Dragonmarks: Valenar and Tairnadal

I’m in the middle of a move and have a number of projects in motion, so I’m sticking with a subject that’s quick to cover and has been discussed a fair bit recently: Valenar and the Tairnadal. As always, this is based on my campaign and vision of things and may contradict canon sources – and you are always free to take things your own way!

First, let’s look to the existing online material.

Dragonshards: Elves of Valenar, Part One

Dragonshards: Elves of Valenar, Part Two

Expeditionary Dispatches: Crossing Valenar

Expeditionary Dispatches: The Walls of Taer Valaestas

Expeditionary Dispatches: The People of Taer Valaestas

Dangers of Taer Valaestas

Eye on Eberron: Vadallia and Cardaen (subscriber only)

During the Last War, the Tairnadal war leader Shaeras Vadallia turned on the people of Cyre and laid claim to a section of Cyran territory, founding the kingdom of Valenar. Since the end of the Last War, Vadallia has been acting in a provocative manner. His people raid neighboring nations and Karrnathi outposts. Why? What do they hope to gain?

To understand the Valenar, it is important to understand the culture they come from – the Tairnadal elves of Aerenal. Since the elves first came to Xen’drik, the driving force behind their culture has been to preserve their greatest souls – to ensure that these heroes aren’t lost to Dolurrh and dissolution. Among the Aereni, this produced the negative energy necromantic techniques of the line of Vol and the positive energy techniques of the Undying Court – both ways to physically preserve the elves of the present day after death. The Tairnadal took a different approach. They didn’t just want to preserve their current champions; they wanted to save the heroes of their legends. They’d kept these legends alive in song and story, and in time their priests found a way to forge a bond between the spirit of the ancestor and a living elf. However, this is an act of sympathetic magic that requires the living elf to emulate the actions of the ancestor. This is a two way street. The more closely the elf emulates the hero, the more guidance the ancestor can offer the elf; the goal of the Tairnadal warrior is to become a perfect avatar for a hero of the past… though the greatest Tairnadal can go beyond this to forge new legends and become the patron ancestors of a new generation.

In the present day this is accepted as simple fact by the Tairnadal. When an elf reaches adolescence, he is brought to the Keepers of the Past and a ritual is performed that reveals which of the patron spirits has chosen the elf. It’s important to understand that the spirit chooses the elf, not the priests or the elf himself. In theory this is because the ancestor can see the elf’s nature and potential, and the match is a good one – but it may not be the ancestor the elf WANTS to emulate. Nonetheless, once the choice is made it is the sacred duty of the elf to try to act in all ways as the hero would in his place. In some ways this can be compared to the Kalashtar, who also preserve spirits by bonding them to mortal hosts. Like the Kalashtar Quori, a Tairnadal ancestor survives as long as there’s at least one suitable host. However, in the case of the Kalashtar, it’s simple genetics; for the Tairnadal, the host has to work to maintain that eligibility. Note that despite the phrase “ancestor,” the living elf need not be an actual genetic descendant of the hero who chooses her.

Emulating an ancestor doesn’t mean literally reenacting the deeds of the hero, although it can. Most of the heroes of Xen’drik fought drow and giants. A Valenar elf can emulate his ancestor while fighting goblins or humans; it’s simply a question of interpreting how the patron spirit would act if he’d had humans to deal with instead of giants. Was the hero known for skill at magic or swordplay? Did he act honorably, or was he a sly trickster? Did he fight from horseback or skulk in the shadows? The Valenar come from a sect known as the Valaes Tairn, and these elves believe that while they needn’t fight giants, the best way to emulate and strengthen the ancestors is through war. It is this that brought the elves to Khorvaire. However, at the end of the day, their ancestors weren’t mercenaries. And for that matter, their ancestors didn’t rule a kingdom. The Tairnadal champions fought against amazing odds, surviving due to their skill, cunning, and knowledge of the land. They relied on speed and guerilla tactics, outmaneuvering and out-thinking the enemy. And at the end of the day, this is what the Valenar are setting up on Khorvaire: a battleground to re-enact that ancient war. They have claimed the territory and spent decades learning every nook of it, finding the best places for ambushes and setting traps. Now they want a powerful, worthy foe to come and attack them – so like their ancestors, they can be the resistance against the mighty foe. Long-term, Shaeras Vadallia doesn’t care about being a king; he wants to lead his people in battle, as the warrior-queen Vadallia did long ago.

Recently, a few questions and thoughts came up on this matter.

How do the Valenar justify massacring Talentans, Q’barran settlers, and Cyran refugees who pose no threat to them? How can this be seen as honoring their ancestors?

To begin with, let me make perfectly clear: My goal here isn’t to somehow absolve the Valenar of guilt; it’s to explain why they do what they do. The actions of the Valenar make sense to the Valenar. They are following a religious imperative that preserves their culture and their ancestors, and these things are more important to them than the fate of a human civilization that is just a few thousand years old. This ties to one of the basic themes of Eberron: People aren’t perfect. In our world people fight wars, commit genocide, and inflict suffering on one another for what can seem to outsiders like the most trivial reasons. Narcissism and greed are at least as prevalent as empathy and compassion. Eberron reflects that. There are truly good and noble people, but they stand out because most people are looking after their own needs. As I’ve said, this is what makes the Church of the Silver Flame stand out: its basic tenets are purely altruistic, and MOST of the faithful follow those tenets. The fact that there is corruption in the church reflects that even there, people aren’t perfect – even in this bastion of light, there are people who fail to live up to the ideals, intentionally or simply because they fail to see their own flaws.

So, with all that said, let’s start in the past with the slaughter of Cyran refugees fleeing from the Mourning. On the surface, a heartless massacre of helpless innocents fleeing destruction. But let’s look at how and why such a thing could occur.

  • Refugees are a problem. There’s many reasons for a nation to consider a massive influx of refugees a threat. How many advanced nations in our world would allow a tens of thousands people from a nation they have been at war with to simply swarm over the border? Aside from straining resources, these people have been the enemy for decades. They may appear to be civilians, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t soldiers and spies among them – and enough farmers with pitchforks can be a threat all on their own.
  • No one understood the Mourning. It happened incredibly swiftly, and the people caught in the heart of it didn’t have time to send a message to the outside world. Those who escaped were fleeing in mad terror, not knowing when it was safe to stop and certainly not ready to pause and rationally explain what was going on – because they didn’t KNOW what was going on. The Valenar had no idea what was happening in Cyre. So what they see is vast mobs of Cyrans moving towards their borders. The vanguard of the border patrols meets them and seeks to turn them back. The Cyrans stampede on; they don’t have time to stop and explain. If necessary they will fight in order to keep moving. They vastly outnumber the Valenar and they are panicked; they are not going to stop and rationally think “These are Valenar, we’re simply not capable of matching them.” In return, a Valenar warband faced with a hostile force that outnumbers them ten to one, with no knowledge of why this apparent invasion is going on or if a greater threat is over the horizon, will deal with them ruthlessly and efficiently, preparing for whatever the next threat will be. The Valenar on the borders during the war will be warriors, not caregivers or diplomats – and on that day, they were still at war with Cyre.
  • Khunans versus Thrones. Not all of the violence was carried out by Valenar. The Valenar weren’t expecting the massive influx of refugees and couldn’t possibly cover the entire border against such an invasion. However, most of the inhabitants of Valenar aren’t Tairnadal elves; they are humans. However, they are humans with a different cultural and ethnic background from the Cyrans. The people of the Five Nations largely trace their roots back to the nations of Rhiavaar, Nulakesh, and Pyrine in Sarlona. The people of southeastern Khorvaire come from the nation of Khunan in Sarlona. All of these nations are long gone, but traditions remain… including deep-rooted animosity between the Khunans and the “Thrones” who had oppressed them for centuries. When Cyrans suddenly came to them, helpless and looking for handouts, many Khunans were both determined to keep the Cyrans from regaining their power and hungry for vengeance for the many indignities suffered by their ancestors. Noble? Of course not. But again… people aren’t perfect. The Cyran refugees reaped the bitter harvest sowed by their ancestors’ abuse of the Khunans.

