Sidebar: Aberrant Champions

It’s hard to talk about dragonmarks and the dragonmarked houses without also discussing aberrant dragonmarks and the War of the Mark. I posted a sidebar article about Aberrant Dragonmarks not too long ago, but my Patreon supporters recently raised a number of questions recently about the aberrant champions of the War of the Mark, notably Halas Tarkanan.

For a quick refresher: Long ago aberrant dragonmarks were more widespread than they are today, and they were also more powerful than the common aberrant mark known today—the simple powers granted by the Aberrant Dragonmark feat. The dragonmarked houses—quite young at the time—used the fear of aberrant dragonmarks as a scapegoat, both as a cause that helped to unite the houses themselves and to strengthen public opinion that “true” dragonmarks were good, and aberrant dragonmarks were the foul touch of Khyber… and lest it go without saying, many members of the houses believed the tales they spread. There’s no cure for an aberrant dragonmark, and this led to mob violence and from there to more organized persecution on the part of the houses. “The War of the Mark” implies a conflict between two even sides, and this was anything but. Due to house propaganda, people with aberrant marks were feared and ostracized, and this was more of a witch-hunt than a war. However, as it drew on, a number of leaders emerged among the aberrants—people with the charisma to lead and the foresight to plan, and with enough raw power that even the houses came to fear them. These leaders gathered bands of aberrants around them and sought to establish sanctuaries or hold off her houses.

The band whose exploits are best known was tied to three powerful aberrants. Halas Tarkanan was known as “The Earthshaker,” and his aberrant mark gave him power over elemental forces. His two greatest allies were known only by titles. The Lady of the Plague controlled vermin and disease, and was widely seen as the most dangerous of the aberrants. The Dreambreaker wielded vast psychic power and could crush lesser minds. Beyond his personal power, Tarkanan was a master strategist. Under his guidance, they seized the city of Sharn (which far smaller than it is today) and established it as a haven for the aberrant. But the houses had superior numbers, resources, and discipline. Sharn was besieged, and when it became clear that the battle was lost, Halas determined to make the victory as costly as possible. The three aberrant leaders gave their lives and poured their essence into terrible death curses. Little is known about the impact of the Dreambreaker’s curse. But Tarkanan’s curse shook the earth and collapsed the old towers, while the Lady of the Plague spread deadly disease throughout the ruins and called up strange forms of vermin. Those few soldiers who survived the attack lingered just long enough to carry the plagues to their comrades; even in death, the Lady of the Plague inflicted a lasting blow on the house forces. Today it’s her curse that is still felt. The region known as “Old Sharn” is sealed off because it’s believed that her plagues still linger in the depths, and there are forms of vermin found in Sharn that aren’t seen anywhere else in Khorvaire.

In considering the aberrant leaders, there’s a few things to bear in mind. The first is that they possessed aberrant marks of a level of power not yet seen in the present day—aberrant dragonmarks comparable to the Siberys dragonmarks of the houses. But beyond that, just like the house of today, their greatest powers came not simply from their dragonmarks, but from tools that focused and amplified the powers of these marks. Tarkanan channeled his power through a gauntlet he called the Earth’s Fist. The Dreambreaker used the Delirium Stone to focus his mental energy. And the Lady of the Plague wore a cloak she called Silence. So it’s not that Halas destroyed a city with his mark alone; just Cannith has creation forges and Lyrandar has its storm spires, it was the Earth’s Fist that allowed Tarkanan to level Sharn. And while these leaders died, it’s quite possible these artifacts survived. Each one was designed to interface with the unique marks of the champions who carried them, but it’s possible that a modern creature with a similar aberrant dragonmark could attune to one of these deadly artifacts.

So who were these aberrant champions? The short answer is that no one knows for sure. They lived over fifteen centuries ago, most were outcasts, and of course, the winners write history. Any serious scholar has to eliminate the propaganda circulated by the houses at the time—stories that present Tarkanan and his allies as monsters. Sivis propaganda suggested that Tarkanan was an avatar of the Devourer—a story supported by his elemental power—sent to bring suffering to innocents. Other tales claimed that all of the aberrant leaders were “lords of dust,” lingering fiends from the Age of Demons that delighted in chaos and bloodshed. So the short form is that it’s hard to be certain of anything and that adventurers could always discover new answers over the course of their adventures. What follows is the answer in my Eberron—the truth that could be found by a diligent sage—but that doesn’t mean it’s the absolute truth.

