Dragonmarks in Savage Eberron

So let’s talk about the Eberron Campaign Setting, and how I do my Dragonmarks in my Savage Eberron. I know this is something of great interest to anyone who is moving to using Savage Worlds in their Eberron campaign, or playing in a Savage Eberron game.

First let’s talk about a little history and context. My first implementation of Dragonmarks was in a method that was very similar to what Kristian Serrano has in his Eberron for Savage Worlds document. Where the Dragonmarks were arcane backgrounds. These provided access to a few specific powers and a skill bonus to a skill relevant to the dragonmark.

While this worked, I still was not quite happy with the implementation. During my Seekers of the Ashen Crown campaign, both Ivello and Kayde had dragonmarks. The main thing that I really had a problem with was that it was possible for the characters to fail to activate their dragonmarks. I remember a couple instances where Kayde failed to activate his mark, and definitely a few cases where both players needed to spend a few bennies to activate their mark. Now, considering all the lore about dragonmarks it is pretty clear that the powers of the mark are an innate ability to cast the magic that is part of the mark. So this was disappointing. Additionally, the powers list available for this very short and couldn’t be expanded. There was the need to advance a completely separate skill for casting. Ultimately, these only seem an attractive edge to take if you knew the lore of Eberron.

Then Pathfinder for Savage Worlds (SPF) came out. Personally I have very little issues with conversion/implementation of SPF. Eberron came out originally in the 3 and 3.5 D&D days which was soon succeeded by Pathfinder. So in so many ways I see the original Eberron Campaign Setting as built in mostly what would be the Pathfinder system. So having a Savage Worlds conversion of it, to me is the obvious choice for the game base of how I play my Savage Eberron. I saw in the Mystics Powers edges for the core “magical” abilities of Paladins, Monks, and Rangers as a means to implement the powers abilities of various dragonmark

Lore and Edition Changes

When the Eberron Campaign Setting first came out, there were different “levels” of dragonmarks, with the Least, Lesser, Greater, and Siberys marks. While 4E had paths of growth for dragonmarks, it seemed to do away with this concept. In Keith Baker’s independent release of Wayfinders Guide to Eberron, he brought back these ideas. But this was again left out in Rising from the Last War. I personally loved the scaling aspect of the dragonmarks and wanted to bring it back into my implementation of dragonmarks.

Another lore change that Keith Baker has been very vocal about is that the spell abilities of the dragonmarks are actually one of the least interesting aspects of the marks themselves. It’s been brought up in his blog and the Manifest Zone podcast, as well as how dragonmarks evolved in Rising from the Last War. The dragonmarks give you access to focus items as well as some skill that just makes you better at certain things. So these two points do come out in how I implement my dragonmarks.

One side note that I added to my Eberron, is that full blooded orcs can manifest the Mark of Finding. I was always disappointed in how they were excluded.

Basic Implementation of Dragonmarks

I created two core dragonmark edges for each mark. A dragonmarked skills edge and a dragonmark powers edge. Additionally there are some core powers edges that could be taken after the dragonmark powers edge to improve the use of those powers. It is in this that I created the different kinds of dragonmarks.

Least Mark

  • Dragonmark Powers Edge or
  • Dragonmark Skills Edge

Lesser Mark

  • Dragonmark Powers Edge and additional Powers Edge (like Power Points or Concentration)
  • Dragonmark Powers Edge and Dragonmark Skills Edge

Greater Mark

  • Dragonmark Skills Edge and Dragonmark Powers Edge and additional Powers Edge (like Power Points or Concentration)

While I would love to have a Siberys dragonmark edge, I have not figured out how to implement that yet. One thought that I had was to make the accessing of Epic Power Modifiers (see Pathfinder for Savage Worlds) as a means to get a Siberys mark. However not all the marks has powers that have access to Epic Power Modifiers. So if any of you have ideas let me know or I figure out something in the future, I will share it.

Dragonmarked Skills Edges

I will start off with the Dragonmarked Skills Edges since these all follow the same format and are pretty simple to get out of the way. For balance in Savage Worlds, edges that give a bonus to skill rolls generally either allow a free reroll to one skill, or give up to a +2 bonus to a skill. I didn’t want to go with a straight free reroll, as that would create some edges that would be almost exact duplicates of existing edges.