That’s the past. Now let’s move to the present day, with the Valenar raids on the Talenta Plains and Q’barra. Consider the following things.

  • These raids occur on the warband level. A warband is comprised of eight to twelve elves. The raiders aren’t acting under orders from Vadallia, or following a grand tactical plan; they are free agents following their instincts. Note that this would instantly change if the Valenar actually go to war; but Vadallia isn’t coordinating the raids.
  • The Talenta Halflings are far from helpless. One to one, the halflings are no match for Valenar. But the Valenar aren’t looking for a one-to-one matchup. A Valenar warband may challenge a halfling community with dozens of warriors. On top of this, the halflings know their land. Here, they are the ones setting ambushes and trying to outwit the foe. Which is what the Valenar want. They don’t WANT the odds to be in their favor; they want a challenge.
  • Raids take different forms. The term “raid” raises the image of Valenar sweeping in on horseback and setting fire to buildings and the like. And some raids are just like that. But at the end of the day, Valenar seek to reenact the deeds of their ancestors, and not all of the heroes were cavalry troops. Some were stealthy warriors who fought on foot. In this case, a “raid” would be more like a siege, with the Valenar lurking in the jungles around a village and cutting it off, forcing the people inside to try to find some way to deal with the ghosts in the woods. This sort of struggle is mentioned in The Dreaming Dark novels, when Daine remembers fighting Valenar.
  • Fine, they seek a challenge. They’re still starting fights and killing people. And the Q’barran settlers aren’t so tough. All true. Again, I’d never claim that all Valenar are altruists or paragons of virtue – and those who ARE (because their patron ancestors were) would never support such actions. But with that said, the Valenar kill far fewer people in these raids than you’d expect. When you look to many similar cultures in our world – Vikings, Mongols, pirates – the goal of such a raid is to kill you and take your stuff. The Valenar don’t actually WANT your stuff… and for that matter, they don’t particularly want to kill you. The goal of a raid is to antagonize your rulers or to see if you can pose a martial challenge. In the case of Q’barran settlers, they want to cause enough damage to inspire terror in the people and have word spread of how something must be done – but not so much as to cripple the colony, which does nothing for them. They want you to be able to rebuild so they can come back again. Meanwhile, with the halflings, they don’t want to kill the best halfling warriors; if they can’t pose a threat NOW, maybe they will next month. Maybe they’ll come up with a clever ambush. Maybe they’ll bring some sort of unexpected druidic magic to bear. Essentially, far from slaughtering the halflings, they are actually transforming the halflings into veteran soldiers. And personally, I think a number of Valenar warbands have lost the gamble in dealing with the Talentans; I don’t think it’s entirely a one-sided exchange. With all that said, the elves are hurting these communities. They are causing significant collateral damage. People are wounded and some will die. But they aren’t TRYING to massacre the people they strike; on the contrary, if anything they are trying to kill as few as possible while still accomplishing their goals, because that’s a far greater challenge.
  • Some of the ancestors are bastards. The Valenar seek to preserve the legends of their past – heroes who accomplished great deeds and overcame terrible odds. But frankly, not all of these “heroes” were heroic. Some were assassins. Some specialized in spreading terror. In war, these things can be expedient tools – and the Valenar keep all of these legends alive. A very interesting character point is to have a Valenar PC whose patron ancestor was a cruel killer of civilians. Will the PC turn his back on his duty, or embrace this path and become the assassin he’s supposed to be?

In Summary: The Valenar raids are insupportable. That’s the point – the Valenar want people to be angry about them and do something to stop them. If the people of Khorvaire saw the raids as justified, they’d never do anything to stop them. However, compared to many mundane bandits – who exist across Khorvaire – the Valenar don’t kill as many people in their raids as one would expect, nor do they take much loot. They don’t want to cripple their victims. The thing is an exercise driven by long-term goals and religious imperitives… not the same sort of raiding you see from bandits, pirates, and others driven by greed or hatred.

In another thread, the idea is suggested that since the civilian population of the Tairnadal – their children, horse breeding grounds, and so on – are in Aerenal, the smart move is not to face them in Valenar, but rather to set up a sea blockade and to attack the Tairnadal in Aerenal. This raises a variety of questions.

What sort of naval defenses does Aerenal have?

Aerenal is an island. Dragons aside, they’ve had to deal with the organized threat of the Dhakaani and with all manner of raiders, from Serens to Sarlonans to Lhaazars. There are sahuagin in the sea, and civilizations that have risen on Xen’drik only to fall prey to the Durashka’tal – but which lasted long enough to pose a potential threat. And when you’re an island, it’s good to have a strong navy, both for defense and commerce. Tie to this the fact that Aerenal is Eberron’s primary source of exotic lumbers (darkwood, bronzewood, livewood) and that the elves have long had a talent for arcane and divine magic. As such, I see the Aereni as having a fairly small fleet in comparison to the Five Nations, but each ship is individually quite powerful – fast, constructed of the finest materials, and supplemented by magic. This is reflected by the Bloodsails, who after all started out as Aereni elves. One weapon I’ve seen the Aereni using is an arbalest that fires livewood bolts, each holding a dryad – so a way to hit an enemy ship with a mystical boarding party at a distance.

Now, that’s the Aereni. Take the Aereni navy out of the picture for the moment. Personally, I think the Tairnadal are very weak at sea. None of their patron ancestors are famous seafarers. Mobility and stealth are important to them, and both are difficult when you are trapped on a boat. I don’t think they actually maintain a fleet; I think they chartered ships from the Aereni and Lyrandar to get to Khorvaire. So they won’t meet you at sea. However, they do have a small griffon air force that can harry ships, and beyond this, as they don’t use the sea, I would expect their druids to have created a host of “natural” defenses to make approach by sea extremely difficult; the water will be filled with hidden rocks and reefs waiting to tear out the bottom of a ship. So the Tairnadal won’t fight you at sea, but they will make it difficult for you to land – and a small air force that includes wizards and druids can certainly add to that difficulty. It’s like a mystical minefield; it’s a question of how much it will cost you to make the landing.

How powerful are the Tairnadal on Aerenal?

I see this as a DM’s decision. Ten thousand years ago, the Valaes Tairn were forced to flee Khorvaire in disgrace because they’d overextended themselves and had to return to protect their homeland from an attack by dragons. So, option one is to say that they haven’t learned from history and have done exactly the same thing, and that this is a brilliant tactical move that will cripple them. Option two is to say that they have learned, that the force that followed Vadallia is significant but not the majority of the Valaes Tairn, and that the force that remained is armed for dragon – which means they can put up a significant fight. In any case, just as the Valenar have been preparing Valenar as a battleground, they’ve had twenty thousand years to prepare for battle on Aerenal – so even a small group of Tairnadal should prove a challenge. They WON’T stand and fight. They’ll melt away into the shadows and fight a guerilla war, just as their ancestors did. Now, Aerenal is where the majority of the Tairnadal civilians – children, the infirm, etc – are, and not all of these people can fight so effectively. Which then comes to the question of how the invading army will behave. You capture a thousand Tairnadal children. OK, now what? Hold them for ransom? How far will you go with your threats? These children haven’t attacked Khorvaire. Given that the Tairnadal are clan-based, their clan may not even support Vadallia’s actions. Will you be the one massacring innocents?

