The Eberron Campaign Setting adds a number of options for druids, including mechanical benefits and a nation driven largely by druidic beliefs. However, these options raise additional questions. How far are the sects spread across the land? Do you have to be a member of a sect to be a druid? What happens to your dragonmark when you use wild shape? This three-part article will examine a host of issues tied to the druids of Eberron and take a closer look at druids beyond the Eldeen Reaches, from the blood guardians of the Valenar to the savage druids of the Demon Wastes.
The Role of the Sect
The Eberron Campaign Setting presents five druidic sects: the Wardens of the Wood, the Ashbound, the Children of Winter, the Gatekeepers, and the Greensingers. Each sect has unique goals, traditions, and beliefs. The Gatekeepers seek to protect the natural world from unnatural horrors, while the Children of Winter believe that nature will soon scour the world with plague and disaster. Each group has one or more feats that provide a druid with unique abilities associated with the teachings of his sect. You do not have to be a member of a sect to be a druid, and you don't have to take the associated feat to be a member of a sect. Being a member of a sect is a matter of belief and backstory, and as long as you and your Dungeon Master can come to an agreement on your story, you can have a tie to any sect... or none at all. You may believe that Eberron sees through the eyes of all living things, and the thunder is her voice. That Eberron slumbers, and when she wakes she will shatter every city. That civilization is part of Eberron's plan for the world, and just as the rabbit digs a burrow, a human is expected to build a city. Like any cleric, you should have a central pillar for your faith, but like a cleric, you don't have to adhere to one of the major religions.
The Shadows of the Forest
The King's Forest fills southeastern Breland. This rain forest spans hundreds of square miles and provides a home to a wide array of fantastic creatures. However, over the course of centuries, logging and industry have diminished it. The Knight Rangers of Breland patrol the borders and do their best to counter the actions of poachers and brigands, but the forest is vast and the Brelish rangers rarely venture into its depths. The deep forest has other defenders: druids and rangers who slip through the shadows, as stealthy as the displacer beasts that accompany them. These are the Shadows of the Forest.
The Shadows of the Forest act to control the dangerous beasts, doing what they can to keep such monsters from venturing near the fringes of the forest and the trade roads. But the Shadows have also fought loggers and laid snares for legitimate hunters, including the royal party of the King's Hunt. Many of the Knight Rangers are grateful for the aid of the Shadows, but by the laws of the land, these druids are trespassers and poachers: A knight is duty-bound to bring Shadows to justice.
Five bands of Shadows are in the King's Forest, each with approximately twenty-five members. They remain in constant motion, using Survival to forage for food and shelter. The Shadows of the Forest claim to hear the whispers of the wild, a call that guides them in their travels. Occasionally this pulls a Shadow away from his band; it may even draw him out of the King's Forest and onto the path of the adventurer.
Most of the Shadows are humans and shifters, though one of the five bands is comprised entirely of gnomes. The Shadows have a close affinity with displacer beasts, represented by the Beast Totem, Beast Shape, and Beast Companion feats. They are masters of stealth, and many Shadow druids take the Guerilla Warrior feat (from Heroes of Battle) or a level or two in the ranger class to enhance their skill with Hide and Move Silently. The techniques of the sect are similar to those of the Wardens of the Wood, and at the DM's discretion a Shadow character may take the Warden Initiate feat.
The Eberron Campaign Setting presents feats that are not tied to a specific druid sect: Beast Totem, Beast Shape, and Beast Companion. In addition, a DM can always choose to provide access to an appropriate feat to members of a new sect he has created. For example, the King's Forest of Breland is home to a small band of druids and rangers known as the Shadows of the Forest, which is described in more detail below. While the Shadows have no ties to the Wardens of the Wood, their goals and methods are very similar and the DM may allow a Shadow druid to take the Warden Initiate feat... with a clear understanding between DM and player that this doesn't represent a tie to the Wardens, and that the Wardens will not recognize the druid or her order if she travels to the Reaches. A sect feat represents a particular style of druidic training and should be reserved for members of an organized group. However, that group can certainly have developed in parallel to the Eldeen sects, instead of being part of them.