What I decided to do was to give a list of possible skills that are relevant to the mark/house. The player can choose two of the skills and get a+1 bonus to those skills. Then as an added cool flavor for the dragonmarks the heir can also get one free reroll to either of those skills once per session. Adds a nice flavor without seriously changing the game balance of the edge.

The following are the skill choices available to each mark. Please note: I made some tweaks to the core skills. Academics has been renamed to Lore, Occult has been renamed to Arcana, Repair encompasses healing warforged, Piloting is specifically used in manning elemental powered vessels. I have added the skills Animal Handling (which I consider very different from Riding) and Deception (I did not like making Persuasion an uber skill encompassing both deception and regular persuasion).

Mark of Detection
Requirements: Novice, half-elf
Skills: Common Knowledge, Fighting, Survival, or Thievery

Mark of Finding
Requirements: Novice, half-orc, Human, or Orc
Skills: Athletics, Notice, Survival, or Thievery

Mark of Handling
Requirements: Novice, human
Skills: Animal Handling, Athletics, Riding, or Survival

Mark of Healing
Requirements: Novice, halfling
Skills: Common Knowledge, Healing, or Science

Mark of Hospitality
Requirements: Novice, halfling
Skills: Common Knowledge, Notice, Persuasion, or Survival

Mark of Making
Requirements: Novice, human
Skills: Arcana, Lore, Repair, or Science

Mark of Passage
Requirements: Novice, human
Skills: Athletics, Common Knowledge, or Riding

Mark of Scribing
Requirements: Novice, gnome
Skills: Common Knowledge, Lore, Language, or Persuasion

Mark of Sentinel
Requirements: Novice, human
Skills: Athletics, Battle, Fighting, or Shooting

Mark of Shadow
Requirements: Novice, elf
Skills: Athletics, Deception, Performance, or Stealth

Mark of Storm
Requirements: Novice, half-elf
Skills: Athletics, Boating, Piloting, or Survival

Mark of Warding
Requirements: Novice, dwarf
Skills: Arcana, Notice, Stealth, or Thievery

Dragonmarked Powers Edges

SPF implemented core “magical” abilities by Paladins, Monks, and Rangers through the use of an edge called Mystic Powers. These are edges that give the character access to a short list of thematic powers (often with some kind of power limitation built in) that are activated simply by spending power points. No roll was needed. No additional skill was needed to be advanced for a limited arcane background. It was in these edges that I clearly saw as the means to create dragonmark edges that really fit the lore of the world in a meaningful way. I gave each edge access to five different powers using the model from the Class Mystic Edges, but a number of them have specific limitations based on the theme of the dragonmark.

Now a note regarding the powers and the skills. I have added a few more powers to my Savage Eberron. Some of these are from other Savage Worlds setting books, while some are to really create some of the signature spells that were core to the idea of a particular dragonmark.

These are Dragonmark Edges as I have them in my Savage Eberron.

Mark of Detection
Requirements: Novice, Half-elf
As a limited free action the dragonmarked heir can cast one of the following spells: Augury, boost Trait (Agility, Smarts, Fighting, Notice, Thievery, and any “knowledge” based skill only), detect arcana (no Identify), locate (can only locate traps), mind reading, and scrying.

The heir has 10 dedicated Power Points that recharge normally. He automatically activates the power with success for its regular cost, or with a raise for an additional 2 Power Points. He may use applicable Power Modifiers and Epic Powers if desired.

The Mark of Detection doesn’t grant access to Edges requiring an Arcane Background. If the heir also has an Arcane Background, none of its Edges, abilities, or Power Points can be used with the Mark of Detection (and vice-versa).

Mark of Finding
Requirements: Novice, half-orc, human, or orc
As a limited free action the dragonmarked heir can cast one of the following spells: Analyze foe, detect arcana (Identify only), darksight, farsight, and locate. Darksight and farsight have the range of touch only, but the heir gains no benefit from the Limitation.

The heir has 10 dedicated Power Points that recharge normally. She automatically activates the power with success for its regular cost, or with a raise for 2 additional Power Points. She may use applicable Power Modifiers and Epic Powers if desired.

The Mark of Finding doesn’t grant access to Edges requiring an Arcane Background. If the heir also has an Arcane Background, none of its Edges, abilities, or Power Points can be used with the Mark of Finding (and vice-versa).