I’ll note that you always have the Draleus Tairn – the dragon slayers – on staff as the defenders of Aerenal, and you’ll also have those elves whose patron ancestors wouldn’t have supported Vadallia’s actions.

Of course, the REAL question about Elven power is…

How will the Undying Court respond to an attack on the Tairnadal?

The Tairnadal have set this in motion due to their actions on Khorvaire. Will the Aereni and the Undying Court support them? Well, let’s look at this from the perspective of the 20,000 year old Ascendant Councilor. As you’ve scried across the world, you’ve seen the goblin empire rise and fall. You’ve seen human civilizations rise on Sarlona and tear one another apart. You’ve seen humans come to Khorvaire, and seen Malleon the Reaver slaughtering the native goblins. You saw the beginning of Galifar, and you saw the Five Nations turn on one another and tear the kingdom apart.  The short form? Wars happen. Civilizations rise and fall. The nations currently fighting the Tairnadal have terrible skeletons in their past, and besides, in another thousand years they will be gone. On the other hand, the Tairnadal have been your allies for twenty thousand years. They have taken your side against the dragons. And furthermore, allowing humans to take aggressive action on the soil of Aerenal sets a TERRIBLE precedent. Like I said, you’ve personally seen the humans spread onto Khorvaire and drive the goblins into the darkness. Are you going to allow those same humans to get a foothold on your sacred island?

Personally, I cannot imagine the Undying Court simply sitting back and watching as an invading army lands on Aerenal. Whether they are targeting the Tairnadal or not, Aerenal is the haven of the elven people: allowing foreign invaders to shed elven blood and to gain a foothold on the island just seems impossible to me. And at that point, you are dealing with the Aereni navy and the mystical power of the Undying Court itself.

With that said: What I can imagine is a player character – one of the pivotal figures of this age – being able to sway the opinion of the Undying Court. As it stands, the view of the Court is that war and violence happens; the Tairnadal are following the dictates of their religion; and if it’s a choice between human suffering on Khorvaire and elven suffering on Aerenal, they’ll always choose the defense of Aerenal. However, if a PC frames this as “Why must their be ANY suffering” and offers some sort of alternative, I could see him winning the support of the Court on the matter… at least when it comes to negotiating with the Tairnadal. I simply can’t imagine the Court sitting idly by while humans invade Aerenal… but I can see the Court throwing its support to a diplomatic solution to the Valenar problem.

(In my campaign), I’m going to burn down some Aereni cities to spite the Undying Court for allowing their allies to murder innocent people. They care nothing for human life. I shall reciprocate.

So you’re going to teach them that it’s wrong to allow others to murder innocent people by murdering their own innocent people? Doesn’t that mean that YOUR allies should be obliged to stop you, just as you feel the Aereni should have stopped the Valenar?

But setting that moral knot aside for the moment… With all due respect, why should the Undying Court care about human life? As I’ve said, they’ve been watching humans for their entire history. They’ve seen humans do far worse to other races and to each other than the Valenar are doing to them now. Set aside Malleon the Reaver and his slaughter of the goblins (which to the Undying Court isn’t that long ago) and look specifically to any nation that could accuse the Court: which of the Five Nations has less human blood on its hands than the Valenar do? The war has only been over for four years, and there are those within the Five Nations eager to start it again and spill more human blood. For that matter, there are human deserters and bandits causing trouble in the Eldeen Reaches and King’s Forest. There are Cloudreaver pirates and Darguul slavers. The Order of the Emerald Claw kills innocents with its actions. Archbishop Dariznu burns dissidents in Thaliost. What the Valenar is doing is bad, to be sure – but how is it worse than the actions of any of these others? Heck, the Trust probably kills more people in a typical month than the Valenar do. Should the Undying Court feel a responsibility to do something about these things just because the Valenar are elves? Do you as a human take responsibility for all of the human forces mentioned above?

Now, the point may be “But I’m not going to protect those forces – the Court is at fault because it will protect the Tairnadal from my attack.” But it’s not defending the Valenar. If you want to slaughter the Valenar on Khorvaire, the Court won’t lift a finger; they have it coming. It will act to defend Aerenal, because Aerenal is its sacred homeland. It is Aeren’s Rest, and ANY attack on its shores is an attack on the Court. Furthermore, the Tairnadal on Aerenal aren’t involved in the Valenar conflict. Can you honestly say that if Aerenal launched a pre-emptive strike on Karrnath and began killing Karrnathi civilians because Karrnath harbors the Emerald Claw – a threat to Aerenal – that the people of the Five Nations would say “Oh, fair enough” and just allow it to happen?

Hence my point that I can see the Court responding to a diplomatic envoy. At the moment, they won’t interfere in the actions of the Tairnadal overseas, just as they don’t interfere in the actions of humans killing humans, humans killing goblins, drow killing giants, or any of the other conflicts going on in the world. However, if you reach out to the Court and say “This is a conflict you could help us stop without bloodshed; if we can work together to convince the Valenar to return to Aerenal, you can preserve human and elf lives. This is a fight that doesn’t have to happen” – they might support you. What form that support would take, I can’t say. But it’s a different thing that “This is your fault because they’re elves and their hurting people.” And while you’re at it, you might get help from Queen Etrigani of Karrnath/Aerenal.

Keith’s extrapolation on how the court would react has sunk that idea for the most part…

Don’t let me stop you. In your Eberron, the Court can despise the Tairnadal. Or be a cruel force that needs to be stopped. I’m just talking about MY vision.

Would the elves ever turn on each other and fight a civil war between the Tairnadal and Aereni?

By canon it’s highly unlikely. They’ve coexisted peacefully for over twenty thousand years; they have fought side by side against the dragons; and while their religions are different, they are both founded on similar principles.

However, one can come up with a possible scenario for anything. The Tairnadal are driven by war. Perhaps they could become possessed by Rak Tulkhesh, the demon overlord known as the Rage of War; you could reveal that the spirits possessing the elves are NOT the spirits of their ancestors, but rather fiends in the service of Rak Tulkhesh, and as they become stronger Rak Tulkhesh’s bonds grow weak. In such a situation, the Aereni would have to fight the Tairnadal; the question is whether they would allow a force like the Church of the Silver Flame to come to Aerenal and assist them.

Alternately, you could say that the Undying Court itself has been corrupted by its godlike power. The Court’s power is derived from the voluntary devotion of its followers. Perhaps it seeks to psychically dominate every elf to ensure its power – and hey, why stop there when you could dominate humanity as well? In such a situation, most Tairnadal would ally with humanity against this threat; the ancestors fought to free their people from a mighty magical foe, after all.

I simply do not accept this idea that Valenar are so strong on every front. It is irritating to my sensibilities. It’s that lingering resentment to ‘Elven Superiority’ where they’re always better than you at everything because they’re Elves.

One to one, the Valenar are the finest warriors yet seen on Eberron (note I said yet). However, they have many weaknesses. Let’s look at a few.