The Druidic Language
All druids have one thing in common: knowledge of the Druidic language, which druids receive as a bonus language upon taking their first level of the class. What does this mean? Why would an Eldeen Greensinger and a Talenta mask-weaver speak the same language, not to mention the hermit who has never encountered another druid? If the Gatekeepers were trained by a dragon, why do they know Druidic instead of Draconic?
Druidic is not a normal language. You don't learn Druidic in the same way that you'd study Sylvan, and even if you know it, you can't teach it to a friend any more than you could teach her to cast detect snares and pits. As you master your first level of druid, you learn many magical mysteries. You learn how to speak with animals, how to calm them, and how to hide from them. You unlock the secrets of fire. You learn to mend flesh with a touch, and how to ask the plants to entangle and trap your enemies. These are just a few of your secrets, and the Druidic tongue is another. Many druids believe that it is the first language -- the primal language of Eberron herself. Some claim to have found Druidic inscriptions carved in the sides of mountains or written in the drifting clouds; the DM will have to decide if these tales are truth or fancy.
Since only druids can learn Druidic, speaking this language is a way to identify yourself to other druids you may encounter. If you're about to be boiled alive by kobolds, an appeal to the kobold druid spoken in Druidic could save your life. However, not all druids are allies. A peaceful hermit may despise the violent actions of the Ashbound or the doom-driven work of the Children of Winter. Speaking in Druidic will establish a basic bond, but if you just killed the opposing druid's totem companion, it's not going to get you off the hook.
Many people assume that warforged cannot become druids. The warforged are constructs crafted by human hands; what bond could a warforged possess with the world of nature? And yet, the warforged are living constructs. A large part of the body of a warforged is composed of fibrous strands not unlike the roots of a tree. Druidic life is a rare path for a warforged to follow, but a few have sought to explore their role as living creatures and to strengthen their bonds to the natural world.
A warforged druid faces a number of challenges. Both the Adamantine Body and Mithril Body feats cause a warforged druid to lose access to druidic abilities, just as if he was wearing metal armor. The only option for a warforged who wants improved armor and the full power of the druid is the Ironwood Body feat presented in Races of Eberron. On the positive side, both goodberries and wild shape are healing effects that are not actually part of the healing subschool; as such, both of these provide full benefits to the warforged druid.
Wild shape is a marvelous ability for a warforged druid, allowing the construct to transcend its partially inanimate nature and become a creature of flesh and blood. While in wild shape, a warforged is no longer considered a construct: it loses access to its racial immunities and any armor bonus it possesses from composite plating or Ironwood Body. It cannot be repaired using repair damage, but it receives the full benefit of spells of the healing subschool. While Races of Eberron states that warforged druids maintain armor bonuses and racial immunities in animal form, this is incorrect.
So far, those warforged that have joined established druid sects have gravitated toward the Wardens of the Wood, though the elder Gatekeepers have shown great interest in these possibly immortal guardians.
Reincarnation in Eberron
Powerful druids possess the ability to reincarnate those who fall in battle. This power is not often called into play; many druids respect the natural cycle of life, and furthermore, with their general lack of interest in material possessions, few druids have immediate access to the rare and expensive oils and unguents that are required to perform the ritual. However, if a champion dies a truly unjust death or falls while performing a great service to the wild, a druid may choose to call his spirit back to the world of the living.
A character who possesses a dragonmark will keep his dragonmark even in his new form. However, he cannot pass the dragonmark to his descendants. So reincarnation makes it possible to find an orc with the Mark of Storm, but this will not produce an entire dynasty of dragonmarked orcs.
While some warforged druids are drawn to the Eldeen sects, reports from scavengers and scouts suggest that a new sect is forming in the Mournland: a band of warforged druids who call themselves the Followers of the Broken Path. These warforged seek to heal the damage that has been done to the Mournland and hope to learn about their own bonds to nature by restoring life to this broken land. A party of adventurers traveling through the Mournland could find an unusual oasis blossoming under the care of a group of the Followers; such an area could prove to be an exception to the rule of healing spells failing to function in the Mournland, and if not, a Follower druid could always assist wounded travelers by supplying goodberries... though the druids may ask a favor in return. There is much work to be done, and there are always terrors to fight in the Mournland.