Mark of Handling
Requirements: Novice, human
As a limited free action the dragonmarked heir can cast one of the following spells: Beast friend, boost Trait (animals only), empathy (animals only), speak language (Beasts for the power only), and summon beast. Boost Trait and speak language have the range of touch only, but the heir gains no benefit from the Limitation.

The heir has 10 dedicated Power Points that recharge normally. He automatically activates the power with success for its regular cost, or with a raise for 2 additional Power Points. He may use applicable Power Modifiers and Epic Powers if desired.

The Mark of Handling doesn’t grant access to Edges requiring an Arcane Background. If the heir also has an Arcane Background, none of its Edges, abilities, or Power Points can be used with the Mark of Handling (and vice-versa).

Mark of Healing
Requirements: Novice, halfling
As a limited free action the dragonmarked heir can cast one of the following spells: Accelerate healing, boost Trait ( healing, survival, and Vigor only), healing (not Mass Healing), relief, and resurrection. All powers are touch only, but the heir gains no benefit from the Limitation.

The heir has 10 dedicated Power Points that recharge normally. He automatically activates the power with success for its regular cost, or with a raise for 2 additional Power Point. He may use applicable Power Modifiers and Epic Powers if desired.

The Mark of Healing doesn’t grant access to Edges requiring an Arcane Background. If the heir also has an Arcane Background, none of its Edges, abilities, or Power Points can be used with the Mark of Healing (and vice-versa).

Mark of Hospitality
Requirements: Novice, halfling
As a limited free action the dragonmarked heir can cast one of the following spells: Conjure item, empathy (humanoids only), elemental manipulation, plane shift (Extra-dimensional space for the power only), and slumber.

The heir has 10 dedicated Power Points that recharge normally. She automatically activates the power with success for its regular cost, or with a raise for 2 additional Power Points. She may use applicable Power Modifiers if desired.

The Mark of Hospitality doesn’t grant access to Edges requiring an Arcane Background. If the heir also has an Arcane Background, none of its Edges, abilities, or Power Points can be used with the Mark of Hospitality (and vice-versa).

Mark of Making
Requirements: Novice, human
As a limited free action the dragonmarked heir can cast one of the following spells: Conjure item (not including Create Food and Water), detect/conceal arcana (not including Alignment Sense), object reading, repair, and smite. Smite have the range of touch only, but the heir gains no benefit from the Limitation.

The heir has 10 dedicated Power Points that recharge normally. She automatically activates the power with success for its regular cost, or with a raise for 2 additional Power Points. She may use applicable Power Modifiers and Epic Powers if desired.

The Mark of Making doesn’t grant access to Edges requiring an Arcane Background. If the heir also has an Arcane Background, none of its Edges, abilities, or Power Points can be used with the Mark of Making (and vice-versa).

Mark of Passage
Requirements: Novice, human
As a limited free action the dragonmarked heir can cast one of the following spells: Fly, leaping, speed, summon beast (mount only), teleport (not including Teleport Foe). All powers (except summon beast) have a range of touch only, but the heir gains no benefit from the Limitation.

The heir has 10 dedicated Power Points that recharge normally. He automatically activates the power with success for its regular cost, or with a raise for 2 additional Power Points. He may use applicable Power Modifiers and Epic Powers if desired.

The Mark of Passage doesn’t grant access to Edges requiring an Arcane Background. If the heir also has an Arcane Background, none of its Edges, abilities, or Power Points can be used with the Mark of Passage (and vice-versa).

Mark of Scribing
Requirements: Novice, gnome
As a limited free action the dragonmarked heir can cast one of the following spells: Confusion (spoken or written words trapping only), magic mark, message, secret writing, and speak language.

The heir has 10 dedicated Power Points that recharge normally. She automatically activates the power with success for its regular cost, or with a raise for 2 additional Power Points. She may use applicable Power Modifiers and Epic Powers if desired.

The Mark of Scribing doesn’t grant access to Edges requiring an Arcane Background. If the heir also has an Arcane Background, none of its Edges, abilities, or Power Points can be used with the Mark of Scribing (and vice-versa).