  • Tactical Weaknesses. The Tairnadal lack any sort of naval force. They have a small air force in the Kel Gryfaen, but it’s a very small part of their tactical arsenal. As they focus on mobility and speed, they generally don’t employ siege weaponry. A powerful wizard or druid can take the place of siege weaponry, but only a few warbands have that kind of firepower. Valenar warbands are special forces as opposed to a traditional army. They may be able to sneak into a fortress and eliminate its leaders, or to keep to the shadows outside and kill people who approach it, but they can’t carry out a traditional siege.
  • Numbers. The Valenar can’t remotely match the Five Nations or even the goblins when it comes to numbers. They were only able to “conquer” Valenar because the Khunan population already hated the Cyrans; they simply don’t have the numbers to occupy and control a hostile territory. The individual soldiers of the Valenar are far superior, but there are effective tactics that require sheer numbers and in which the individual skill of the soldier isn’t relevant, and the Valenar can’t use these.
  • Experience and Resupply. This ties to numbers, and it’s a key point. Why are the Valenar so skilled? Because each one of them has decades of intensive combat training. By comparison, the typical soldier of the Five Nations is a farmer who’s been handed a pike. So it’s no wonder the typical Valenar is superior to that typical soldier; EVERY Valenar is the equivalent of a special forces veteran of the Five Nations. The difference is that if one of those farmers dies, Karrnath has a hundred thousand more. If a Valenar dies, it will take forty years to replace him… and elves don’t reproduce as quickly as humans, doubly so when a large chunk of their population is at war. The Five Nations or goblins can afford to sacrifice a large number of troops to bring down a far smaller number of elves, because in the long run, it hurts the elves more. Likewise, an attack that does strike the Tairnadal youth on Aerenal would be a serious long-term blow to the Tairnadal, even if it didn’t defeat them (and if anything would inflame their desire for vengeance). But the short form is that the Five Nations can afford to sacrifice troops if they have to; the Tairnadal can’t be so callous with the lives of their soldiers.
  • Religion. The Tairnadal are bound to act as their ancestors would act. If you can identify the ancestors that a particular warband follows, you can predict their tactics and potentially use that knowledge against them. As noted before, an avatar of an honorable ancestor won’t employ dishonorable tactics. An avatar of an ancestor known for never fleeing no matter the odds is bound to do the same. And so on. The Tairnadal commanders are excellent tacticians, but their soldiers are still bound to follow the dictates of their faith.
  • Innovation. The Tairnadal are mired in the past. They are extremely good at what they do. They have gifted wizards and druids using techniques developed in the golden age of the Giants. But they lack humanity’s gift for innovation. House Cannith is constantly coming up with new things, while it’s been centuries since a Tairnadal wizard created a new spell (though with that said, this is the sort of thing that could make a Valenar PC wizard a new legend in his own lifetime). This won’t win a war TODAY… but it is one of the overall answers to “Elven Superiority.” The elves are strong because their culture and individual lifespans are so much greater than that of humanity. But these days they are moving slowly, while humanity advances faster and faster. This may not help you today, but a time may come when the Tairnadal swordsman is as irrelevant on the battlefield as a lancer would be today.

I always wondered about this – wouldn’t it be smarter for anyone fighting the Valenar to, say, fight them from an airship? I mean, the nations should be a good bit more advanced than the Valenar, who are so obsessed with the past, surely?

It’s like you read my previous answer! However, a few points on this…

  • Tactics. The Tairnadal take the actions of the ancestors and apply them to modern situations: “What Would Khan Do?” It’s the same way we still use some of the principles of Sun Tzu or Julius Caesar in modern warfare. A Tairnadal seeks to BE Sun Tzu – which means reacting as Sun Tzu would if faced with an airship, not simply saying “Oh, he never mentioned that – I don’t know what to do.” Aside from simply being familiar with the works of the ancestor – just as any Rekkenmark graduate will know Karrn’s Analects of War – a Tairnadal avatar is subtly guided by the spirit of the ancient genius. They are committed to using the swords and spells they’ve used so far, but they can always find new ways to use them.
  • The past isn’t what you think it is. The elves are obsessed with the past, and aren’t great at innovation. But first of all, their past is at least as impressive as our present. Cardaen learned the arcane arts from the Cul’sir giants of Xen’drik, and Tairnadal wizards use the spells he developed. They have powerful wizards and druids. It’s simply that it’s only once every few centuries or so that someone comes up with a NEW spell. So Valenar war-wizards are actually MORE advanced (IE, higher level) than their typical counterparts, even in Aundair… it’s simply that Aundair is getting better every year, and a time will come in the not-to-distant future when the old techniques of the elves are no longer superior.
  • What’s so special about airships? The Sulatar drow have an air force, left over from the Sulat League. The Sulat and Cul’sir giants were an incredibly sophisticated society, and I think they had aerial warships superior to Lyrandar’s current models; this is still the dawn of air travel in Khorvaire. Beyond that, the Tairnadal have been fighting dragons for millenia. So they’d be thrilled by the airship attack, because it presents a new challenge, but it’s not like they’ve never fought airships before (heck, they were in the Last War for sixty years). They can employ their own flying mounts to reach you; turn to wizards or druids to employ ranged attacks; use flaming arrows, alchemist’s fire, or the like; or if none of these things are available, take to the terrain and seek to evade your ships.

This last point is key. The Valenar were almost ALWAYS outclassed by the giants; they had to out-think and outmaneuver them. Largely, you’re dealing with the US in the Vietnam War; yes, we were the more advanced nation, but that doesn’t help if you can’t bring those weapons to bear. If you’ve got your airship with elemental cannons against a ground of Revenant Blades, they won’t stand there shaking their fists as you burn them; they’ll scatter and find shelter. They’ll search for your docking tower and burn it. They’ll be thrilled that you’ve set them with a real challenge, as opposed to just flinging a mob of inferior troops at them.

Come to think of it – Given that Karrnath has Rekkenmark, shouldn’t they basically be more than capable of militarily handing the Valenar their asses?

How does that follow? Yes, Karrnath has a military college and traditions developed over the course of a few thousand years, drawing on the genius of people like Karrn the Conqueror and Galifar. Meanwhile, the Valenar have military training from their own geniuses, honed over the course of twenty four thousand years. And those geniuses continue to live on and shape their culture. Again, they aren’t just reading a book written by Caesar: those twelve elves over there are more or less Caesar reborn, guided by his spirit. When they faced the Dhakaani, they had to develop new tactics. When they faced the dragons, they had to develop new tactics. The sixty years they fought in the Last War were a way to study and evaluate the tactics of the Five Nations – to learn just how Rekkenmark trains its officers. And each one of those elves has sixty or more years of combat experience.

This doesn’t mean that the Valenar can hand Karrnath its ass. The Valenar don’t want to fight a battle they know they can win. If they were CERTAIN they could beat Karrnath, they wouldn’t be bothering to provoke it. Ideally, they WANT the odds to be against them, even if it means the majority of them will die in the conflict; because those that survive will be ever more perfect avatars, and inspire a future generation. So yes, Karrnath is a good choice and Rekkenmark helps it. But I don’t see Rekkenmark as some sort of trump card over the Tairnadal military geniuses like Vadallia.

I believe the Five Nations are more advanced in actually managing a war. How to allocate resources, coordinating their armies, when to hit targets when, etc.

Whereas I see the two as separate but equal, each excelling at their own tactics. The challenge to the Five Nations is that their tactics are entirely honed around fighting a certain kind of enemy. All of their tactics are geared around fighting each other, going all the way back to Karrn the Conqueror. This involves coordinating large armies and supply trains; identifying targets and sending forces that can capture and hold those targets; and being prepared to fight other large armies.

