[Eberron] What's Erandis Vol Been Doing For 3,000 Years?

Hellcow

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I just spent a bunch of time responding to an old thread on a different topic, and I figured I’d go ahead and cross-post it here. The issue is Erandis Vol and the Blood of Vol. Along with the Church of the Silver Flame, it’s one of the things most frequently misunderstood in Eberron, and I can’t resist a thread about it, so here it is.

The essential issue here is whether Erandis is powerful enough, given her backstory.

I mean, seriously. A 3500 year old half-dragon lich who grants her followers spells is only 16th level?
Erandis Vol doesn't grant her followers spells. She doesn't actually HAVE followers, in the sense of "people who worship her as a god". The premise of the Blood of Vol is that all living creatures have a spark of divinity within their blood, and that if you work on it, you can learn to tap this Divinity Within. As a cleric, your power comes from YOU. The typical follower of the faith hasn't heard of Erandis; those who know of her largely know of her as "The Queen of the Dead", a powerful undead champion of the faith. But the "Vol" in The Blood of Vol is the name of Erandis' FAMILY; it's not "The Blood of Erandis Vol."

I think a 3500 year old lich should be more than 16th level. Even if we ignore whether or not it's her that's granting her followers power, it's 3500 years. What was she doing for most of that time? Baking pies?
It’s a good question. What has she been doing? Well, first of all? Hiding. Maintaining as ridiculously low profile as possible. She was the last survivor of a line hunted by elves and dragons. And when she first became a lich, she was little more than a child - remember, she didn't make herself a lich, her mother did it. You can expect that she spent the first few centuries –at least - hiding out in whatever super-shielded shelter her mother had prepared for her, just trying to figure out what to do next. Put yourself in her situation. You’re, maybe, a sixth level wizard. You’re a lich, which is new for you. Your entire family is dead, and why? BECAUSE OF YOU, and what you represent. A big question that’s left unanswered is where and what Vol’s phylactery is. Personally, I think it’s unusual in that it’s set so that she doesn’t regenerate at its location – that her mother (herself the most accomplished necromancer of the age) set it up so it wouldn’t be so easy to track her daughter and destroy her. With that in mind, I think there’s every chance that the first thing an overwhelmed Erandis would have done would have been to try to destroy herself – only to discover that as she doesn’t know where her phylactery is, she can’t even do that.

Once she began to feel confident the search was over and she was presumed dead? She'd start exploring the world around her. Bear in mind that her sanctuary was in the Lhazaar Principalities, and there's every reason to think that she'd never left Aerenal in her life. So she's suddenly in a very alien culture, with powerful enemies still out in the wider world. So, explore the region, slowly gather what allies she could, spread her influence. Bear in mind that it wasn't Erandis herself who spread the Blood of Vol; it was the other non-Vol elves exiled from Aerenal, with the faith spreading with a sort of telephone-game transition. So thus, people weren't worshipping ERANDIS... but it was something she could use as a basis for developing influence.

So what next? Well, what's her goal? Not becoming a 30th level wizard. Her goal is to find a way to restore her mark and achieve its full potential (as she never did in life). Consider...
4E ECG Page 251 said:
The statistics below represent Lady Vol’s abilities in her current state. Should she succeed in her apotheosis, she will have powers rivaling a god’s. It is up to you to decide what steps are required for her to rise to this level, but it should be a serious challenge; she has been working toward it for thousands
of years.
She’ll need ancient artifacts, books of forgotten lore, or possibly to make deals with demonic overlords. She might create eldritch machines with the apparent goal of turning everyone in Sharn into a zombie—but the true goal of which is to weaken the borders between Eberron and Dolurrh (a goal she can achieve even in defeat). Her apotheosis should be the culmination of a long story arc. It’s also up to you to decide what happens if Erandis ascends. Will she terrorize the world until she is defeated? Or, with her destiny secured, will she retire to Dolurrh and become a worthy ruler of her new realm of death?
The key point is bolded. THIS is what she's been doing for thousands of years. Collecting shards of a Qabalrin tablet shattered and scattered across the world, because it's the key to a ritual that MIGHT help her... or might not. She may have spent three centuries surveying Dolurrh manifest zones trying to find one that would serve for this ritual. And so on. She hasn't been spending every day of those thousands of years trying to improve her ability to cast a fireball. She's been working to expand her influence through political action... and engaged in arcane research that has nothing to do with direct character ability. With THAT said...
4E ECG said:
(Erandis Vol) is a skilled ritual caster and uses magic for many purposes. She has access to secret necromantic rituals developed by her house
and a few rituals of her own design, including a variation of the wizard utility power disguise self (PH 162) that allows her to cloak her true nature when she has business in the outer world.
One of the things I like about 4E is this separation of combat and noncombat magic. In my opinion, Erandis should have access to necromantic rituals other people haven't even begun to master. She should be able to create types of undead the players have never seen. Of course, many of these rituals could be tied to specific locations, specific times, specific focus items - those things she's spent a thousand years figuring out - so you can't just add them to your spellbook. But come at her in Illmarrow, and she should be able to conjure the ghosts of your worst enemies to face you, tell you the moment of your death, or goodness (or badness) knows what else. She may not be all-powerful in terms of her personal combat ability - but she should be one of the most accomplished NECROMANCERS around.