Druids and Dragonmarks
While the mercantile mindset of the dragonmarked houses does not produce many druids, members of House Vadalis sometimes feel the call of the wild, while heirs of House Lyrandar feel a deeper bond with wind and water. And in the end, any character could choose the path of the druid. So how does the dragonmark interact with the abilities of the druid?
A druid keeps his dragonmark while using wild shape. The mark actually remains visible as a pattern on the druid’s fur or hide, and the druid can make full use of its abilities. However, the mark is not viable: a dragonmarked druid who assumes the shape of a stallion cannot sire a line of dragonmarked horses.
Animal Companions and Templates
The tales of the soul-eaters are stories told to frighten children. However, if a DM wants to explore these legends, adventurers could encounter halflings whose masks allow them to cast death knell... or worse still, masks that add the Keeper's fang quality to any weapon used by the wearer.
While the spirit mask may be as much a symbol as anything else, these masks are vitally important to the Talenta halflings. A halfling adventurer could be charged to recover the lost mask of a great hero, so that it can be destroyed in accord with the proper rituals.
Where the Valenar warrior seeks to channel the spirit of his ancestor through his heroic deeds, the Talenta druid believes that her ancestors are all around her, affecting every aspect of life. The druid serves as the intermediary between the worlds and guides her people on the journey of life. The halflings believe that the dead are drawn to Dolurrh and must fight their way free to return to the world. A halfling possesses two tools to help him in this battle: his mount and his mask. The spirit of a halfling's mount joins with him in Dolurrh, and it is their combined strength that gives them the chance to return. His mask holds his spirit or the spirit of his mount -- whichever dies first -- preserving it so that they may be together in the afterlife; many say that when a rider bonds with a new mount, the spirit of the old will flow from his mask to join with that of the living beast. Some whisper of rituals a warrior can use to trap the spirits of his fallen enemies in his mask and use their strength as his own, though most say that such dark magic will corrupt the caster and transform him into a demon after death.
One of the first duties of the druid is to help her people craft their spirit masks, and as a result druids are often called mask weavers. The druid serves many other crucial roles in her community. She heals the sick and injured. She helps to find and train clawfeet, fastieths, and the other beasts that the nomadic tribes rely on. She serves as a diplomat for the tribe, both when dealing with other tribes and with the spirits of nature. And she acts as a storyteller and record keeper, preserving the oral traditions of her people and passing them down to the next generation.
While mask weavers recognize one another as peers, their first loyalty is to the other members of their tribe. Even when a mask weaver dies without training a successor, a tribe will not turn to an outsider in search of aid; instead they will simply wait, confident that the spirits themselves will speak to one of the children of the tribe and teach him the secrets of the mask weavers. While it is rare for a mask weaver to leave his tribe, there are two ways it can happen. Occasionally a young druid is called forth by the spirits and ordered to go out into the world, in search of a hidden destiny that is far more important than his service to the tribe. The morbid alternative is when a tribe is destroyed. Even during feuds, enemy warriors will try to avoid harming a mask weaver, since many say this will bring bad luck to the slayer. As a result, a mask weaver may find herself the last surviving member of her tribe. Most of these orphans leave the Plains, searching for a new life in the wider world. Either of these could serve as background for an adventurer. Diplomacy, Heal, and Perform (oratory) are critical skills for a mask weaver. Talenta druids may take the Greensinger Initiate feat, though they have no ties to the Eldeen sect or to Thelanis; it is simply a case of parallel development based on the values and traditions of the mask weavers.
The druidic path is not the only way to show reverence for the spirits. Talenta clerics usually worship the sovereign Balinor, although halflings claim that Balinor was once a great hunter of the Talenta Plains. If a DM is using Complete Divine, the spirit shaman class is also suitable for Talenta priests.