Mark of Sentinel
Requirements: Novice, human
As a limited free action the dragonmarked heir can cast one of the following spells: Arcane protection, deflection, gift of battle, protection, and warrior’s gift. All powers have the range of touch only, but the heir gains no benefit from the Limitation.

The heir has 10 dedicated Power Points that recharge normally. He automatically activates the power with success for its regular cost, or with a raise for 2 additional Power Points. He may use applicable Power Modifiers and any Epic Powers if desired.

The Mark of Sentinel doesn’t grant access to Edges requiring an Arcane Background. If the heir also has an Arcane Background, none of its Edges, abilities, or Power Points can be used with the Mark of Sentinel (and vice-versa).

Mark of Shadow
Requirements: Novice, elf
As a limited free action the dragonmarked heir can cast one of the following spells: Darkness, disguise, illusion (excluding Deadly), intangibility, and scrying. Disguise and intangibility are self only, but the heir gains no benefit from the Limitation.

The heir has 10 dedicated Power Points that recharge normally. She automatically activates the power with success for its regular cost, or with a raise for 2 additional Power Points. She may use applicable Power Modifiers and Epic Powers if desired.

The Mark of Shadow doesn’t grant access to Edges requiring an Arcane Background. If the heir also has an Arcane Background, none of its Edges, abilities, or Power Points can be used with the Mark of Shadow (and vice-versa).

Mark of Storm
Requirements: Novice, half-elf
As a limited free action the dragonmarked heir can cast one of the following spells: Barrier (air and water trapping only, not including Damage or Deadly), darkness (air and water trapping only), elemental manipulation (air and water trappings only), havoc, and telekinesis (air and water trappings only).

The heir has 10 dedicated Power Points that recharge normally. She automatically activates the power with success for its regular cost, or with a raise for 2 additional Power Points. She may use applicable Power Modifiers and Epic Powers if desired.

The Mark of Storm doesn’t grant access to Edges requiring an Arcane Background. If the heir also has an Arcane Background, none of its Edges, abilities, or Power Points can be used with the Mark of Storm (and vice-versa).

Mark of Warding
Requirements: Novice, dwarf
As a limited free action the dragonmarked heir can cast one of the following spells: Arcane protection (including Epic Powers), barrier (not including Damage), glyph, lock/unlock, and sentry.

The heir has 10 dedicated Power Points that recharge normally. She automatically activates the power with success for its regular cost, or with a raise for an additional Power Point. She may use applicable Power Modifiers if desired.

The Mark of Warding doesn’t grant access to Edges requiring an Arcane Background. If the heir also has an Arcane Background, none of its Edges, abilities, or Power Points can be used with the Mark of Warding (and vice-versa).

Why I Play Savage Worlds

Hi, your friendly neighborhood Savage DM Freewolf here (AKA Phillip). Yes, I have been playing RPGs long enough that I still call myself a DM, not a GM. So being the Eberron Campaign Setting nut that I am, I of course started listening to the Manifest Zone podcast when it got started up. Of all the things that I listened to, there was something about the way that Kristian and Scott talked about this system called Savage Worlds that really struck a chord in me.

You see, while I was immensely happy not to have to map top math calculations to determine bonuses to hit or AC or whatever, and I was grateful that 5E really launched me back into the hobby after a long hiatus, there really was a lot about 5E that I really had trouble with as a DM. I have been a DM long enough (and I have grown personally enough) that I don’t DM just to DM. I DM because I am having fun. 

What is the most fun for me in a TTRPG is the collective story that we tell together. I am not the storyteller at a table, we are the storytellers. I was starting to have trouble with how the 5E system would limit our thinking in how we would tell the story, particularly in combat and with the lack of ways to handle complex abstract encounters. But the whole, the first swing at a sack of hit points was no different than every other swing at a sack of hit points, was kind of wearing on me. Not to mention I often played with some creative thinking players, and the best I could say was “ok you have advantage.” That just didn’t seem to capture some of the creative thinking my players dished out. And don’t get me started on the extreme difficulty in creating challenging encounters that don’t involve a hoard of mooks, for higher level players.

So I guess I was hungry for something a bit different when I was listening to Kristian and Scott on the original episodes of Manifest Zone. I can neither confirm nor deny that I have a problem with Kickstarter, when Pinnacle Entertainment had their next version of Savage Worlds (Savage Worlds Adventure Edition or SWADE) up on Kickstarter. After my four year campaign ended, I began looking at the next adventure in Eberron, being run with Savage Worlds. I can say that I have not, and can’t see myself, looking back.