The point is most PCs are not deific entities at 16th level. And most PCs don't take 3500 years to get there.
Certainly. But this is a key point that has always been called out with the setting… PCs don’t take 3500 years to get there. Because in Eberron, PCs and NPCs are fundamentally different. You can become a 10th level fighter in a year while the dwarf veteran of the Last War is still a 2nd level warrior. This isn't because the dwarf never saw action. It's because he's a normal guy - he's got limited potential, and he’s reached it. And compared to a 1st level commoner, he’s doing pretty well as a 2nd level warrior. In Lord of the Rings, the Rohirrim spend their lives hunting orcs. But they aren't as tough as Legolas, Gimli, or Aragorn - because those three are the Player Characters. It's the same way that you can't become Mozart just by playing the piano a lot. Some people have remarkable potential that others don't. PCs are just such people, and given time, they can reach levels of expertise that a normal man on the street never will, even if he lives to be ten thousand. There are NPCs that have similar potential, and they become the great villains of the setting. But in Eberron, time alone doesn’t make an NPC awesome. It’s about the potential you possess.

But that doesn't change the fact that it's a bad idea to stat out the head of one of the major threats on Eberron weaker than she should be according to the fluff text just because I think my PCs should be able to kill gods or take out the Blood of Vol/Emerald Claw at 14-16th level.
There’s a number of key points here. First, Erandis ISN’T one of the major threats on Eberron. She’s specifically supposed to be a midlevel threat – something to deal with before you’re ready to face an Overlord or a Quori invasion. She’s a serious, scary challenge, but one that you could feasibly encounter when you’re 12th level without instantly dying.

With that said, one of the key features of Eberron, as a pulp setting, is Recurring Villains. Erandis is perfect for this, and that’s one of the things the secrion above notes… “She might create eldritch machines with the apparent goal of turning everyone in Sharn into a zombie—but the true goal of which is to weaken the borders between Eberron and Dolurrh (a goal she can achieve even in defeat).“ Essentially, the key point is that major recurring villains should grow and evolve with the players. Doctor Doom is a threat for the Fantastic Four. As they grow more powerful and confident in the use of their abilities, he becomes more nefarious with his devices and magic. Ditto for Erandis. She may START at 16th level. But by the time the PCs are 16th level, she may be 18th or 20th level. Same thing for the Lord of Blades. These are the master villains of the setting, and they aren’t standing still while you do stuff. With that said, I always recommend that a boost in an NPC’s power have an explanation. You’re right: It’s taken Erandis three thousand years to reach sixteenth level. Why can she pick up four more levels in one century? It’s not because she goes to a dungeon and kills some goblins. It should be because she acquires the Orb of Dol Azur and drains its power; because she finds the last of the Qabalrin Fragments, which she’s been looking for over the last three thousand years; because she builds a Necrotic Resonator and drains the life force of everyone in Korth. You stopped her from draining the life of everyone on Khorvaire and saved the world, and good on you for that – but when you meet her again, she’s stronger than she was BECAUSE of what she did in that last adventure. This is the same basic principle for using a Lord of Dust or an Inspired as a main villain in a story arc. Because it's easy for them to reincarnate, they can escape and potentially grow stronger even in defeat. The Dreaming Dark agent may be 14th level when you first encounter him and kill his first vessel, but when he returns he may be 16th level, having successfully accomplished a scheme. he grows as you do.

If Erandis is a one-off villain, fine, keep her static. But if you WANT her to be the main villain of a campaign – to be the Doctor Doom in your campaign – than she should grow in power to continue to pose a threat. If she truly becomes Queen of the Dead, she should rival the Overlords in power; it’s simply up to you to decide if that’s something she can ever achieve.

As for providing stats for NPCs… it’s all a matter of serving a diverse audience. Some people complained because we DIDN’T provide stats for certain key NPCs in the 3.5 edition. Some people want things spelled out. Personally, I like the freedom. I’ve yet to see stats for a Lord of Blades that are the way I use him in MY campaign – but that just means I make my own. The fact that stats exist doesn’t mean I have to use them; it simply means they are wrong. PCs shouldn’t know the Lord of Blades’ stats, so if they get into a fight and say “Hey, he can’t do that!” – well, says who? Essentially, the stats provided only matter if you don’t want to take the time to make up your own. If you’ve got the time, who cares what the books say? If you think that by the fluff, Erandis should be 24th level, do it; it doesn’t matter what the listed stats are.

Anyhow, sorry to ramble and repeat - I'm used to being paid by the word. :) But, key points:
Erandis Vol isn’t a deity.
She doesn’t grant spells to the clerics of the Blood of Vol.
Those clerics don’t actually worship Erandis, and many don’t know that she exists.
She’s been spending much of her existence building a power base, finding ways to hide from dragons, and exploring rituals designed to do something impossible – restore her mark. She hasn’t been focused on developing her personal combat ability. It’s up to you to decide what those major rituals are, and why it is that the stars are finally coming right now. But that’s the point – they ARE coming right now. She couldn’t achieve her goals a thousand years ago. Lucky for us, the PCs are around in the century that she finally can.
In 4E, where combat and noncombat abilities are separate, I would definitely provide her with rituals no one else has dreamed of; her power as a ritual caster is considerably greater than her power in battle.
And finally, if you intend to use her as a recurring villain – which she’s well suited to, as a lich with a hidden phylactery – don’t be afraid to increase her power as the PCs increase in power. She doesn’t rise in level through the same process they do; but as she achieves her story goals, that should be reflected by an increase in her personal power, possibly a dramatic increase. She could jump to 34th level when the PCs are still 20th; now finding a way to challenge her becomes an extended story arc.
 

EvoKB

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Nice post Keith. I've always loved Eberron and your work. I for one would like to see what a level 34 Erandis would look like. That is just me though. I'm no pro.
 

Safid

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None of this is canon, but others may be interested in how I am using the character of Erandis Vol in my game. In my campaign, Vol and Bel Shalor are working together -- each using the other -- towards a common goal: destroying the boundary between Eberron and Dolurrh.

Bel Shalor is trying to weaken the gateways between worlds, including Dolurrh, as part of his inscrutable plan to break the chains that bind him to the Silver Flame. He's not so much interested in succeeding as he is in loosening the bonds just enough to move his hands, so to speak -- his actual endgame is a bit more mysterious, and he's clever enough to set things up so that even if he loses, he wins.

Vol is trying to cover the entire face of Eberron with the Mourning and superimpose the two planes as part of her plan involving her re-emergence. Thus, both of them want, at least in part, to collapse planar boundaries.

In my campaign, Erandis, as young as she was, had a secret affair and bore a child before her death. That child was brutally killed at the same time as she was, but Bel Shalor stepped in and whispered to the child's soul as it was headed towards oblivion, and a bit of it clung to reality. In essence, Shalor kept something of Erandis' child alive, but secret. Via servitors and direct intervention, Shalor has twisted the younger Vol's spirit and nurtured her viewpoints to allow him to have his own heir of Vol.

Part of Erandis' plan involves using arcane machinery to recreate the Mark of Death on inert warforged and then bind the spirits of the dead into the bodies to create Deathforged. When the process has been refined enough, she plans to forge a perfect warforged body and transfer her soul into it, giving her a body and a functional mark with which to wreak havoc.

Bel Shalor has been working with Erandis to try to help her accomplish this goal, ostensibly to weaken one of the boundaries he needs (next up: the Far Realm!). But what he's really doing? Waiting for the exact right moment to substitute his own heir of Vol spirit and seize control of the arcane machinery, the process, and the mark of death. His ultimate goal? Not to create Deathforged, but to spawn Hellforged, and bring another portion of his essence into Eberron proper ...
 

Hellcow

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I for one would like to see what a level 34 Erandis would look like.
Actually, my first draft of Erandis for the 4E ECG included stats for her both at level 19 and level 31 (the "Queen of Death" stats). I assume the latter stats were cut for space; certainly it's an easy "Make her as tough as you want her to be" thing. But she's definitely in the should-grow-tougher-as-the-PCs-do camp.
 

Crakkerjakk

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I'd like to thank Mr. Baker for sending me a PM to let me know he's responded to one of my old posts. Mr. Baker, your work is phenomenal, and I'd like to thank you for your contribution to the many great fantasy settings out there. It's probably my favorite in the past 10 years or so.

All that out of the way, pardon me while I get to picking nits. One thing to note is that I don't actually run Eberron in D&D, so rules arguments hold less weight for me than story or plot reasons.

Erandis Vol doesn't grant her followers spells.
Fair 'nuff.

You can expect that she spent the first few centuries –at least - hiding out in whatever super-shielded shelter her mother had prepared for her, just trying to figure out what to do next.
I'd expect people who live several times a normal lifespan in some sort of sanctuary to have several lifetimes of experience at something. Especially with no TV.

So, explore the region, slowly gather what allies she could, spread her influence.
When PCs do this, they tend to gain levels rapidly. Even if she does so less rapidly, I'd expect it to happen a bit faster than a level every two centuries.

Well, what's her goal? Not becoming a 30th level wizard. Her goal is to find a way to restore her mark and achieve its full potential (as she never did in life). Consider...
I was never under the impression that "leveling up" was a goal actual people had. More that it was something that happened in their pursuit of power.

THIS is what she's been doing for thousands of years. Collecting shards of a Qabalrin tablet shattered and scattered across the world, because it's the key to a ritual that MIGHT help her... or might not. She may have spent three centuries surveying Dolurrh manifest zones trying to find one that would serve for this ritual. And so on. She hasn't been spending every day of those thousands of years trying to improve her ability to cast a fireball.
Aren't the success of spells/difficulty of resistance determined by level? And again, if she gets better at ANYTHING (IIRC) aside from learning new rituals, the only way this can be represented in D&D is levels. At least in 3.5 you could learn ANY new spell as a wizard without gaining levels (I think). 4E is actually MORE restrictive in this respect.

She's been working to expand her influence through political action... and engaged in arcane research that has nothing to do with direct character ability.
I have difficulty understanding that one can just engage in arcane research without increasing direct character ability. Unless we're back at "only combat gets you XP" accomplishing goals is how you level up, whether that's "Save the village from the hobgoblin raiders" or "successfully make new necromatic doom spell mk III".

She may not be all-powerful in terms of her personal combat ability - but she should be one of the most accomplished NECROMANCERS around.
Which is nice till she throws a foul necromatic spell o' doom at someone and they shrug it off because she forgot to spend those three millenia creating spells that would work against powerful foes.

Certainly. But this is a key point that has always been called out with the setting… PCs don’t take 3500 years to get there. Because in Eberron, PCs and NPCs are fundamentally different.
I think this is my main disconnect, personally. I have difficulty with "PCs are the only people like themselves on the planet." I can handle it just being a small group of protagonists and antagonists that are some of the most awesome people on the planet, but when the PCs and ONLY the PCs are the folks gaining levels like the rulebook says characters do, my brain spazes out a little.

If Erandis is a one-off villain, fine, keep her static. But if you WANT her to be the main villain of a campaign – to be the Doctor Doom in your campaign – than she should grow in power to continue to pose a threat.
THIS is fantastic advice, and a very good point.

PCs shouldn’t know the Lord of Blades’ stats, so if they get into a fight and say “Hey, he can’t do that!” – well, says who? Essentially, the stats provided only matter if you don’t want to take the time to make up your own. If you’ve got the time, who cares what the books say? If you think that by the fluff, Erandis should be 24th level, do it; it doesn’t matter what the listed stats are.
The proper response to such PCs is to whack them with a rolled up newspaper or spritz them with a water bottle. Leaving out stats so that the PCs don't use metagame knowledge to ruin your night just ends up requiring the GM to make up stats regardless of whether he would have liked your stats or not AND deal with metagaming players. I mean, hell, I use GURPS for Eberron, so it's not like I need stats, but they're nice to have as a way to ballpark abilities and capabilities. I can work with "3500 year old elf/dragon lich necromancer," but I'd like to know what the guy who's writing the setting was thinking, since he probably has a pretty good idea of what role he wanted a particular character to fulfill in the setting. Even if I eventually decide I know better and up- or down-grade the character.

Anywho, although I'm being stubborn, I think your point about some villains being static while others are recurring is a very valid one, and the main reason I'd chose in my Eberron to have her (or the Lord of Blades, or whatever) suddenly gain in power when up till now she's been advancing slowly.
 

Hellcow

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All that out of the way, pardon me while I get to picking nits.
Pardoned. Pardon me while I pick back. :) And for using D&D rules references when I know you're personally using GURPS.

I think this is my main disconnect, personally. I have difficulty with "PCs are the only people like themselves on the planet." I can handle it just being a small group of protagonists and antagonists that are some of the most awesome people on the planet, but when the PCs and ONLY the PCs are the folks gaining levels like the rulebook says characters do, my brain spazes out a little.
I should have started with this point. Instead, I started writing from the top of your message and got to this at the end - so bear in mind that everything that follows plays off of this.

I understand that this bothers you, and that I probably can't say anything to change your mind. But it is and always has been a fundamental principle of Eberron. The PCs are the only folks "gaining levels like the rulebook says characters do." In Eberron, the majority of NPCs don't use the same classes PCs do. They don't have action points. And they don't advance the same way PLAYER CHARACTERS do. They can and should advance when you feel they should advance. This is the point of the recurring characters section in the 3.5 ECS, and why it comes equipped with multiple stat blocks for Demise and Halas Martain. It's why I originally had two stat blocks for Erandis in the 4E ECG. But even there, those NPCs aren't supposed to be following the same advancement rules as PCs. They advance when you believe it's appropriate to advance. My favorite point to this is actually Knights of the Old Republic II, when a character asks you, essentially, "Haven't you noticed that no one else in the world gets ridiculously powerful by running around slaughtering things?" In Eberron, the PC rules are for the PCs.

So bear in mind much of what follows will be repetitive and redundant, but still...

