrangements for you.” This costs $8, and there are only two tickets left! Hurry up!

I will also be doing some signings with the Ed Greenwood Group. I’ll add the times when I have them. Hope to see you at Gen Con!

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On Playing a Dragonborn in the Forgotten Realms: Part 1

Yesterday, someone asked me the following:

Erin could you help me please? I’m starting a D&D adventure on Facebook and my partner wants to be a Dragonborn Noble Sorceress and I’m wondering if Dragonborn have noble/royal bloodlines? I want to keep it as true to the realms as I can and I feel you are the expert on Dragonborn.

Because it was on Facebook, I answered in approximately eighty-six replies. So, at the advice of the inestimable Joe Carriker, here they are, summarized for your reading pleasure. (If you don’t know what I’m talking about, get thee to a library or bookstore and catch up on the Brimstone Angels saga!)

**Asterisks mean there’s a clarifying answer coming further down.**

 

PICKING A CLAN
The short answer is that they do not have royal/noble bloodlines. Bloodlines are grouped into clans. Clans elect a Vanquisher every ten years, who is essentially a benevolent, light-touch dictator, and it’s not always the same clan that s/he comes from. Ideally Vanquishers embody all the values of the Vayemniri*–strength, military prowess, (a bunch of things that can be translated as filial piety*), ingenuity/adaptability, and, let’s call it, “right-acting.”

Not every Vanquisher is awesome at all of this, and obviously, not every election goes without scandal. Still, every clan’s head elder (Patriarch/Matriarch) gets a vote in the end–but they can’t vote for their own candidate.

That said, while all clans are equal in their vote, they are not all equal in their power. So if what a player wants is a dragonborn from a venerable, wealthy, powerful bloodline, that is easy to get.

The first bloodline that comes to mind is Kepeshkmolik. Kepeshkmolik (means “lightning hide”) is old, wealthy, and powerful. Their most famous semi-Torillian member is Thymara, daughter of Kharadid, of the line of Shasphur*, who founded Djerad Thymar (“Thymara’s fortress”). That’s probably the closest you have to a royal family, though they don’t get any special laws or things the way queens or kings, etc., might. If this was your partner’s pick, she would be either three or four generations from Thymara. The current patriarch is Kepeshkmolik Narghon. His scion is Kepeshkmolik Uadjit (female). As of 1486 DR, she’s the clear favorite for a Vanquisher run, as Narghon’s young and she’s not going to need to be matriarch of Kepeshkmolik soon. (Vanquisher elections will come in early 1488 DR.)

Other options: Verthisathurgiesh (“the crippled mountain*’) can possibly claim to be one of the first clans, established way back in Abeir. At one point it definitely had the most bloodlines in it. It’s still powerful, still wealthy, but the last patriarch, Pandjed, was an abusive tyrant and exiled just about everyone who annoyed him. If you want to be a tragically exiled noble, this is a good family to pick. This is Mehen’s family. The current matriarch is Anala, daughter of Gharizani, of the line of Khorsaya (Mehen’s aunt).

Linxakasendalor is the family of the “current” Vanquisher, Tarhun. This is not technically canonical, but it makes sense, given the Vanquisher wears gold piercings* beneath the eyes and in descriptions, Tarhun doesn’t have visible empty piercings. So his clan might wear similarly placed piercings. (I don’t write much about Linxakasendalor and what has been written–the excellent Brotherhood of the Griffon series by Richard Lee Byers–has shown them in the background), so you’re wide open here insofar as further details.

**Shestandeliath is another well-established clan with serious bona fides in the city of Djerad Thymar. Not only did their ancestor Thuchir Who-Would-Be-Shestandeliath assist Verthisathurgiesh’s in the Battle of the Crippled Mountain, but they guard a powerful artifact, stolen from the grave of a titan, called the Breath of Petron, which can manipulate stone and helped to build Djerad Thymar. Their patriarch is Shestandeliath Geshthax, Son of Orothain, of the line of Haizverad. (Geshthax, if you decide to depict him, is missing his right arm)

.If you want a “special group” more than a powerful family, s/he could also be an Adjudicator. This is more like being a member of a religious group. An abbot/abbess or something. These are the Vanquishers court and agents. They are given by their clans to become Adjudicators as children, and so they’re pierced only with the gold piercings. Kind of like a police class for conflicts that aren’t under the control of a single clan (i.e. you take care of your own family’s shit, but if it spills out into the city? if it involves more than one clan? You may be looking at a visit from the Adjudicators). Rules apply differently to them, but they’re not technically supposed to marry–so that’s less royal.

Otherwise, there’s not much reason you can’t choose any clan you want to from the PHB. There’s a lot of clans and not a lot of writing about most of them. would steer clear of Yrjixtilex, because they’re a really big clan that’s spread into farms and ranches and stuff–less high-brow, more willing to get their hands dirty. I’d probably also stay away from Daardendrien, who have been shown to be open enough to things like god-worship, that it makes them seem a little bit like upstarts, forgetting what’s important, to clans like Kepeshkmolik. (Different clans interpret that “adaptability” thing differently).