Savage Worlds is a system that really allows a table to tell a great narrative, cinematic story at the table. Combat is not really bogged down with a bunch of difficult or complex mechanics, yet it has more options. I just love that in SW, I can have a mook throw a platter of food at one of the players and it can actually have a combat effect. These kinds of actions are known as Tests. Extending that, you can create a character that is useless at fighting, but can honestly be a real contributor to combat through Support Actions to others and Tests. In fact the more that I have played SW the more that I have seen, fighting big baddies in SW is far more of an exercise in teamwork than it ever was in 5E.

Eberron is a setting that is meant to be very pulpy with lots of noir. The players are epic heroes that can do epic things. SW have dice that “ace,” known in other ways as “exploding”. I have a d6 in a skill and roll a 6, I get to keep rolling ’til I don’t get a 6. This is all the time. I have seen players one shot the big baddies with a dagger and they weren’t the rogue with sneak attack. Epic times. 

SW also has some really cool mechanics to handle those other more complex and abstract situations. There are Dramatic Tasks that are akin to the Skill Challenges from 4E. Instead of handling a situation in a turn by turn type way, you abstract the idea out rolling a series of skills to collect tokens. The more dangerous or complex a dramatic task is, the more tokens you need. But overall it is handled narratively, with the dice assisting the story. In Raiders of the Lost Ark, Indy running for freedom after stealing the idol, that is a dramatic task. In our very own Seekers of the Ashen Crown, the party had to distract a crowded market square with patrolling guards. This was done as a dramatic task, that the players found epic and fun.

There are Social Conflicts, which allow a more nuanced and complex way to influence a large group or judge or something similar. These are like dramatic tasks but the mechanics are slightly different. The goal is to gain success tokens over three rounds by making a good argument for your particular case or cause.

Hands down one of my favorites is the chase mechanics in SW. I was constantly frustrated with how any kind of chase in 5E generally amounted to who had the highest movement and the best athletics checks. Now with some mechanics that support it, we can tell an awesomely narrative chase scene like the chase scene from Casino Royale. No kidding, I have now run those kinds of chases at my tables.

There are also Quick Encounters, which allow me as the DM to run an encounter, but do it narratively with one roll to resolve everything. I mean have you as a DM or player found your game bogged down in constant encounters, not because they furthered the story, but because they were needed to whittle down the resources of the party so an encounter down the line could actually be challenging? Yea I don’t have to do that anymore in SW. 

I think this is a good place to leave my thoughts for now. In future articles, I’ll get more into the weeds of specific game mechanics in SW or conversions to Eberron. But overall I am in love with Savage Worlds because it is a lightweight system that allows me and the players at my table to tell a fantastic story. The kind of story that we turn around and end up telling each other over and over again for years to come. Isn’t that the best part of TTRPG’s?

We’ve Come A Long, Long Way Together: A One-Year Retrospective of Life and Love in Savage Eberron

In which the Seekers of the Ashen Crown turn 1, and I reflect on how it started vs. how it’s going…and what comes next.

*Record scratch* You’re probably wondering how I got here.

Well, truth be told, so am I.

A year ago, I didn’t know a thing about Savage Worlds beyond hearing a few shout-outs on an popular Eberron podcast called Manifest Zone. A year ago, I also didn’t have any real prospects for playing at an Eberron table using any system. I’d had some pretty negative experiences in my short time playing TTRPGs and, combined with a lifelong battle with anxiety, there were more than a few self-imposed barriers to entry for joining a new table and learning to trust a new party.

By that point, I’d been a casual poster on the official Eberron Discord for about eighteen months. And I’d been lurking that server’s LFG channel pretty hard, but none of the games being offered spoke to me in way that seemed worth making the effort to rise above my baggage for. Then, at the end of July, everything changed.

It was a post from someone I’d never even come across on the server before. He was advertising a system I’d never played, and he was looking to fill a seat at a table that was already together – all of which I’d normally find pretty darn intimidating. And I did find it intimidating, but what caught my attention above all the other LFG posts in the sea was the declaration that he wasn’t looking for players – he was looking for the right players, and he was going to take as much time as he needed to find them.