Halas Tarkanan

Halas Tarkanan was the son of Ilana Halar d’Deneith, an heir of House Deneith, and Grayn Tarkanan, a mercenary licensed by the house. Ilana commanded the mercenary regiment Grayn served in, and the two fell in love. When Grayn developed an aberrant dragonmark his contact with the house was severed and Illana was ordered to end her relationship with him. She refused and was excoriated. Ilana and Grayn left Korth behind, working as independent mercenaries in southern Wroat (the region that’s now Breland), where Deneith had yet to fully establish its presence.They served the self-appointed King Breggor III in a series of bitter conflicts between Wroat lords, and Halas was raised on the battlefield. Ilana taught her son the arts of war, and he was as capable as any Deneith heir. A Sivis account says that Halas murdered his parents, but the truth is more complex. In this time the houses were expanding their whispering campaign against aberrants, and House Deneith was expanding its operations in Wroat. Deneith promised to support Breggor, but first he had to rid himself of his aberrant and excoriate champions. Illana’s troop was sent into an ambush and trapped on a now-forgotten bridge over the Dagger River. They were surrounded by enemies when Halas’s aberrant dragonmark manifested. Its power collapsed the bridge, killing both his family and their enemies, and Halas himself was presumed dead; the destruction of the bridge was held up as yet another example of the dangers posed by aberrant dragonmarks. But Halas survived.

There’s few concrete records of the next decade of Tarkanan’s life. Some say that he secretly made his way to Rekkenmark, and served in the armies of Karrnath; in these stories, some of his unmarked comrades in arms later joined his struggles in Wroat. Certainly, he eventually fought a one-man war against Breggor and House Deneith’s operations in Wroat, gaining greater control over his powers with each guerrilla attack. He obtained the Earth’s Fist during this time, presumably by working with the Tinker. He met the Lady of the Plague in this time, but none know exactly how. Within House Tarkanan, one story says that the Lady found Halas dying of infected wounds and saved his life; another tale says that the two were both sheltering in the same village during an aberrant purge. Whatever the truth, they were already partners when the houses and their supporters began executing aberrants.

Halas was a gifted tactician, and the Lady of the Plague seems to have been a persuasive speaker; together, they executed an exodus through southern Wroat, rallying aberrants from across the region around Sharn. The rest is history; in the novel The Son of Khyber, a contemporary says of Halas “I think he always knew how the struggle would end, but he was determined to give our people hope and to make the houses pay for the blood they spilled.”

So: what’s known of Halas Tarkanan? He was the child of a Deneith excoriate and hated House Deneith above all others. He was skilled with a sword, but his talents as a commander were more important than his skills with a blade. He was ruthless when he had to be, and was willing to make sacrifices when it was the only way to hurt his enemy. And not only did he possess an aberrant mark of great power, he knew techniques that allowed him to manipulate his mark in ways unknown in the present day… as shown by the “death curse” that leveled old Sharn. Many dragonmarks place a burden—physical or mental—on the bearer. There’s no records of what price Halas paid for his power, but some stories suggest that his mark may have reacted to his mood—that he was always calm, because his anger could shatter the world. But as with so much about him, this is largely conjecture. There are no records of him having children, but if any existed it’s likely he would have kept their existence as secret as possible. Certainly by the end of the War of the Mark, the houses claimed to have completely eliminated the “blood of Khyber”—but as as aberrant dragonmarks aren’t hereditary in the same way as true marks, it’s possible he could have had an unmarked child who slipped past the divinations of the Twelve.