The Valenar are something else entirely. They don’t HAVE large stationary targets for Karrnath to attack. Things like Taer Valaestas are just for the convenience of the moment. They are an army comprised entirely of special forces, who only pull together in a large force when they are hitting a target that calls for it, and then scattering again. They don’t require supply trains, because they don’t employ war machines and they employ tools like cualra flasks and exceptional survival skills to live off the land. You never know WHERE to find them, and even when you locate them they won’t stand still long enough for you to get your army there; again, what you are dealing with is a highly disciplined traditional army fighting an exceptional guerrilla force. In my opinion the Valenar excel at coordinating their armies, determining how to bring those small units together when they need to hit hard. And bear in mind that any warband that has a Vadallia warlord will have an exceptional knack for coordinating with other Vadallia bands – it’s like having Sun Tzu in every platoon.

So it’s not that the Valenar are crusty relics or that Rekkenmark is outclassed. They are entirely different schools of military thought. The Valenar will be a difficult opponent for the Five Nations because they don’t fight the way the Five Nations do. Even in Aerenal itself, the majority of the Tairnadal don’t live in permanent cities.

Warbands not actually considering themselves part of a single nation should make the Brelish intelligence drool…

Who said that? I said that they don’t think of VALENAR as their nation. They are part of a single nation: they are the Tairnadal. They are united by their faith and their ancestors. Yes, they may turn against each other if they feel they must because of their faith, but that’s a pretty rare thing – it’s the basis for a player character backstory, not something we’ve described as endemic. The majority of the Tairnadal who don’t support Shaeras Vadallia’s actions simply never came to Khorvaire; they aren’t interested in fighting their own kind. Remember that the ultimate foundation of the Tairnadal faith is keeping the spirits of the ancestors alive – and in replicating the deeds of heroes who protected other elves from harm. They might be split by religious differences, but even then, combat between them does go against thousands of years of deep rooted beliefs.

Because once Karrnath decides to have a war, there won’t be any Valenar left, and the rage of that nation might well spread to the noncombatants…

See the previous notes on the Aereni preserving the sanctity of Aerenal. They’ve held the nation against attacks from Argonnessen. Attacking Aerenal is essentially like taking on the Russian front. Though again, this is where Etrigani and Kaius might be able to work together on a diplomatic solution.

Seriously, the more I consider this, the more I think this could be a great endgame for a Five Nations focused group. Uniting them to kick the shit out of the worst assholes of Khorvaire…

I agree. It’s a common foe, and it would be a great focus for bringing the nations together. And with all their power united – Aundair’s magic, Breland’s cunning and charisma, Karrnath’s martial might, Thrane’s devotion – who could stand against them? But I simply don’t think it would be easy or quick – because again, the Valenar aren’t going to meet you in a fair fight. You’ll have to hunt them down. Even attacking Aerenal, you can hit the few stationary locations they have and seriously hurt them in the long term, but that will serve to fire the resolve of all others, including those who chose not to fight Khorvaire in the first place (like the Dralaeus Tairn, who are the most dangerous of all of them). If you want to match the full Five Nations against Aerenal, it would be interesting; it basically depends how far you’re willing to go and what kind of crazy inventions Cannith and Aundair can come up with to counter the divine power of the Court. 

If you can beat up the Valenar, you could take the land to give to the people of Cyre, so all the refugees can get a home again without bothering the other nations.

And what about the Khunan humans, who have lived in the region since before the foundation of Galifar? What about the Khoravar who have come to see the region as a new homeland?

Where’s this business about Khunans and “Thrones” come from?

The Campaign Guides note that the commoners of Valenar feel no loyalty to Cyre. The four-part Expeditionary Dispatch series on the WotC website goes into more detail about the humans of Valenar; this is where the discussion of Khunans is found. They’re mentioned in most of the articles, so it’s probably best to start at the beginning and work your way through. Crossing Valenar and the People of Taer Valaestas have the most details on them.

Have the Dragons of Argonnessen ever used Seren barbarians in battle against the elves?

First off, I’m sure that over the course of history some Seren raiders have reached Aerenal on their own. Otherwise, it’s possible, but I think they’d be just as likely to use the stone giant, goblin, and dragonborn troops that are commonly associated with the Light of Siberys. Personally, I think each war is slightly different; this one is the war notable for the massive ground invasion, this one involved a flight of aquatic dragons, this one was entirely fought in the air.

I want to play a Valenar PC, but I don’t want to support Vadallia’s actions. Why would a Valenar turn on his people?

Tons of reasons. The obvious option is that you’re not Valenar, you’re Tairnadal, and you never supported Vadallia in the first place; you’ve come directly from Aerenal on your own personal quest. But here’s a few options dealing specifically with “rebel” Valenar.

  • Your patron ancestor is a paragon of honor and chivalry. You were fine fighting in the war, but you cannot support Vadallia’s betrayal. Since then you have acted alone, seeking to find honorable combat far away from Valenar.
  • Your patron ancestor is Vadallia herself. You initially supported Shaeras Vadallia’s actions, as he is accepted to be the finest avatar of Vadallia. However, her spirit is a part of you and you don’t believe she approves of this course of action. For now you are building up your skills and allies. When the time is right, you intend to return and challenge Shaeras, to defeat him and restore your people to the proper path.
  • Your patron ancestor was known for defending the weak and innocent. Not only have you abandoned Vadallia’s cause, you have actively opposed your cousins in their raids, both directly and by training the Q’barrans and Talentans in effective tactics for fighting Valenar.
  • You haven’t just turned against your people, you’ve turned against your ancestor. Your patron ancestor was known for massacring innocents. Vadallia set your warband (as warbands are usually composed of people with compatible ancestors) to go reaving, and you simply couldn’t stomach it any more. You refuse to follow your ancestor. Perhaps you have chosen a new ancestor to emulate, even though that’s not supposed to actually work – or perhaps you are sickened by the traditions of your people and want to change the entire system of the Tairnadal faith. If you keep it personal, you could actually have decided to go so far as to eliminate the vile ancestor, by tracking down and eliminating every elf that is emulating him.

One of the ideas for an elf PC who rejects the nation of Valenar is that the patron ancestor is a paragon of honor. So if that character remained with Cyre, what would his relationship be with the Valenar elves? Would they consider him to be an exemplar of their religion, following the path of his ancestor even if it meant going against his nation?

“Going against his nation” is going to be less of an issue than “going against his leader.” Very few Valenar have any serious investment in Valenar as a “nation” – remember that their families and such are back on Aerenal. Valenar is a military beachhead, not a homeland. Having said that, most would at least respect the PC’s decision, as long as it did fit the established stories of the ancestor.

As he wouldn’t consider himself a Valenar, since he’s not a member of the nation, would he be all right fighting his own kin?

As noted above, most Valenar think of themselves as Tairnadal first and Valenar second. This goes for both PC and NPCs. These people didn’t stop being Valaes Tairn or his cousins because they chose to follow Vadallia (as their ancestors did long ago). I would expect the PC to understand why a Valenar whose ancestor was known for loyalty to his leader would remain true to Vadallia, even if he personally considered it dishonorable. So: I don’t think the PC would relish combat with Valenar, any more than they would want to fight him. However, I think both would be prepared to do so if it was clearly the action their ancestors would have taken in the same circumstances.

What’s a Valenar warhound? Just a dog? Or a super speedy dog to keep up with the horses?

The latter. It’s tied to the idea of the hounds and horses of the Otherworld in the Mabinogian – elf huntsman having steeds and hounds that are unnaturally swift. These have the same mythical origin as the steeds themselves (going back to the Xen’drik wars). However, I don’t think of them as being as common or integral to society as the horses.

What is the relationship between the Houses of Shadow and the Valenar? I recall hearing somewhere that some of the Undying Court may bear the mark of shadow, could there be a similar overlap with Tairnadal patrons?

It is possible, but unlikely. Bear in mind that the Phiarlans were originally part of the Aereni culture… and that new deathless are created every few years, while new patron ancestors are only created when someone’s deeds are so astonishing that they eclipse those of the heroes of the past. So it’s quite reasonable for a number of  Phiarlans to become deathless in the thousand years between the appearance of the mark and their departure from Aerenal. On the other hand, to become a patron ancestor they would have to both abandon their culture to become Tairnadal, and then achieve legendary deeds.

But COULD it happen? Sure. Perhaps an elf of the Thuranni line joined the Draleus Tairn and became the most legendary assassin of dragons ever known!

Could a Valenar with Cardaen as their patron attempt to forge a brotherhood with a race the Valenar would traditionally consider enemies in order to reenact his brotherhood with the Cul’sir giants… only this time ensure it’s true brotherhood and not manipulated slavery?

Sure. I think many would question this as an interpretation of Cardaen’s life, as Cardaen’s tale is one of his loyalty to his adopted kin ultimately carrying a terrible price for the elves. However, I can see someone trying it, and it’s exactly the sort of thing that could ultimately form the basis for a NEW legend: though chosen by Cardaen the Avenger, Jaera found peace in her heart and brought that peace to all around her.

One of the more common variations I’ve seen on the Valenar is that some can make a connection to multiple patrons. Mechanically, these are things such as the 3.5 binder or the 4E vestige warlock. Can you see a place for this in your Eberron?

I’ve already done such a thing. I ran an all-Valenar one-shot, and one player made a shaman on the idea that he was a specialized Keeper of the Past. The spirits he communed with were the lesser ancestors – tiny vestiges whose stories were all but forgotten and who couldn’t claim followers. Each spell was tied to a different ancestor, and we came up with stories and personalities for each. One was an amazing cook (who was good with a knife); another was Brega the Bastard, known for being a treacherous weasel. So whenever he’d use spiritual guidance and still fail the roll, we’d reveal that the spirit he THOUGHT he was talking to was actually Brega. But in the end of the adventure, Brega came through with the daily power and saved the day.

So in short, yes, but I’d say that someone with that sort of connection would be a truly exceptional person.

Would the elves of Valenar have a problem with intermarriage with the Khunans?

Does it seem like something their ancestor would have done? If they can make a case for that, then I don’t think anyone will argue. However, I don’t see it as being common by any means. Setting aside the issue of whether the ancestors would support it, the Valenar haven’t come to settle down. They’ve left their children behind on Aerenal. This is a military beachhead, and they are an army. There will be time to start a family in a few decades when they head back to Aerenal.

How would the offspring of such a union be viewed?

Largely as a curiosity. There’s a lot of Khorvar in Valenar. They aren’t connected with the ancestors and they don’t have the decades of combat training that define a Valenar. That doesn’t make them monsters, but they will not be considered to be Tairnadal; they are another race that does its own thing. However…

Would a Valenar half-elf be eligible to be chosen by an ancestor?

This is the big question, and it’s not one I can answer; only you (out of game) and the Keepers of the Past (in-game) can. Per canon, it’s not something that has happened. However, if it DID happen, it would be a big thing; ultimately, it could completely change the relationship between the Valenar and Khoravar, if other Khoravar chose to follow the faith and were also accepted. The big issue is time. Normally, a Valenar warrior spends decades training before he leaves Aerenal. Now, if you said “My Khoravar PC has been chosen by an ancestor, and in just one year he’s already a better bard than the typical Tairnadal is after twenty years… because the ancestor is strong with him!” it would be a very interesting thing. Would he be celebrated? Reviled or seen as a threat? You’d have to decide for yourself.

Why are Eberronian elves unable to dream?

Because they are derived from 3.5 elves, which tranced instead of sleeping. There are a variety of explanations one could give for this; here’s two ideas.

  • It’s connected to their origin as being tied to Thelanis. But why is it that the equally fey 4E gnomes still dream? Well, it could be that the heart of Dal Quor in a previous age banished the Eladrin/Elves for encroaching on its borders, but wasn’t offended by the gnomes; or that fey never dreamed, but a clever gnome won the heart of the Dreaming Heart and it formed a bridge so they could be together. Thenlanis is about stories – make one up!
  • The giants did it so their servants couldn’t be manipulated by the Quori of the time – though this doesn’t explain why Eladrin don’t dream.

There’s been some good discussions in the comments. Here’s my random responses. There’s some repetition, but it’s my birthday and I’ll be redundant if I want to!

The air force that Khorvaire can gather must be better than what the Valenar can manage, at least in numbers.

I’d expect so – the Kel Gryfaen are a very small portion of the Valaes Tairn. But I think you overestimate the power of the air force in the current age. Airships were only developed a few decades ago, and Lyrandar isn’t in the business of developing warships – in part because the Korth Edicts forbid it. As a result, airships are far from invulnerable when faced with wizards and sorcerers; the very first scene of City of Towers shows an airship being brought down by the Cyran army, and the Valenar have better war-wizards than the Cyrans. And that’s not even contemplating the Undying Court, who wield divine power around Aerenal.

In addition, this touches on a second point: who has the airships again? House Lyrandar. The Lyrandar investment in Valenar is more than just a business venture. Galifar placed strict limits on the power that the Dragonmarked Houses can wield, preventing them from maintaining armies or holding land. Beyond this, House Lyrandar is a house of the Khoravar, a race that has never had a homeland of its own. Given how little the elves themselves care about the land, Valenar is well on its way to becoming a half-elf nation. Because it’s outside the Code of Galifar, they can do anything they want there. If they want to build a fleet of air-dreadnoughts, they can. So it’s a question of profit versus ambition. These Khoravar have been for all intents and purposes the rulers of their own nation. Now you ask them to leave that behind and help burn it down, so they can live as the outsiders in your cities again? So they can be denied the right to hold land or power? For the other houses, this is a major point in the balance of power between house and nation: can you enforce yoru will on the houses, or can they dictate their own terms? I think Kendreyek has a good point that especially once it’s clear the Valenar aren’t concerned with the long-term success of the nation, Lyrandar may be willing to help as long as the infrastructure of the nation IS preserved and left in their hands. Really, this is a key opportunity for the Twelve to push the nations to revoke the Korth Edicts once and for all. Which means Cannith could start assembling its own warforged army; Lyrandar can have its own fleet of warships; and so on, and so on. Honestly, I think that this move would be a far greater threat to the long-term existence of the Five Nations than the existence of Valenar.

Which means the Valenar can now have fun learning how to handle a whole country…

As noted above, they won’t. Lyrandar cares more about the country than the Valenar do. The moment the war actually begins, the Valenar will abandon the cities. Mobility is their strength, not siege warfare; when it comes to a true war, they don’t WANT to be in one place. If you cripple the country, the people you’re hurting are the Khunans, as Kendreyek pointed out – which will make them even more hostile towards you, and they don’t particularly like you to begin with.