The Siyal Marrain (Horse Watchers)
Most Valenar elves use riding horses, albeit trained for battle. However, a line of true Valenar warhorses exists. Such mounts are never sold, not even to the elves themselves: A warrior who seeks a Valenar warhorse must prove his worth to the Siyal Marrain and the horse itself. Valenar warhorses are fiercely loyal, and most will die before they will accept a rider of another race; however, in a few cases the Horse Watchers have helped those who have performed great services for the Valenar to form a bond with one of these steeds.
A Tairnadal druid can take a Valenar warhorse as an animal companion at 4th level, following the standard rules for advanced animal companions. A Valenar warhorse can fight while carrying a rider, but the rider cannot also attack unless he or she makes a successful Ride check.
The Tairnadal have tremendous respect for the power of nature. Many of the greatest heroes of the elves have been rangers, who combine martial skill with a magical bond to the natural world. During the uprising against the giants on Xen'drik, Tairnadal druids countered the magic of the giants with storm and thunder, and they bolstered the ranks of the elf army with the beasts of the wilds. A number of the druids joined the battle in animal form, and the greatest Tairnadal rangers rode into battle astride druids who used wild shape to assume the forms of mighty stallions. In one of the most fearsome battles of the uprising, a giant wizard of the Sul'at League laid a terrible curse on the opposing druids, forever binding them in animal form. The Tairnadal believe that the spirits of these champions of nature live on in their descendants, and they hold that these beings deserve the same respect as the other heroes of history. For a Tairnadal cavalry warrior, a horse is not simply a tool or a weapon: He is a brother striving toward the same destiny. Valenar rangers prize the ability to speak with animals as a way to strengthen their bond with their mounts. The typical Valenar ranger possesses a horse as her animal companion, and she believes that the improved abilities of the horse are a sign of the horse's ancestral guide. Druids capable of casting awaken are rare, but a few of the great champions of the modern age ride awakened steeds.
The druids of the Valenar serve two roles. First and foremost, they are charged to preserve the bloodline of the elven horses. The druids protect the breeding grounds, tend to injured horses, and help raise the young. These blood guardians mingle with the herd using wild shape and speak with animals, forging the bond between horse and elf from the earliest days. They also help to match elf and rider, working to forge the bond between rider and mount. Beyond this, the Siyal Marrain are warriors. Just as their ancestors fought the giants with lightning and flame, the druids of the modern day may ride with a warband, turning the power of nature against their enemies.
The Valenar riding horse can be found on page 289 of the Eberron Campaign Setting. Aside from its enhanced speed and Dexterity, a Valenar horse can live for up to ten times the lifespan of a normal horse; the Tairnadal attribute this longevity to the elven blood they believe runs through the veins of the steed. A typical Valenar cavalry soldier has served with his horse for decades, and the two have a tremendously strong bond: A Valenar will certainly seek vengeance against anyone who kills his horse.
Ever since the Valenar arrived on Khorvaire, the magebreeders of House Vadalis have sought to capture Valenar steeds so that they can produce a dynasty of improved horses; many a Vadalis baron dreams of the gold that he could acquire from selling herds of magebred Valenar horses. To date, however, their efforts have failed. House Vadalis has acquired a number of Valenar horses over the decades, but it has yet to make them reproduce in captivity; while the horses do not appear to be sterile or under the effects of malign enchantment, even those compelled to reproduce with charm animal simply produce normal offspring, lacking the superior abilities of the Valenar horse. House Vadalis sages have come up with a number of different theories to explain this mystery. Some say that the enhanced abilities of the Valenar horses are a result of being raised in the powerful Irian manifest zones of Aerenal. Others think that there is a small herd of breeding stallions that the elves have kept hidden from spies and thieves. A third theory espouses the idea that the enhanced abilities are the result of a bond to elven ancestors, just as the Tairnadal claim, and that horses bred without the blessing of a Blood Guardian never receive their full gifts. Whatever the truth, House Vadalis still yearns to overcome this obstacle, and any adventurers who can solve the mystery and help them produce their own herds of Valenar horses would be rewarded handsomely!