The Lady of the Plague

If you have a moment, there’s someone I’d like you to meet. She grew up in village in Daskara, not far from the modern city of Sigilstar. She loved the country and taking care of the livestock. When she was 13, her family fell ill with a disease no one had ever seen before. They died, and the plague spread to the rest of the village and their stock. Only two things were unaffected: the rats and the girl. When everyone was dead, she fled to the town of Sarus. You’ve never heard of Sarus, because it doesn’t exist anymore. It was burnt by those who sought to keep the plague from spreading. The rats kept the girl alive, and were the only thing that kept her close to sane. In time she learned to control her power. Even so, she couldn’t bear the burden of the deaths on her conscience. She declared that the girl had died with her family. She was someone new, someone without a name. She was the Lady of the Plague.

This is the most detailed description of the Lady of the Plague, drawn from this (noncanon) article on aberrant dragonmarks. On a small scale, the Lady could use her mark to inflict effects similar to harm and insect plague. But her greater gift was the power to create virulent diseases—plagues that could spread across entire cities. However, she had no ability to cure the diseases she could create. Unleashing a disease was like setting a fire; it could spread farther and faster than she intended. She was one of the most infamous aberrants of the age; the destruction of Sarus was a regular feature in the propaganda of the Twelve, carrying the warning that sparing one aberrant could doom your entire city.

Halas Tarkanan was a strategist and a warrior, and is usually seen as the leader of the Wroat aberrants. But sages who dig deep will find that while Halas was the warrior, the Lady was the visionary—that it was her impassioned speeches that rallied the refugees when spirits were low, and she who convinced people to follow and fight alongside them. While Sivis accounts typically depict the refugees as all aberrants, the fact is that there were many unmarked people who joined the aberrant cause. Some were relatives or lovers of the marked, but others were compelled by the Lady’s words, and made the choice to stand by those innocents being hunted by the houses. Halas and the Lady rallied other oppressed people, and many Wroat goblins joined their cause. When the Twelve finally laid siege to Sharn, only about half of the people in the city had aberrant marks, but all chose to stand and fight.

It’s known that the Lady had unusual theories about the nature and purpose of aberrant dragonmarks. It’s possible she had some inkling of the Draconic Prophecy, but she may have simply believed that aberrant marks and those who carried them had a role to play in the grand order of things. There are no known recordings of her beliefs… but perhaps one of her journals remains hidden in Old Sharn, or even somewhere in Aundair.

Like Halas, the Lady of the Plague possessed the ability to enhance her power through her own pain, and her death curse lingers to this day. Her cloak Silence helped her contain her power and prevent accidental infection of innocents, but it also amplified her abilities.

The Dreambreaker

The Dreambreaker was a gnome born in what’s now Zilargo. His aberrant mark allowed him to shatter the minds of people around him and some accounts suggest that he could twist time and space. However, his power also affected his own perception of reality. It’s said that he believed the Wroat aberrants were actually fighting the Sovereigns, and that the houses and their mortal minions were simply manifestations of this greater cosmic struggle. He was devoted to the aberrant cause and his sheer power was a vital weapon in their arsenal, but his instability prevented him from leading forces on his own. Like the Lady of the Plague, the Dreambreaker was often featured in anti-aberrant propaganda; Sivis spread wild tales of his abilities to crush minds and claimed that he could murder innocent people in their dreams.

The Dreambreaker possessed a focus item called the Delirium Stone, presumably created by the Tinker. He is presumed to have died in the siege of Sharn, but he is known to have been fighting in a different tower than Halas Tarkanan and some accounts suggest that he planned to twist time, stealing the future from the houses… but nothing was ever heard from him following the destruction of Sharn.

The Tinker

Halas Tarkanan, the Dreambreaker, The Lady of the Plague, Kalara of the Ten Terrors, and more—the most infamous champions of the War of the mark all possessed artifacts that channeled and focused the powers of their aberrant marks. But where did these tools come from? Halas was no artificer, and the aberrants didn’t have the resources of House Cannith. Or did they? It’s recorded that Halas ascribed the Earth’s Fist to “the tinker,” and storytellers have used that to create a mysterious figure—an aberrant heir of House Cannith! Whose dragonmark allows them to consume or twist the enchantments of objects! Others say that this tinker must have been a fiend—able to create tools to channel the power of Khyber because they themselves were one of the true children of Khyber. Either of these are possible, but there is a simpler possibility: that “the tinker” may have been a term referring to a number of sympathetic artificers within House Cannith who opposed the War of the Mark and sought to aid their aberrant foes.