(They’ll be forced to flee) like cowards, so it would be fun to see some Valenar with brave defy-all-odds, never-retreat ancestors do that…

But a Valenar with such an ancestor wouldn’t do that. He would hold his ground, and if necessary die, just like his ancestor did before him. Which is exactly why THERE’S ALMOST NO VALENAR ANCESTORS LIKE THAT. There’s a common image of the Valenar as being fearless or obsessed with “honor”. They are obsessed with honoring the memory of their ancestors. But remember that their ancestors fought giants, who not only possessed immense physical power but who also wielded magic that outstrips anything the Five Nations has discovered. There were titans with armies of giants, drow, and constructs. They had airships and war machines. The elves who inspired sufficient legends to become patron ancestors are those who fought these giants and won victories. How do you do that, if you’re a defy-all-odds, never retreat kind of guy? Odds are, you don’t. The heroes are those who could out-think this superior force and out-maneuver it, striking where the enemy is weakest and melting away before the victims can retaliate. Honor is in fighting like the ancestor did; if that’s by using hit-and-run tactics, then that’s what must be done. And again, remember that the Valenar spent sixty years fighting in the Last War. Simple evolution: an elf driven to behave foolishly in the face of impossible odds will have had lots of opportunities to die in the last six decades.

Now, bear in mind that the elves didn’t defeat the giants. They simply outlasted them, wearing them down to the point that the consumption of resources was untenable. It was a long, bloody struggle – but the elves never occupied giant cities or the like, because they couldn’t possibly hold a city against the force the giants could muster. Constant mobility and hidden sanctuaries were their only hope.

Tied to this…

There might be 12 Sun Tzu types, but there’s got to be some “CHAAAAARGE” types thrown in as well, right?

Yes and no. There are very few patron ancestors. It’s not a right you get for fighting for a while. You become a patron ancestor by becoming a legend – someone the Tairnadal believe they cannot allow to die. There are heroes known for honorable behavior, who refused to attack civilians and who spared wounded foes. There are assassins and others known for sowing terror and striking civilian targets – but who nonetheless brought down supposedly impenetrable targets or saved countless elves with their actions. What these all share is amazing success in the face of impossible odds. A general known for leading his soldiers to foolish defeat will be allowed to die. So if there is a CHAAARGE type, the point is that he is remembered because he triumphed with this behavior, facing incredibly dangerous foes (giants, dragons, drow). The warband who follows his path will employ his tactics – so however he won, so will they. If he won, but died in the process, well, they had a lot of time to do that in the Last War.

There has to be limits to living off the land. At the very least, living off the land means that you can’t gather soldiers around in too great a concentration for too long, surely?

That’s exactly what it means, and as Kendreyek has noted, that’s why they don’t do it. Even with magical tools and ranger/druid skills, a full warclan will tax the resources of an area and beyond that, it’s simply too large and inviting a target. A warclan only gathers for a swift attack against a target that can’t be taken out any other way, and then it scatters to the shadows. With druids, wizards, and bards, this can be coordinated by sending, animal messenger, whispering wind, and in the case of warbands with particularly gifted scions of Cardaen, teleport. Which ties to…

Or that airship over there, who is preparing to drop some living spells on top of a vital crossroad that the Valenar need to use to reinforce their eastern front…

You’re thinking in Rekkenmark terms. This is what it’s like when Thrane and Karrnath fight. That’s the kind of battle the Five Nations are used to fighting, and frankly, the kind of battle they have every reason to expect to fight in Valenar – who would be so stupid as to think that the Valenar would seize a kingdom and then abandon it? That doesn’t make any sense. But the Valenar don’t have an eastern front. They have nothing to defend. They don’t care about the villages, and if you burn them all down, it’s the humans who suffer. The Valenar aren’t relying on farmers; if anything, it’s your army that will need to raid the Khunan supplies. The Valenar aren’t relying on smiths in the short term: Tairnadal arms and armor are of exceptional quality, and they know how to care for them – again, this is what they’ve spent their entire centuries-long lives training and doing. Every warband has a fletcher and a bowyer who can at least produce makeshift tools, and they’ll be scavenging arrows and supplies from the forces they kill (again, just as a special forces unit in the present day would do). Beyond this, they’ve had thirty years to scatter supply caches around the region – so should arms be an issue, there are places they can find them. Meanwhile, as soon as you drop your army, it DOES need supply lines. The Valenar will hit those as oppose to engaging your army directly, and now you’re the one on the Russian front.

In fact, one of the greatest dangers is that the places that appear to be the logical targets following Rekkenmark tactics will in fact be traps. The Tairnadal didn’t claim Valenar because they wanted a kingdom; they wanted to create a killing ground. They’ve spent the last thirty years turning it into Murderworld, just waiting for them to flip the switch. There are all manner of ambushes ready to be used, which they have hidden holes and caches stashed all over.

Fighting the Valenar is going to be the Pacific Campaign.

Good analogy. They have been preparing for this war for thirty years. They don’t care if they win as long as they honor their ancestors in the battle.

But that’s why I want to goad them into the open. Make it clear that they need to attack in order to defend the Elven people. Their honor demands they protect their people, its what all their honored ancestors have in common.

And it’s exactly what forced the Valaes Tairn to leave Khorvaire the last time and swear never to return. Honestly, if you want to save as many lives as possible, the best thing you can do is pull some strings with the Chamber and trigger the next Elf-Dragon War.

I don’t think the Silver Flame is going to help with the Undying Court Axe. It is a force opposed to Supernatural Evil, not just anything you want to burn with it.

If you expose the Court as being something far darker – like my suggestion that the Tairnadal patron ancestors are actually servants of Rak Tulkhesh – the Silver Flame will certainly throw its full force behind it. If you just don’t like them, you may get Thrane on your side, but it’s not really a concern of the Flame.

—–

UPDATE 7/8

The discussion continues!

If they’re so obsessed with their pride, making them throw it away is the best strike I can imagine against them.

Again, this is a misconception. The Valenar aren’t obsessed with pride, chivalry, or honor, unless they are associated with an ancestor known for these traits. They are obsessed with one thing and one thing alone: preserving the spirits of their ancestors and allowing those ancestors to live on through them. They don’t think they’re better than you. You are, in essence, irrelevant. Goblins, humans, giants, Daelkyr: all these are is a means to have a battle, by which they can honor the ancestors.

Think of it this way. Pick some national hero: Cuchulain, King Arthur, Abraham Lincoln, whoever you like. Now: imagine that leader is still clinging to life. The priests can even get visions from his spirit. By re-enacting his deeds you keep him from slipping away and being lost forever – and if you do a good enough job, you can literally BECOME him. You can usher in a new golden age for your people, when all the greatest legends of the past return in the flesh.

Now: You’ve been working on this for thousands and thousands of years. You’re keeping the spirits stable; you can still get visions and guidance from them. But you haven’t yet managed that perfect avatar your people strive for. Which means the war-games and simulations you’ve been doing just aren’t sufficient. You need to find something new. The Draleus Tairn say it’s bringing down the dragons. The Sileus Tairn say it’s time to go back to Xen’drik and exterminate the giants. And Shaeras Vadallia – the greatest revenant of one of the most legendary leaders of your people – says the answer is to be found on Khorvaire.

This isn’t about pride. This is the believe that this is the way to bring the second coming of your idols to pass – to free your heroes from the half-life of tens of thousands of years and break the walls of death. The fact that it involves death is unfortunate, but war is the Tairnadal way of life. They were called to Khorvaire to fight a war. Since seizing Valenar, they have treated their subjects fairly. In their raids, they are less brutal than most bandits or pirates. Slaughter isn’t their goal: battle is. They’d like to fight against other warriors, and at that point death is the price of war.

With that in mind…

Let’s get the dragons to attack Aerenal and blockade the elves from returning.

So here’s the funny thing: rather than humiliating them, in my opinion this would be giving them exactly what they want – creating a situation far better than what Shaeras has been working on. Because the whole “come fight us in Valenar” thing is kind of a kluge. What the ancestors did was face a foe that couldn’t be met head on, with the survival of their race at stake. Shaeras’ Valenar scheme is essentially an amusement park version of this – one in which casualties are limited on both sides, and in which no one’s survival is truly at stake.