HOW TO BE “HIGH-BORN”
Now, if you want to be a high-brow dragonborn, you need more than just a clan. First they need to know their “full name”: that’s clan name, given name, parental distinction, and line. Example: Verthisathurgiesh Anala, daughter of Gharziani, of the line of Khorsaya.

The first two bits should be clear by now. The parental distinction is the parent who comes from the clan you belong to. You KNOW who your other parent is–that’s just not your identity. In a Vayemniri* marriage, part of the brokerage is which clan gets how many eggs.

The line declares which bloodline you descend from, naming an ancestor around whom that bloodline crystalizes. Khorsaya is the dragonborn from the story Farideh tells Dahl at The Dragon’s Last Drink in Fire in the Blood (see below). Another Verthisathurgiesh line is Reshvemi’s. These people are related on one level, but not on another (e.g. Mehen and Arjhani are both Verthisathurgiesh, but Mehen is of Khorsaya’s line and Arjhani is of Reshvemi’s. They share allegiance, they don’t share blood.) You can marry within your clan (although there’s a certain amount of “why would you bother?” You can’t build alliances or share strength that way. This is hatchling thinking!*) but you would never marry in your bloodline.

(Note: There’s a certain degree of “cross cousins” vs. “parallel cousins” distinction here, your off-parent’s bloodline isn’t your bloodline, but that’s some anthro geekery levels that you probably don’t need.)

When you meet someone who’s not dragonborn, you’d introduce yourself with just your given name (“Anala”) or–more formally–with your clan name and your given name (“Kepeshkmolik Anala”). Your WHOLE name is really for dragonborn, because all those maunthreki* have no idea what the rest of it means.

Another thing (or things) your character might want/need are ancestor stories. These are like dragonborn nursery stories–but they are not cute. They are hard. You’ll have heard these basically since you broke the shell, and they shape a lot of really fundamental things. Art. Sayings. The way your parents yell at you. They are also good for making maunthreki wig out a little. As such (from Fire in the Blood):

“I never understood that about dragonborn,” Dahl said, skirting the topic. He knew all too well the signs of a confession that burst its way out, that you wished you’d held your tongue over. “The gods are there. There’s no arguing it. What’s to be gained by ignoring them?”

Farideh was quiet a long time. “I grew up on stories of how my father’s clan survived in Abeir under the cruelty of the dragons there, of how they threw off those shackles, raised armies out of slaves and won their freedom at terrible cost. His great-great-great-great-great-great grandmother, Khorsaya Who-Would-Be-Verthisathurgiesh, killed the favored offspring of Emycharianatris, the Jewel-Born Empress, with a bowl of her own fermented blood and a knife carved out of her father’s thighbone and magic. Drugged him and then stabbed him through the gullet. The gods had nothing to do with it.”

A shiver ran over Dahl. “Gods’ books. He put you to bed with that?”

Farideh shrugged. “It’s what they lived with.”

If you’re a proper dragonborn, you also need facial piercings to indicate your clan. You get these when you’re grown enough to officially join your clan, and you can lose them if you piss off your elders enough to get exiled. For dragonborn in Djerad Thymar, having empty piercings is a bit like having a jailhouse tattoo–people are thinking “What did they do?”

Being unpierced is kind of unnerving–it would be like meeting someone who won’t tell you their name. But for dragonborn who live further afield, the piercings aren’t as necessary–either you’re isolated enough that everyone knows who you are, or you live with non-dragonborn and they don’t really know what it means.  So if you come from the homesteads out in the countryside or you were born in Waterdeep, you might not be pierced. After all you can’t be spared if you get an infection come harvest time, and if you’re in a human city, who’s going to do it? But if you go to the City Bastion, everyone will know you’re kind of a bumpkin.

Here’s a short list of established piercings:

  • Verthisathurgiesh: dark jade plugs along right jaw frill.
  • Kepeshkmolik: mother-of-pearl disks that resemble the waxing then waning moon across the brow.
  • Daardendrien: six bone/ivory studs piercing the left profile.
  • Ophinshtalajiir: Two light jade rings on right side of neck.
  • Shestendeliath: Silver chains from left nostril piercings to frill along left ear.
  • Fenkenkabradon:Branching steel piercings like miniature antlers jut from the temples.
  • Kanjentelllequor: silver skewers through the jawline
  • Yrjixtilex: Red jasper axe-heads along the right brow.
  • Prexijandilin: Enamel primroses pierced into cheeks and–for females–the tips of the “plumes”
  • Linxakasendalor: copper owl-shaped piercings in face
  • Clethtinthtiallor: silver falcons on right side.

CLARIFYING QUESTIONS
WHAT’S A VAYEMNIRI?
Look, dragonborn is a terrible name for dragonborn in the Forgotten Realms. They hate dragons for making them and enslaving them for centuries, they wouldn’t want to claim them as their origin. However, I think it’s plausible for people in the Realms to call them dragonborn. They sort of look like Dragonborn of Bahamut, right? So the common word is dragonborn, and the dragoborn have just accepted that that’s what these squishy people call them. It would be rude to say “Change your language for me!” especially as they don’t care all that much to be running around getting in everyone’s business, correcting every rando that comes up with this idea that they call them “dragonborn.” They call themselves the Vayemniri, which means “the ash-marked.’ And, you guessed it, that comes from a battle recounted in ancestor stories, the Tale of the Crippled Mountain.

WHAT’S A MAUNTHREKI?
That’s a kind of rude way to say “non-dragonborn.” It’s not like “the M-word” level of rude, but it’s othering. Havilar gets really mad when a dragonborn calls her and Brin this. Brin is unbothered and kind of amused.
WHY DID YOU STAR “FILIAL PIETY”? I KNOW WHAT THAT MEANS.
Well because there’s several kinds of filial piety.

  • Omin’ iejirsjighen—“What the clan writes on the blood;” the things you owe your clan because you were taught their importance. (e.g.serving your two in the Lance Defenders would fall under this, or being a good host*)
  • omin’ iejirkkessh—“The clan that is in the blood;” the things you owe your clan which you shouldn’t need to be taught (e.g. respecting your clan elders, the importance of the past, having a drive to be a good defender)
  • throtominarr—“the clan repeated” the honor you show your ancestors by improving on what they created (e.g. increasing your clan’s status, building a better mousetrap, making a trade agreement that was lost in previous generations) The art here is considered to be improving, but not undoing.

Failing at the second is worse than the first, and the third is kind of a specific application of the first two. The same way modern people might say no one should have to teach you not to murder someone, but maybe you have to be taught not to take things that aren’t yours, and then you have to make sure your children understand both of these things.

I starred the idea of being a good host, because it doesn’t make sense at first glance. They survived centuries of slavery and rose up by brutal uprising and not by being friendly. But given that, and given the clan system, the dragonborn of Djerad Thymar would have to realize one thing above all: you need allies to get by. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts. So anyone new is treated with cautious optimism in traditional Vayemniri culture. They are kind and accomodating, while being kind of suspicious in their thoughts. Offer guests tea, but ask why they’re visiting. Give them a place to stay, because that way you are protecting them and keeping an eye on them.

HATCHLINGS ARE…BABY DRAGONBORN?
Sort of. You’re not considered an adult until you’ve done your Lance Defender service (i.e. compulsory military service of two years). In the olden days, you would have had to kill or help kill a dragon too, but realistically, that’s harder in this world. Until that point (and even after for very grumpy elders) you’d be referred to as a hatchling, even though you’re more like a teenager/young adult. You can do your service as early as about fifteen, but it’s possible to delay that for a few years and it could be delayed by TPTB if your cohort/age group is pretty big or if there’s a large number of people who’ve gone career (You can always become a Lance Defender for life!) and there’s not an immediate need for more bodies (This is probably not true in the post-Sundering timeline as shit happens during the Sundering, but it’s possible!)

ARE SAURIALS DRAGONBORN?
No. They are saurials! There are definitely factors that these reptilian humanoids have in common, but physically they’re dramatically different, and they’ve got nothing to do with each other, geographically or in a planar sense. Saurials haven’t come up much, to my knowledge, since the Spellplague. There’s room to elaborate. Maybe there could be a saurial quarter of Djerad Thymar post-Sundering?

But this touches on a point I feel strongly about: visual similarities don’t make for good connections alone. There was an element in 4E that some dragonborn had started to worship Bahamut, for example, and to me, that’s not a good fit. Bahamut may look the most like them, but that’s a double-rejection of what their culture is founded on; namely, that dragons (and really all tyrants) are the enemy and you (and your clan) can handle things alone. Shackling yourself to a god, who wants things from you and whose promises and return payment aren’t terribly testable, is like spitting in the eyes of your ancestors who fought and died to free you. Scaly doesn’t mean good. (An individual could certainly do it, but there’d be the same level of backlash, I think, as there would be if you became a pro-slavery Royalist in modern America. People are going to think you’re crazy, at best.)

Honestly, I feel like if dragonborn were going to worship a god, it would be like the Red Knight. Or really, a cult to (previously) dead Mystra, since if she hadn’t died, they’d still be stuck fighting off dragon attacks in Abeir. Or maybe someone else who could make the right offers…

Enjoy this breakdown of dragonborn culture? Consider pre-ordering Ashes of the Tyrant, the upcoming Farideh novel that ties into the Rage of Demons storyline and returns to Djerad Thymar. 

Have more questions about dragonborn? Ask ‘em here, or use the contact form and I’ll write another post.

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