The true identity of the Tinker could be an interesting mystery to solve—especially if House Tarkanan starts receiving aberrant focus items in the present day. Are these gifts from the original Tinker, somehow preserved through centuries? Or is this the legacy of a movement in House Cannith—perhaps tied to the humble Juran line—that has hidden in the shadows of the house?

Why Does This Matter?

For centuries after the War of the Mark, aberrant dragonmarks were all but unknown. Over the age of Galifar they slowly began to return, but their powers were trivial in comparison to the might of Halas Tarkanan or the Lady of the Plague. Within the last century aberrant dragonmarks have been appearing at an unprecedented rate, and a few with greater power have been reported. Is this the work of the daelkyr? A sign that an overlord is close to breaking its bonds? Or could it be a manifestation of the Draconic Prophecy: could the aberrants have a vital role to play in the days ahead?

While there are no concrete mechanics for powerful aberrant marks, as with an dragonmark a player character could ascribe their class features to an aberrant dragonmark. A sorcerer’s spells could be drawn from their mark; a warlock could take their aberrant mark as their patron, perhaps even hearing it whisper or receiving strange dreams. Even a barbarian could say that their rage is the power of their aberrant mark. I personally played a character in a campaign who believed that he had inherited Halas Tarkanan’s mark, and that it was his destiny to rally and protect the aberrants of the present day. That’s one possibility: the idea that the essence of one of these champions could be reborn in the present. Another possibility is that the Dreambreaker could have been right all along; that he did have the power to twist time and space, and that he channeled the essence of the aberrants to the present day (a variation of this is explored in the old RPGA adventure “The Delirium Stone”). Alternately adventurers could encounter a ghost or some other legacy of one of these champions—or perhaps find a journal of the Lady of the Plague, containing strange insights.

General Q&A

Were aberrant marks always ostracized? When Cannith and Sivis began to rally the other bloodlines into the Houses, were mixed marks thought of as undiscovered new marks, or were their destructive abilities quickly categorized into the realm of dangerous and taboo?

There was certainly a time when aberrant marks weren’t as feared as they are today, let alone the crazed fear that drove the War of the Mark. We’ve called out that the houses actively fanned the flames of fear and built up that hatred for decades before the War of the Mark finally took place. But while it may not have been as intense, they were always feared, because as called out in the other linked articles, they ARE dangerous. The Lady of the Plague DID destroy multiple communities before learning to master her power—and there are many aberrants who never learn to master their powers. It was easy for the houses to amplify the fear because people were already afraid, and the houses encouraged this instead of working to bring people together. But there were also surely communities that refused to give into that fear—villages that were havens for those with aberrant dragonmarks. Such communities would have provided the bulk of the numbers in the Wroat exodus, both of marked and unmarked refugees; while the people in these communities stood together, they also knew that they couldn’t fight house forces.

Regarding why the marks weren’t seen as undiscovered new dragonmarks, and why they quickly became taboo, there’s two factors. Aberrant dragonmarks aren’t hereditary and don’t have a common appearance. Three marks that grant burning hands could all manifest in entirely different ways. It’s rare to find any two aberrant marks that are identical, let alone that resemble the “true” marks, so people were pretty quick to conclude that these weren’t just some undiscovered new mark. Beyond this, the issue is that not only is an aberrant mark not hereditary, manifesting an aberrant mark severs your connection to any other dragonmark. When the child of an Orien and Cannith manifests an aberrant mark, it also eliminates any possibility that their children could manifest the Mark of Making or Mark of Passage. As the houses were still working to build their numbers and the strength of their lines, this revelation was as significant a factor in banning inter-house liasons as fears of the mixed marks themselves.

How do you see the participation of the Houses that existed at the time playing out in the War of the Mark?