When you get to my stage in life, and you’re not the kind of player who just wants to roll dice and isn’t too concerned about who they roll those dice with, the idea of a GM wanting to curate a group that will mesh well together (as opposed to just looking to put butts in the seats) is incredibly appealing. So of course I stared at the post for a while, closed Discord, and did absolutely nothing about it, because change is scary and trusting new people is hard.

Two days later, I was still thinking about that post. It was constantly on my mind, along with a little voice whining “you should message that guy. Hey, I can’t help but notice that it’s 3p.m. and you haven’t messaged that guy yet. Have you thought about messaging that guy?” I was getting rather annoyed with that little voice, so I indulged it. I messaged the guy.

Truth be told, I wasn’t afraid that he wouldn’t write me back. If he didn’t, I could tell myself “oh well, I tried!” and happily fade back into mediocrity and not have to face my demons. But if he did write me back, well, then I’d have to put up or shut up. And that’s exactly what happened.

Long story short, he thought I was the right player. A few days later, I found myself on a video call being walked through character creation, and the week after that, it was game on.

Slowly but surely, I learned. Under my GM’s patient guidance, I learned how to make the most of my character, and how to tell the story I wanted to tell with him within Savage Worlds’ framework. Combat was a big hurdle to overcome, but he had my back for that too. I came to admire the elegant way this new-to-me system meshed mechanics with storytelling, and quickly fell head over heels with Savage Worlds as a means of exploring Eberron. The other players welcomed me into the group as an equal from day one, and not only took care of Jak, but took care of me. And while my year had its share of ups and downs, I never stopped looking forward to Tuesday night as the highlight of my week. These guys aren’t just people I roll dice with. I feel like I won the lottery, and the prize was four new brothers.

And then, on top of all that (which is more than enough already) I somehow stepped into the role of “content creator.” When I started posting my game tales on the Eberron server, it was just because I really like telling stories. I also like sharing things that pique my interest and make me happy. All the same, when Kristian Serrano messaged me in March asking if I’d be willing to turn my stories and behind-the-scenes/mechanics talk into a blog to make it accessible to a wider audience, I was skeptical. Kristian may be familiar to some of you as a former co-host of Manifest Zone, as well as the creator of the go-to conversion document for Savage Eberron, and at the time he reached out to me, he was also managing the Savage Worlds Media Network. My skepticism didn’t stem from anything to do with Kristian (who is well respected in the Eberron and Savage Worlds communities and is just an all-around nice guy), but from my own hang-ups. Surely no one would be interested in such a thing beyond the five people who read my recaps on Discord (can’t be more than five, right? Heck, that number’s probably high!). And besides which, if there was interest in such a thing, that would be even worse (see: anxiety)! But Kristian gently and firmly made his case that there was potential for my stories to encourage Eberron fans’ interest in Savage Worlds, and Savage Worlds fans’ interest in Eberron, and that there might be more people interested in my content than I thought. So I said sure, why not. Worst case scenario, I just end up shouting into the void, and it’s not hurting anybody.

Well…the void stared back. It stared back big-time. Within a week of launch, Tales from Savage Eberron had over 300 views, and it was ten more weeks before I saw a single day pass with no traffic at all. I’ve shared other creative endeavours online in the past (and present), but none of them have made nearly as big a splash as this one. The Eberron community is full of absolutely amazing content creators – podcasters, adventure and supplement authors, mapmakers, visual artists – and it is incredibly humbling to have been welcomed into their ranks.

While next week marks the penultimate session of Seekers of the Ashen Crown and the retirement (for now) of Jak and co., well, as our Dhakaani allies would say, the story stops but never ends. We’re losing one player, gaining another, and after a week to catch our breath, we’ll be rolling straight into a new campaign. There will continue to be plenty of stories to tell going forward as a new cast of characters faces the harsh realities of life on the high seas of Lhazaar together. As much as I am processing feelings of loss about the end of Seekers, I am incredibly excited about what the future holds.

In other words, this was a very long-winded way of saying thank you. Thank you for joining me on this journey, thank you to everyone who’s encouraged and promoted me along the way, and thank you to my amazing table.

Raat shi anaa. The story continues. Life in Savage Eberron is good.

Looking to start your own adventure in Savage Eberron? Here are a few resources to get you going: