Phaethons are a minor race from the Dragonlance setting of Dungeons & Dragons. Descended from a line of elves with distant blood-ties to the Krynnish god Habbakuk, they are distinguished from their kinsfolk by their ability to produce wings of magical fire from their backs. They are a reclusive, isolationist people who inhabit the Khalkhist Mountains of Krynn, having broken away from mainstream Kagonesti society when their demigod patriarch and his offspring were persecuted for their claims of divine ancestry.
Phaethons take their name from a minor character of Classical Mythology; the demigod son of the solar deity (either Apollo or Helios, depending on the tale), who begged his father to be allowed to drive the Chariot of the Sun in order to impress the mortals who had mocked him for his claims of being a god's son. Then he lost control of the chariot and almost destroyed the world before Zeus struck him dead with a thunderbolt.
Phaethons first appeared in the Dragonlance novels, specifically showing up in the story "Wanderlust", which was part of the Meetings Sextet mini-series. They were then adapted as monsters to Advanced Dungeons & Dragons in the 2nd Dragonlance Monstrous Compendium.
Dungeons & Dragons 3rd Edition saw Phaethons first make an appearance as both a monster and a playable race in the 3.0 adventure "Age of Mortals #1: Key of Destiny". They were then fleshed out in the Races of Ansalon splatbook.
Phaethons are a simple, rustic people of mountain-dwellers who can be mistaken for short, thin, ruddy-skinned, brightly haired (coppery red is the most common) half-elves with dark brown eyes at first glance. Only when they reveal their magnificent flaming wings can they be identified for what they are. They dress in simple, drably colored garb and pursue humble lives in terraced farming communities, where they grow various grains, fruits and vegetables, herd sheep and goats, and keep rabbits and chickens. They are a completely self-sufficient culture, with neither need for nor interest in the outside world - though arguably xenophobic, it's in the sense of wanting to avoid having anything to do with other races, rather than active aggression; phaethons prefer to just let travelers be on their way and avoid interacting with them. When they do need to protect their homes and families, however, phaethons are ruthless and uncompromising.
Hard-working and proud of their accomplishments, phaethons are best characterized by their absolute dedication to honesty and truthfulness; lying for any reason is considered a more grievous crime than stealing, although the race is so devoted to lawfulness and honesty that many of them have a hard time understanding the concept of willfully committing a crime.
This devotion to honesty extends beyond the spoken word and respect for property. To phaethons, actions really do speak much more loudly than words. A man who lights a fire and then lets it go out through neglect is considered foolish. A man who chops down a tree and then lets it lie is considered a complete loss.
These attitudes cause a deal of friction when phaethons deal with other demihuman races. They are always willing to judge individuals on their own merits rather than the faults or strengths of others, but telling even the slightest untruth for any reason permanently blemishes that person’s reputation; those who would seek out the phaethons for any reason whatever must be prepared to be scrupulously honest at all times and about all things.
To avoid problems, phaethons customarily do not question each other or outsiders about their personal lives unless they are from the same family. The desire to give an honest answer often conflicts with the need for privacy or the need to not insult friends. Therefore, phaethons do not ask leading questions without first preparing themselves for the worst. For a stranger or an outsider to ask such questions is considered rude at best and a personal challenge at worst.
Phaethons do not spend a great deal of time flying; it is a luxury to them, something to be done when work is finished. Still, on calm summer evenings, groups of them can be seen soaring above the peaks and swooping through the valleys.
The life expectancy of most phaethons is 90 to 100 years. For a reason not even the phaethons understand, some do not die of old age; instead, sometime around their 90th year, they are overcome by a desire to fly toward the sun. They climb, and climb, and climb ever higher until either exhaustion or lack of oxygen or both causes them to pass out. As they plunge back toward Krynn, a marvelous transformation takes place and as they regain their senses, still thousands of feet above ground, they discover that they have metamorphosed into elder phaethons.
Elder phaethons are taller than phaethons, with snow white hair, black pupils, and copper-colored skin. Their flaming wings are brilliant and at least 30 feet from wing tip to wing tip. They can, quite literally, dance in the air. Those phaethons that make this transformation become immensely solitary creatures. They still know their family and friends, but they have no need or desire to return to them or to their farms. They spend their days soaring through the mountains, scouting for intruders, lost travelers, and anything else that is out of place or unusual. They are invaluable guardians for the phaethon settlements in that little happens in the mountains without their knowledge.
Most of an elder phaethon’s time is spent either in flight or sitting atop a mountain and scanning the world around. A panoramic vista and air beneath their wings seem to be their only concerns.
Elder phaethons neither hunt nor gather. Their food requirements are very slight and are met entirely by the inhabitants of the phaethon settlements under their guardianship. The people of these settlements leave food out in the open and, approximately once a week, an elder phaethon stops by to pick up the food and relay any pertinent messages. These visits are always brief and formal. Elder phaethons have also been known to look after villages of humans and demihumans as well as those of normal phaethons, if the humans and demihumans have demonstrated that they are worthy of protection. If the village ever neglects to leave food for the elder phaethon or lies to him in any way, he will forsake that village forever. However, if a village is under his wing, so to speak, he will defend it with his own life, if necessary.
In the absence of violence, an elder phaethon can live another 150 to 200 years.
A phaethon resembles a half-elf, with deep brown eyes and red-blonde to dark coppery brown hair. Their most stunning feature is, of course, their brilliant fiery wings, which vanish and reappear as willed; because they view their wings as a sacred gift from their divine ancestors, they are loathe to use them unless necessary. The typical phaethon's personality is best summed up with three words: fiery, aloof, and introverted. Phaethon culture is based on hundreds, even thousands of years of orally-recorded divine tradition, which preaches the phaethons need only look to the example of those who came before them and that the outside world has nothing to teach them - there is no need to investigate the philosophy of other races, nor acquire enlightenment from association with outsiders.
Obviously, this makes them seem pretty damn distant, if not outright arrogant, but not all phaethons are so closed-minded.
A phaethon is disciplined and organized, with simple and elegant solutions to most daily problems. Her activities are carried out in accordance with how her people have always done things, although a creative and novel approach is never dismissed. Rather, such innovations are regarded as the uncovering of lost and hidden truths. In battle, she is reluctant to fight unless the situation is dire or her homestead is threatened with destruction. When this occurs, her fury is focused and determined.
Phaethons inherited much from their elven kindred, including a fondness for nature and a close relationship with animals and forests. However, their forced isolationism and self-reliance has given rise to a distinctly ordered and austere community that embraces honesty, truth, and simple traditions. They lead rustic lives in high mountain areas where sheltered valleys provide some measure of agricultural resources and seclusion.
Traditionally, phaethons live in the Khalkist Mountains, but the Chaos War sees their homeland destroyed by incursions of Fire Dragons. As a result, the phaethons of the Age of Mortals are mostly found in the Desolation, where they forged a pact with Malystryx the Red Dragon Overlord that saw them being given permission to settle in "her" mountains in exchange for serving as border scouts and occasional agents. Small communities can also be found in high and isolated mountain regions throughout Ansalon.
In the wake of Malys’ death and the conclusion of the War of Souls, the phaethons are now forced to deal with treasure hunters, adventurers, rogue dragonspawn, and other threats to their peaceful existence. This being the case, younger phaethons are drawn to the outside world, eager to better understand the danger to their kindred. A phaethon who chooses to leave his community is an exceptional individual, willing to relinquish some part of himself to embrace the life of a traveler. Many phaethon try to leave their race behind them, but ultimately return unfulfilled.
Phaethons don’t typically get along with most other races, simply as a result of their isolated past. The people of Krynn thought of them as a myth until recently. However, their preference would be toward other trustworthy folk, such as dwarves, or to sylvan people, such as the Kagonesti, who while barbaric and wild are still more honest than other elves.
Phaethons have a strange relationship with red dragons. The mighty reds know the phaethons to be immune to their flames, and they managed to broker a compact with Malystryx—no easy feat. Even after her death in the War of Souls, most of Ansalon’s red dragons will spare a phaethon, either out of respect for the compact or because they consider them touched by the gods and not worth the trouble to harass.
A phaethon community consists of a mountain village or town built above the treeline, often chosen for magical or mystical qualities. Given they have fiery wings coming out of their backs, for obvious reasons, they eschew wood as a building material; rocky outcroppings and natural caves are used extensively where possible, but the phaethons put in plenty of hard work and magic to shape the rugged landscape to their needs. Being immune to fire, they find active volcanoes a perfectly hospitable home, and in fact prefer such terrain - being immune to fire lets them harvest the molten metal and stone from its guts, which are far easier to shape.
Leadership of a phaethon community is handled by a council of elders, which for phaethons designates members of their race who have undergone a physical and spiritual metamorphosis into a more powerful form (handled in 3e as a racial prestige class). Aside from the basic fact that the elders handle all things relating to laws, judgment or the future of the community - elders often undertake rituals of elemental communion and omen-based divination to locate sites to found new settlements, for example - phaethons are basically egalitarian, with none of the traditions of leadership or aristocracy seen amongst their elf relatives.
The phaethons are deeply spiritual people, although they take it to an ascetic level rather than expressing it outwardly. They do not typically adorn themselves with religious or holy icons, nor do they set aside buildings as temples or shrines. Instead, each phaethon is expected to come to an understanding, or agreement, with one of the Great Patrons alone; most simply choose a god and live a life in accordance with that credo, although others take this to another level.
The Great Patrons are Habbakuk, Sirrion, and Sargonnas, as each are associated with fire. A minor rite of ascension, sharing elements of that which leads to the transformation of an elder, is undertook by a phaethon who seeks to embrace the life of a devotee. Phaeran the Firebird (Habbakuk) is the foremost of the Patrons, and his followers, some of whom are paladins, are known as the Phaenar. Their fiery wings become blue once they have completed their holy rites. Sirithos the Flame (Sirrion) is patron to an order of monks who, quite at odds with phaethon and monastic culture, abstain from discipline and law for the apparent randomness and spontaneity of inner wisdom. Kinthalos the Scar (Sargonnas) is usually invoked to calm a volcanic fire or in an oath of vengeance, but he has some evil followers who practice dark rites of scarification, sacrifice, and murder. Clerics of Kinthalos do not live openly for obvious reasons, although their deep blood-red flames are difficult to conceal.
A fair number of mystics arose among the phaethon communities of the Age of Mortals. Most are fire mystics, practicing the same rites and keeping to the same traditions as their clerical brothers. Typically, a community will have mystics or clerics, but rarely both. No animosity is held toward the other, but a schism may exist if the mystics do not return to their faith eventually.
- Strength -2, Wisdom +2.
- Humanoid (elf, fire): Phaethons are humanoids
with both the elf and fire subtypes. They are immune to fire, but are vulnerable to cold and subject to any spells or effects that target fire creatures.
- A phaethon’s base land speed is 30 feet; he has a fly speed of 60 feet (average) when his wings are manifested.
- Low-light vision: Phaethon do not have the elvensight of their wingless cousins, but are still capable of seeing twice as far as a human in dim light.
- Flaming Wings: As a free action that does not draw an attack of opportunity, a phaethon can manifest a pair of fiery wings that enable him to fly. These wings may also be used to cause fire damage in unarmed combat. A phaethon who makes an unarmed strike while his wings are manifested inflicts 1d6 points of fire damage in addition to the standard unarmed damage. A phaethon who is involved in a grapple may add this damage to any other damage inflicted on the opponent as a result of a grapple check. A phaethon who uses his wings to inflict additional fire damage in a round cannot also use them to fly in that round. Manifesting his wings is a supernatural ability with an effective caster level equal to the phaethon’s character level for the purposes of antimagic and dispel effects.
- Automatic Languages: Common, Elven. Bonus
Languages: Celestial, Draconic, Dwarven, Ignan, Sylvan.
The devotees of Sirrion among the phaethon call themselves the Order of Sirithos. Unlike other monks, the brothers of the Order embrace the chaotic aspects of their fiery patron and eschew the lawful disciplines. Phaethon monks in the Order must be chaotic in alignment and suffer the same penalties if they change to a non-chaotic alignment as standard monks do if they change to a nonlawful alignment.
Dance of Flames
- You abandon the inner disciplines and meditations of other monks in order to unleash the chaotic dance of your patron.
- Level: 3rd.
- Replaces: If you select this class feature, you do not gain the following monk abilities at their respective levels: Still Mind, Purity of Body, Wholeness of Body, Diamond Body, Diamond Soul, Timeless Body, Empty Body, Perfect Self.
- Benefit: Beginning at 3rd level, whenever you make a full attack using your flurry of blows, you may also move up to your speed. You must move a minimum of 5 feet between each attack, and you may not enter a square you just exited. Dancing in this way provokes an attack of opportunity, but you may tumble as part of your move. While dancing, you may not use any skill or ability that requires concentration or which requires you to remain still, such as Hide or Move Silently. You may perform such a dance only once per encounter, and the dance lasts for 1 round for every 2 ranks in Perform (dance) you possess.
- Once the dance has ended, you are fatigued for the remainder of the encounter. You may perform the Dance of Flames only once per day at 3rd level. The number of times per day increases by 1 for every 4 levels afterwards: twice a day at 7th level, three times per day at 11th level, four times per day at 15th level, and five times per day at 19th level.
- In addition to the dance’s other effects you gain a bonus to all Will saves and damage rolls for the duration. Your bonus begins as +1 at 3rd level, increasing by +1 at 5th level and every 4 levels after that: +3 at 9th level, +4 at 13th level, and +5 at 17th level.
- At 9th level, you are no longer fatigued after your dance has ended. At 20th level, you are immune to all mind affecting or enchantment effects while dancing, and there is no limit to the number of times per day that you may dance.
A handful of phaethons carry within them the legacy of their divine origins, a fiery phoenix-like spark which smolders and dances unnoticed for most of their lives. As they mature, however, these individuals gradually begin to feel the pull of something greater, and when the time is right, they find themselves ascending into the skies to the very limits of their endurance. At this point, closer to the sun and in the reaches of the upper atmosphere, they undergo a surprising and wondrous change. This apotheosis transforms them into elder phaethons.
An elder phaethon is the embodiment of the ideals of the race, blessed by Habbakuk, Sirrion, or Sargonnas with searing wings over 30 feet wide and an impossibly noble bearing. They are as much angels as they are elf cousins, and their fate is forever tied to their kindred. They are guardians, solitary and watchful, and are perhaps the true voice of the phaethon people.
Most elder phaethons begin as monks or rangers. Some are clerics of one of the Great Patrons. A few elder phaethons discover the secrets of sorcery and practice wild magic, but they are in the minority.
The Rite of Ascension, a deeply personal and moving experience for the would-be elder, is not something that occurs at a time of the phaethon’s own choosing. Some phaethons never feel the pull skyward and remain as they are until they die. In terms of the game, however, this call to ascend is something that must be worked out between you and the Dungeon Master. There is no special feat, alternative class feature, or skill to represent it, but the requirement of two Knowledge skills at 10 ranks does reflect that the phaethon has devoted time to uncovering his race’s traditions.
The Rite should be played out during the course of the game once the character has attained 7th level and has earned the opportunity to take levels in the elder phaethon prestige class. If the DM is satisfied, you meet the class’ entry requirements.
Entry Requirements Race: Phaethon. Base Attack Bonus: +4. Skills: Any two Knowledge skills 10 ranks. Special: Undertake the Rite of Ascension and survive.
Table: Elder Phaethon Hit Die: d8 Class Level Base Attack Bonus Fort Save Ref Save Will Save Special 1st +1 +0 +2 +2 +2 Cha, flaming wings (1d8 fire, fly +10 feet), spell resistance 2nd +2 +0 +3 +3 +2 Str, flaming wings (2d6 fire, fly +10 feet, good maneuverability), fiery aura 3rd +3 +1 +3 +3 +2 Dex, flaming wings (3d6 fire, fly +10 feet), native outsider Class Skills (2 + Int modifier per level): Concentration, Craft, Diplomacy, Heal, Intimidate, Knowledge (all skills, taken separately), Perform.
Class Features As an elder phaethon, your racial traits advance steadily over three levels. Your flight speed and the fire damage from your wings increase at each level. Once you have attained all three levels in the class, your transformation is complete.
Flaming Wings (Su) At each level, your manifested wings increase in size and power and your flight speed increases by 10 feet. At 1st level, the fire damage dealt by your wings increases to 1d8. At 2nd level, your maneuverability increases to good and the fire damage increases to 2d6. At 3rd level, the fire damage increases to 3d6.
Spell Resistance Beginning at 1st level, you gain spell resistance equal to your character level +10.
Fiery Aura (Su) Once per day at 2nd level, you may wreathe your body in an aura of radiant flame. While your aura is active, you cannot use your wings to fly, but you gain a deflection bonus to Armor Class equal to your Charisma bonus (if any), and any creature striking you with a handheld melee weapon or natural weapon (including an unarmed strike) takes fire damage equal to that delivered by your wings. You may maintain the fiery aura for a number of rounds equal to 3 plus your Constitution modifier.
Native Outsider At 3rd level, your type changes to outsider (fire, native). You are no longer susceptible to spells and effects that target humanoids or elves; however, you are vulnerable to any effects targeting outsiders or fire creatures. As a native outsider, you still need to eat, breathe, and sleep, but you no longer suffer the effects of aging or disease.
Playing an Elder Phaethon: As an elder phaethon, you are much like regular phaethons, although you are far more cerebral and nimble. You are generally more aloof from the affairs of your kinsmen, though you act as a guardian and guide for their own paths to enlightenment. You may decide that your true path lies outside your community and in the pursuit of greater and nobler deeds. In this way, you devote your efforts to a life of adventure.
Combat: With improved wings, a deflection bonus, and a good base attack bonus, you are a dangerous opponent. Melee combat is more of an option for you than other phaethons, because you are more able to deal effective attacks at close range. But, as always, the advantage of flight puts you in an excellent position to make ranged attacks.
Advancement: As a three-level class, the elder phaethon prestige class won’t take up too much of your advancement. Consider the class you will advance in after you have achieved all three elder phaethon levels. Other prestige classes may suggest themselves to you, but remember that becoming an elder phaethon means that you’re at least three levels behind in your primary character class than others of your effective character level. If you haven’t already taken them, choose feats like Flyby Attack, Hover, and Wingover to improve your agility and effectiveness in flight.
Resources: You have the resources of your phaethon community, assuming you haven’t abandoned them. Although this won’t be much in terms of material wealth, a phaethon community may still serve to assist you in other ways: providing cohorts, obtaining spellcasting services, a temporary place to train or rest, and so forth.
Elder Phaethons in the World: Although considered the leaders and ascended benefactors of the phaethon society, elder phaethons typically have little to do with the usual day to day affairs of other phaethons. They spend a great deal of time in thought, soaring through the skies patrolling, or engaged in debate with one another. Elder phaethons have little need for company when not directing units of phaethons into battle.
NPC Reactions: Even more so than other phaethons, an elder phaethon’s angelic appearance inspires awe among the commonfolk. The forces of both good and evil will attempt to recruit any elder phaethon they encounter to their causes. Clerics and other followers of Habbakuk may know something of the origins of the phaethons and will aid and support an elder phaethon whenever possible.