I'd expect people who live several times a normal lifespan in some sort of sanctuary to have several lifetimes of experience at something. Especially with no TV.
Then why aren't all elves inherently superior to humans - especially in 3.5, when they can live much longer? What about the dragon, who lives 3000 years as a matter of course - why doesn't every dragon have twenty character levels? For that matter, is every 50 year old in our world inherently more skilled then every 20 year old? Can you become Einstein, Mozart, or Tesla simply because you spend more time beating your head against a book? In Eberron, the theory is that you can't - everyone has a level of potential, and there comes a point where your return-on-investment is going to dramatically decrease. Again, looking to Lord of the Rings, the Rohirrim rider has been hunting orcs just as long as Aragorn. He's a perfectly competent, capable warrior. But he's not as good as Aragorn. Not because he needs a few more years of training, but because Aragorn has something ineffable. If Aragorn is Mozart, the rider isn't even Salieri; he is simply a competent pianist who knows how to play what's put in front of him.

To take another example: I have been fencing for twenty years. I'm a decent fencer. But I wouldn't have a prayer against a twenty-year-old Olympic fencer, for all that he's only been fencing for a third of that time. Because he's attained a level of skill that's simply beyond me - that's how he got to be an Olympian in the first place. I'm better than I was twenty years ago. It's possible I'm better than I was ten years ago. But MAINLY, what I'm doing by continuing to fence is maintaining the level of proficiency I currently possess. If I'm a third level fighter, I won't be a fifth level fighter in another twenty years. But I can assure you that if I STOP fencing for twenty years and then start again, I'll be lucky to be a second level fighter. This is something that never happens to a D&D PC, because it sucks. But it's a fact of life for us: Stop using skills and you'll lose them. So for most NPCs, the issue is that they've realized as much of their potential as they are going to without a breakthrough - and their continued efforts are simply keeping them at that level. This is exactly the idea of the veteran of the Last War who's a second level warrior. He may have become a second level warrior in his first year of service. And unless he has some amazing breakthrough - find an amazing sensei, has a truly life-changing experience - that's all he'll ever be. His continued work is what KEEPS him a second level warrior... and all in all, that's not bad next to the first level commoners all around him.

It's all a matter of setting expectations. In Eberron, the basic expectation is this. Most people in the world - a good 90% of them - are 1st or 2nd level commoners (in 3.5 terms). This is nothing to be ashamed about. As a first level commoner you can be perfectly competent at a profession; add Skill Focus in and you're quite good. If you are fourth level, you're remarkably skilled at what you do. By eighth level, you're amazing. This comes back to the "Is Eberron High Magic" discussion. The magic that's available is integrated into society. But there aren't many people capable of casting spells over third or fourth level - and as a result, things like raising the dead and teleportation are still impressive. We know they can be done - but we don't think of them as everyday things. Beyond this, PC classes are rare - so most spellworkers are adepts or magewrights, not wizards.

So you seem to be looking at it and saying "My player character can become 16th level in a decade. Erandis has been around for thousands of years. Thus she should be far more impressive than I am, because she's been around for many times my lifespan." My point is that in Eberron, a 5th level wizard is impressive and will have to work just to maintain that level of skill. As a 16th level wizard, Erandis has achieved a mastery of magic that person can't even IMAGINE. It's simply the case that you, the player character, have the potential to match her in far less time than it took her - and potentially, to surpass her skill.

It's something mentioned on page 250 of the original ECS: "A key element of the Eberron setting is that the player characters are remarkable individuals, possessed of uncommon skills and potential. This advantage is reflected both by action points, which most NPCs do not possess, and by the versatility of the PC classes."

So you are Aragorn, not the nameless Rohirrim. You're Mozart, not a random studio pianist. You're Doc Savage. The Shadow. Your action points, your use of PC classes, your ability to rapidly advance in level - all of these things are based on the concept that you are a truly remarkable person, even at first level.

When PCs do this, they tend to gain levels rapidly.
Well, first, see point one: In Eberron, NPCs and PCs do not follow the same rules. This is one of the things I'm glad 4E picked up. But beyond this... really? "Slowly gather what allies she could, spread her influence"? I'm literally talking about building influence. Studying people. Gathering resources. Making deals with guild leaders. Making deals with the children of those guild leaders twenty years later. In a word - diplomacy. This is what you think should make the typical wizard a more powerful WIZARD? The general premise in Eberron is that influence does not equal personal physical power. Typically, the king won't be the mightiest warrior in the kingdom (Boranel aside). The Aurum Concordian is dangerous because of his connections and wealth, not because of his level. In 4E terms, I'm not even talking about skill challenges for Erandis. I'm talking about her studying the local elvish population from a distance; trying to determine which families might be descended from the followers of her family and which might be agents of the Chamber or the Deathguard; winning them over; using their connections (which were limited, as they were all immigrants) to win over other local figures; and so on and so on, all while not making waves big enough to be noticed by the Deathguard. Not adventures... basic, solid political work.

Even if she does so less rapidly, I'd expect it to happen a bit faster than a level every two centuries.
And my point is that even a level every two centuries is MORE than a normal person might do, after a certain point in their lives. When she became a ninth level wizard, Erandis had reached a level of skill most students of Arcanix can't even aspire to... and those that do would struggle just to keep that skill sharp. Going up beyond that isn't simply a matter of reading a hundred more books. Essentially, the only rewards I give to NPCs are story rewards - so what's her story? What does she NEED to do to increase her power to that next plateau? What's the breakthrough? Back to me as a fencer - again, I'm as good as I'm going to be on my own. For me to "gain a level", something would have to happen that would really shake me out of my patterns - a new teacher who would show me a way to look at fencing I've never considered. At ninth level, Erandis has simply learned as much as she possibly could from the material around her. She needs a breakthrough. She needs to find the Qabalrin Codex - which holds secrets never known to the world before. She needs to go to Dolurrh herself to better learn to manipulate its power. She needs to kill every soul in a principality with a Necrotic Resonator and bind them to her; these "familiars" are the power she draws upon. And six centuries could pass with none of those things happening. What is she doing in those six centuries? Managing her vast network of underlings. Studying archaeological tomes for reference to the Qabalrin Codex. Knitting. Practicing the spells she already knows - maintaining the level of skill she possesses, but again, she's just gotten as good as it's possible to get without a breakthrough.

And again, if she gets better at ANYTHING (IIRC) aside from learning new rituals, the only way this can be represented in D&D is levels. At least in 3.5 you could learn ANY new spell as a wizard without gaining levels (I think). 4E is actually MORE restrictive in this respect.
For PCs, it is. For NPCs, it's not. In 4E, NPCs have the abilities you need them to have. If I wanted to create a first level changeling spy with a +15 Insight bonus (because he's weak in combat but has amazing telepathic insight), I just do exactly that. Level represents the combat threat: what defenses, HP, and damage should be to pose a threat to a character of a certain level, likewise telling you how much experience you should receive for overcoming that threat. But if I want to have a 1st level NPC who spreads an ice age in a thousand mile radius around him, I can; he doesn't have to be 30th level to do that. Likewise, it doesn't affect the number of powers an NPC possesses, as it does for PCs. A level 19 rakshasa baron has 6 powers; a level 25 Swordwing has 3 powers. The PCs follow one set of rules; the NPCs do what they need to serve the needs of the story. In 3.5, the only way to say that Bob is a better blacksmith than Joe is to up his level; in 4E, you say "Bob is a better blacksmith than Joe", but if they pose the same threat in combat, they can be the same level.

That's an edition thing... but the point is that Eberron has always held by that premise that PCs and NPCs are fundamentally different, from action points and PC classes on up. The way that PCs advance simply isn't reflected in NPCs. Most people are 1st level commoners, and happy with their achievements as 1st level commoners.

I have difficulty understanding that one can just engage in arcane research without increasing direct character ability.
First, you've got my fencing example. How can I fence for the last five years without increasing direct character ability? Because, frankly, I've hit my ceiling. Second, what is "arcane research"? Let's say that Erandis is studying planar conjunctions to figure out the precise place where the walls between Mabar and Eberron will be their weakest. And she spends fifty years doing this. She can afford to; she's immortal. It's something a normal human wizard could never accomplish. But it doesn't make her any better at hitting someone with a fireball. Instead, it gives her access to a specific piece of information that no one could learn without spending fifty years studying it. Hopefully, she's also managed to keep doing enough basic exercises that she hasn't LOST a level when it comes to hitting people with fireballs. If I stopped fencing for fifty years, I know I'd still be better than I was at the start when I picked up the blade again - but I wouldn't be as good as I am today.

Which is nice till she throws a foul necromatic spell o' doom at someone and they shrug it off because she forgot to spend those three millenia creating spells that would work against powerful foes.
Absolutely, but two key points.

First: Erandis doesn't want to get into fights with anyone. That's a sucker's game. She doesn't WANT to fight dragons and the Undying Court directly. If she can restore her mark and unlock its true potential, she could become something more powerful than even an Overlord, something that could kill a hundred dragons with a thought. THAT'S her goal, and that's what she's spending her three centuries working towards. With that in mind, keeping her fireball training on par is basically a hobby - because she doesn't plan to GET into a fight if she can avoid it.

Second: At 16th level, she is astonishingly powerful. Remember, 90% of the population is composed of 1st level commoners. And in 4E terms, I would give her rituals along the line of "Inflict 1 point of damage on all creatures in a 1 mile radius" - which is to say, with a ritual, she could just wipe out a normal village in the blink of an eye. The only people powerful enough to threaten her are things like Dragons, the Undying Court, and the Lords of Dust, who will still all be powerful enough to threaten her if she's 17th level. Her defense there is to hide from them until she gets her dragonmark going, at which point she shoots WAY up in power. She's not anticipating a bunch of spunky PCs, because that's the point - PCs have potential others do not.

You as PCs ARE the unexpected. You're the meddling kids.

I can work with "3500 year old elf/dragon lich necromancer," but I'd like to know what the guy who's writing the setting was thinking, since he probably has a pretty good idea of what role he wanted a particular character to fulfill in the setting. Even if I eventually decide I know better and up- or down-grade the character.
Right. And as the guy writing the setting, I'm saying "Extremely powerful wizard, but not as powerful as a member of the Council of Ashtakala, and certainly not as powerful as an Overlord of the First Age." I wanted Erandis to be an impressive threat - but one you can face sooner than the Overlords. Because, of course, she's trying to become MORE powerful. So I want that arc to be part of the story. She's spent the last thousand years figuring out the steps it's going to take to regain the power she was born to wield - the power that has been denied to her. She's figured it out, and now she's finally putting those plans in motion. If you don't stop her, she WILL become as powerful as an Overlord. But she starts out weaker.

Same thing for the Lord of Blades. Speaking in 4E terms, he's a foe we WANT you to be able to face in Paragon level. And then *I* at least want him to get tougher as you do... hovering just enough ahead of you to stay a threat. And I want you to have a sense WHY his power is increasing. Perhaps he unlocks secrets of the proto-warforged in Xen'drik. Perhaps he becomes the Becoming God. Depending on the apparent level of the NPC, it may not require a big event. But Erandis is the perfect example. If she hasn't gained a level in 200 years, why does she gain two this year? I'd like the players to be able to say "Well, we did stop her from destroying Sharn, but she got away with the Keeper's Shroud - that might come back to haunt us."

But, you're absolutely right... " Even if I eventually decide I know better and up- or down-grade the character." I've set her at the level that makes sense based on MY view of the character. But if you've got a different view - if you can't imagine the 3,000 year old wizard only being 16th level - for goodness sakes, bump her up!

As a last thing, I will note a small element of hypocrisy in this statement. We have established that the Valenar are as skilled as they are because their culture is based around martial perfection and they spend decades honing those skills. However, my point there is that the typical Tairnadal has a great potential than the typical soldier of Breland because the Tairnadal literally lives and breathes war from the moment that he's born, and on a minor level, because he may literally be guided by his patron ancestor. But with that said, the Valenar are ALSO supposed to have that ceiling of potential. The typical Brelish soldier may be a 1st level warrior, compared to the typical Valenar being a 4th level ranger. But that TYPICAL Valenar isn't going to become a 12th level ranger just by spending another eighty years fighting. Back to the Piano Metaphor, they've got more Salieris, but they still don't have a nation of Mozarts. They still reach their ceiling and then work to maintain it, unless they have a breakthrough; what marks the PC is that unlimited potential.

Sorry about the pedantic post - it's just one of my issues. And like I said, I don't expect it to change your mind; it's just my way of looking at it.
 
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Hellcow

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I'd like to thank Mr. Baker for sending me a PM to let me know he's responded to one of my old posts. Mr. Baker, your work is phenomenal, and I'd like to thank you for your contribution to the many great fantasy settings out there. It's probably my favorite in the past 10 years or so.
And just since I haven't been on RPG.net for a while, I wanted to say two things. First - you're welcome, and thank you. It really means a lot to me to know that people are enjoying something I worked on. And second, to anyone reading this - I also know there's lots of people who DON'T like what I worked on, like one aspect of it but hate another, have an idea how the dragonmarked houses could be made a thousand times cooler, whatever. And I'm absolutely OK with that. Discussion boards are for discussion, and if I'm posting here it's because I want to be part of the discussion, whether people agree with me or not. So absolutely go ahead and pick nits with me and tell me you think idea X is stupid, because it may very well be. If you want to put gunpowder in Eberron, I might hop on and explain why I personally wouldn't, but that doesn't mean that YOU shouldn't.

Just be warned that I'm stubborn and long-winded. ;)
 

JohnBiles

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I think someone who cavorts about with undead all the time is probably lucky not to have been level-drained down to 1st level :)

Though really, once you hit her level on Eberron, lots of things just won't give you XP any more in 3E, the world for which it was created.

Erandis could rampage through many villages, kill everyone, dance on their graves, get no XP.

This would become more so if she pushed up to, say, 20th level.
 

Crakkerjakk

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I understand that this bothers you, and that I probably can't say anything to change your mind.
Yeah, it's my simulationist bent, and the reason I tend more towards GURPS.

Then why aren't all elves inherently superior to humans - especially in 3.5, when they can live much longer? What about the dragon, who lives 3000 years as a matter of course - why doesn't every dragon have twenty character levels? For that matter, is every 50 year old in our world inherently more skilled then every 20 year old? Can you become Einstein, Mozart, or Tesla simply because you spend more time beating your head against a book?
I'd argue that most elves and dragons should be that much superior, both logically and if you want to mirror the source fiction, at least once they've got several centuries of experience under their belt. There may be some people who just have that much more natural talent then you, but generally what matters is your interest in a subject and your experience. A brilliant college student still may get smoked by a veteran professional.