But in doing this, you are raising the stakes. You are in truth becoming the foe that can’t be faced head-on (because you’re on the seas) and you are threatening their survival. They won’t come begging for you to let them go home: they will truly go to war. Bear in mind that Tairnadal “civilians” are a different sort than you’d see in the Five Nations. They are a nomadic culture that has faced multiple dragon attacks in the past, and their culture is based on not being able to hold any location against the giants. The wilds are FILLED with caverns, safe havens, and places to flee. The relative lack of soldiers limits their ability to fight back, but they are a culture that’s well prepared to flee when a foe can’t be fought, and that’s what they will do. You’ll kill some, you’ll destroy materiel, and it will really suck for them – but it’s not like sieging cities in the Five Nations or for that matter Aerenal. The net result of this is that an assault on their civilians will be long, drawn-out thing. Which means the Valenar have time to retaliate. Their people are on the run; they are in danger; but they’ve held out against dragons in the past (like when the goblins did this same thing) and they can do it again, for a while.

So now we’re back to the warlords of the Valenar on Khorvaire. Their patron ancestors were military geniuses who came up with strategies to fight those unbeatable foes. In my opinion, the simplest strategy is to go full offense against all participating nations. Send the assassins (remember I said there were assassins legendary for penetrating impregnable fortresses, and others known for spreading terror among civilian populations?) to kill civilian leaders. Send the swift raiders to burn farms – this time going for full raze and massacre as opposed to the “leave people to tell the tale” that they’ve been doing so far. Take full advantage of their speed and ability to live off the grid to evade conventional land forces as they move from community to community. Their goal isn’t to take and hold land, so they don’t have to follow a predictable pattern: all they want to do is inflict such terrible wounds on Khorvaire that it’s not worth maintaining the blockade. Because again, that’s how they turned the tide against the giants: they couldn’t defeat them one on one on a consistent basis, except when they could outwit them or bring a surprise to bear. But they could make the war too painful to fight. Again, they aren’t an army like the Five Nations fields, and they won’t fight like one. They are about two thousand individual special forces units, and they will scatter and cause as much damage as they can. It’s essentially calling down a massive terrorist campaign on the Five Nations. Those with honorable ancestors will be the ones who do engage conventional forces, because that will be required to bring down supply trains and the like. But that’s a small element of the force.

So in my opinion, the SIMPLEST thing is to get the dragons to attack and then allow the Valenar to leave with honor – tell them that as their ancestors did before them, they can freely leave if they promise not to return. But if you try to humiliate them – if you present a situation that truly threatens their race, and a military challenge that can’t be easily solved – that is where you’ll end up with that war that can cost hundreds of thousands of civilian lives, human and elf alike.

How does a culture obsessed with martial victory avoid falling into civil war?

There’s a few reasons for this.
They aren’t obsessed with victory; they are obsessed with preserving the ancestors. Fighting is a means to this end. But the most important thing is to act as the ancestor would… And the trait the ancestors shared was dedication to protecting the elves.

Reason two… They don’t fall into civil war because they’ve been fighting a civil war for thousands of years… Just a very structured, planned war. When they have no dragons to fight, they fight each other. They have regions set aside to be battlegrounds, with designated warclans assuming the roles of attacker and defender, even emulating the tactics of a particular foe. While these are fought with blunted blades, people still die; the edge may be dull, but the steel is good and the point is to fight as if it was real. An elf who can’t survive these trials isn’t cut out to be Tairnadal. Lucky ones survive to go south and become Aereni. But this is why the Valenar are so universally skilled; they’ve been living survival of the fittest for twenty thousand years, and you only see the ones that survived… And again, this is why it takes them a long time to replace a fallen soldier. Elves aren’t just magically better at things; their skill comes from the fact that they’ve all spent a human life time in training and conflict. With that said, part of Tairnadal skill IS supernatural; the idea is that the spirit of the ancestor does guide the elf in some minor ways. Which leaves room for the scenario I described above, that those spirits are actually something else.

These scenarios are set up by the Keepers if the Past and designed to replicate historic scenarios. Shaeras Vadallia challenged this practice, saying that true battle and blood were the only ways to truly embody the ancestors. And a significant number of the Valaes Tairn were swayed by this.

Could you convince them to go fight in Xen’drik? The Sileus Tairn believe that is the only way to truly honor the ancestors. The issue now is loyalty to a leader. Heroes of the past served with or under Vadallia. Abandoning Vadallia in the must of conflict is certainly betraying the memory of the ancestor. But if another Valenar guided by Vadallia or another great leader challenged Shaeras, said that his interpretation of Vadallia was flawed, and took his place a war leader, the Valenar might follow her to Xen’drik and leave Khorvaire behind. Which sounds like a good path for a PC!

The Valenar are like internet trolls. Just don’t feed them.

I think the comparison to internet trolls is fairly apt. Yes, they are killing innocent people. But they are doing it in a calculated manner to draw attention. Compare a Valenar raid to a Cloudreaver attack. The Cloudreaver want loot and will take everything they can get. They don’t want anyone to know they were responsible, so the only people who will survive the attack will be those taken for ransom or slavery.

By comparison, The Valenar WANT to leave survivors, because the primary goal is TO be blamed for the attack. They don’t want your stuff. They’ll grab what they need to resupply and alittle to piss you off, but they aren’t there for the loot. If they can, they will leave your best warriors alive and hope they will be more of a challenge next time… While the Cloudreavers will kill everyone.

The Calendar get more attention because they are TRYING to get attention and because their army IS frightening; the Cloudreavers are too small to have much impact. But the Cloudreavers are also our there killing innocent people… As are many others. This is why I don’t see the Court as paying too much heed. What about the Poison Dusk? The Cloudreavers? Thaliost? The Sons of Liberty? The Lord of Blades? The Emerald Claw? Why should they aid you in this, when there are so many other issues… Many of them humans fighting humans… Being ignored?

To be clear, this is what an Ascendant councilor might ask a PC envoy; I’m not trying to dismiss your interest in dealing with them.



52 Responses to “Dragonmarks: Valenar and Tairnadal”

  1. Kendreyek says:

    It would be pretty funny if one of their ancestors returned and thought “We fought and died to free our race, and you are honoring us by killing a bunch of… monkey… people… things, that haven’t done anything to you? What is wrong with you?”

    Or maybe its one of the homicidal ones and he’s pretty excited about the people they’ve killed. He’ll have his soul torn apart first.

    But the ancestors being tied to them is still workable. Give them their big battle, and help them bring their ancestors back in full. Then once they do, use an eldritch machine to rip the souls of their ancestors away and then destroy them utterly in the greatest act of cruelty one could ever inflict on them.

    A Valenar being in the party would be ideal. Must stop his people to save his ancestors. Then at the end of the campaign he’ll get to ride along with the very souls of his ancestors into the greatest battle any Elf will ever face to save not only his own race, but every soul on Eberron. Redeem the Tairnadal as the heroes they were meant to emulate, and become the greatest among the honored ancestors.

  2. Cuze says:

    Hey, Keith, this isn’t just an elf-specific question, but I’m really curious. What sort of real-world historical inspirations did you draw from for the different cultures and nations of Eberron?

    They’re obviously a lot richer than 1 to 1 expys, but I’m still seeing some resemblances, like a little bit of the USA in Breland, our proud, loud, cosmopolitan frontier nation that’s experimenting with democracy.

    Cheers!

Leave a Reply