This comes back to the "Is Eberron High Magic" discussion. The magic that's available is integrated into society. But there aren't many people capable of casting spells over third level - and as a result, things like raising the dead and teleportation are still impressive. We know they can be done - but we don't think of them as everyday things. Beyond this, PC classes are rare - so most spellworkers are adepts or magewrights, not wizards.
I'm not familiar with this argument, but I think what you say is interesting. I've always viewed magic in Eberron as technology, so my analogue would be that you might not think twice about your cell phone, but meeting an astronaut or watching a shuttle launch is still a "holy crap" experience.

So you are Aragorn, not the nameless Rohirrim. You're Mozart, not a random studio pianist. You're Doc Savage. The Shadow. Your action points, your use of PC classes, your ability to rapidly advance in level - all of these things are based on the concept that you are a truly remarkable person, even at first level.
I'm fine with this, what gets me is the fact that none of my opponents, particularly the recurring ones, are similarly awesome. I can handwave that some of them are simply a case of right place, right time, but I don't see why Sherlock Holmes shouldn't have his Moriarty.

But beyond this... really? "Slowly gather what allies she could, spread her influence"? I'm literally talking about building influence. Studying people. Gathering resources. Making deals with guild leaders. Making deals with the children of those guild leaders twenty years later. In a word - diplomacy. This is what you think should make the typical wizard a more powerful WIZARD? The general premise in Eberron is that influence does not equal personal physical power.
This may be my GURPS bias showing. Gathering allies/influence/wealth/diplomacy is worth points.

More relevantly to D&D, is Diplomacy and Gather Information not a skill? Is she not spending more time doing it than in the period prior to this? Should she not improve at it?

For PCs, it is. For NPCs, it's not. The whole point of 4E is that NPCs have the abilities you need them to have. If I wanted to create a first level changeling spy with a +15 Insight bonus (because he's weak in combat but has amazing telepathic insight), I just do exactly that. Level represents the combat threat: what defenses, HP, and damage should be to pose a threat to a character of a certain level, likewise telling you how much experience you should receive for overcoming that threat. But if I want to have a 1st level NPC who spreads an ice age in a thousand mile radius around him, I can; he doesn't have to be 30th level to do that. Likewise, it doesn't affect the number of powers an NPC possesses, as it does for PCs. A level 19 rakshasa baron has 6 powers; a level 25 Swordwing has 3 powers. The PCs follow one set of rules; the NPCs do what they need to serve the needs of the story. In 3.5, the only way to say that Bob is a better blacksmith than Joe is to up his level; in 4E, you say "Bob is a better blacksmith than Joe", but if they pose the same threat in combat, they can be the same level.
I'm only familiar with 3.5, but there NPCs gain levels just like PCs. I agree with your general principle, paraphrased as "NPCs can do what you need them to do to fulfill their purpose in your story" but it just feels... weird. And again, my original post was concerning 3.5.

Whatever, it's probably just my distaste of the level system in general rubbing off.

Right. And as the guy writing the setting, I'm saying "Extremely powerful wizard, but not as powerful as a member of the Council of Ashtakala, and certainly not as powerful as an Overlord of the First Age." I wanted Erandis to be an impressive threat - but one you can face sooner than the Overlords. Because, of course, she's trying to become MORE powerful. So I want that arc to be part of the story. She's spent the last thousand years figuring out the steps it's going to take to regain the power she was born to wield - the power that has been denied to her. She's figured it out, and now she's finally putting those plans in motion. If you don't stop her, she WILL become as powerful as an Overlord. But she starts out weaker.

Same thing for the Lord of Blades. Speaking in 4E terms, he's a foe we WANT you to be able to face in Paragon level. And then *I* at least want him to get tougher as you do... hovering just enough ahead of you to stay a threat. And I want you to have a sense WHY his power is increasing (looking to Erandis, why did she gain a level NOW when she hasn't in 200 years?). Perhaps he unlocks secrets of the proto-warforged in Xen'drik. Perhaps he becomes the Becoming God. Any of these things might be reflected by a boost in level, but that's not because he gained 50,000 experience points; it's because he did what I decided was the breakthrough he needed to unlock the next stage of his full potential. PCs are just good at that potential thing.
Thanks for the insight. I appreciate it.

Sorry about the pedantic post - it's just one of my issues. And like I said, I don't expect it to change your mind; it's just my way of looking at it.
No worries. I appreciate your candor and you taking the time to respond to my posts.
 

Future Villain Band

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Actually, my first draft of Erandis for the 4E ECG included stats for her both at level 19 and level 31 (the "Queen of Death" stats). I assume the latter stats were cut for space; certainly it's an easy "Make her as tough as you want her to be" thing. But she's definitely in the should-grow-tougher-as-the-PCs-do camp.
Is there any way those Level 31 stats might see public view in either a Dragon/Dungeon article or on a blogpost? Vol is my big-deal level 10-20 enemy for my PCs, and I'd love to see the hyped-up stats for her to reappear if the PCs fail to stop her ascension (or, as is an option for them, decide to let it happen.)

(For the record, I managed to actually tie her, the Karnaath plot, and the old Ravenloft adventure together for that campain, because I like that particular bit of Eberron so much.)
 
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