Part of the purpose of the war was to strengthen the ties between the newly minted houses—creating a common foe they could fight together. This was also a way to familiarize the people of Khorvaire with houses that had previously been limited to a particular region and to help them spread. There were houses that didn’t exist—Thuranni, Tharashk. The Mark of Detection had only just appeared, and it’s quite possible that Medani was formed during the war, as the hunt for aberrant marks would certainly have discovered this new true mark. But Phiarlan performed reconnaissance, Deneith provided the bulk of the soldiers, Cannith armed them, Jorasco healed them, Ghallanda supported them. Vadalis provided mounts to ride and beasts to track the foe. Sivis most likely focused on logistics and propaganda. In the adventure “The Delirium Stone” (EMH-7), adventurers encounter a squad of soldiers including Deneith infantry, a Phiarlan archer, and a Jorasco healer supporting the unit. Later encounters include a Vadalis magebred swarm and a Cannith construct.

Ghallanda is an interesting question. While I expected it was pressured to support the action and likely helped with supplies, I can definitely imagine individual Ghallanda heir providing sanctuary to aberrant refugees, holding their principles over the goals of the alliance.

In Dragonmarked it’s said that the Medani were originally thought to be aberrants, and that they were subsequently coerced into joining the Twelve.

It’s difficult for me to imagine that there was any significant length of time in which Medani were mistaken for aberrants. Aberrant dragonmarks and true dragonmarks are dramatically different. All true dragonmarks share the same general coloration, sizing, and overall design; the Mark of Detection is distinctly different from the Mark of Making, but at a DISTANCE it looks the same. Aberrant marks vary wildly in color and design. They aren’t hereditary and two marks that grant the same power may be dramatically different in appearance. Even if someone believed that despite looking just like a true mark that a mark was aberrant, the moment they saw that the person had a brother with the same mark they should know something was up. And remember that the Twelve were LOOKING for additional true marks; they called themselves “The Twelve” before they’d found twelve marks, because they were convinced there were others out there waiting to be found.So I have great trouble imagining a widespread series of events in which Medani were mistaken for aberrants. One or two minor incidents, sure, But even at a distance, if someone saw the blue-purple mark they likely wouldn’t say “No, wait, that’s not exactly like one of ours”—they’d say “Damn, that half-elf has a dragonmark! Who let a Lyrandar in here?”

With that said: The Mark of Detection manifested during the War of the Mark. So those who carried it lived alongside aberrants, and could easily have been caught up in the purges that targeted them. As such, I can see many Medani having sympathy for the aberrants and choosing to stand alongside them: “Why do you treat me differently than her, just because my mark is blue and the same as my father’s?” So I think it’s quite plausible that a number of early Medani rejected the Twelve and actually fought alongside the aberrants; but that’s not the same as being mistaken for aberrants. And I do think that overall, the Medani were pressured—even threatened—by the other houses to join the Twelve, and that this underlies their attitude toward the Twelve to this day.

That’s all I have time for now. Have you used aberrant dragonmarks or the champions of the War of the Mark in your campaign? If so, share your stories below. Thanks as always to my Patreon supporters, who keep this site going; supporters are currently voting on the topic of the next major article (Sarlona is currently in the lead!).

Dragonmarks: JorascoCare and the Mark of Snails

It’s still convention season for me. I just got back from a fantastic weekend at G.A.M.E. in Missouri, and next weekend I’ll be in Seattle for GeekGirlCon. I look forward to writing about G.A.M.E. and about Phoenix, which I tested there and will be testing at GGC. But today seemed like a good time to address one player’s concerns about the deplorable state of healthcare in Eberron, so it’s time for another Q&A! As always, everything said here is just my opinion based on my personal campaign, and it may contradict canon sources.

I have a real problem with the ability of Artificers to outright heal people. I see Artificers as the inventors and creative geniuses of the magic world, being able to see the very essence of magic and it’s wondrous patters to infuse that energy into ‘wonderful’ toys. When I say magic I mean Arcane, as Divine is just something that is beyond the knowledge of the mortal being and unable to be manipulated.

Am I missing something? How is House Jorasco the ‘House of Healing’ if any artificer can throw around healing magic. I don’t see how Jorasco is still around with the prevalence of Artificers in the setting.

You don’t say what system you’re playing now, so I’m going to start with universal principles and then move to system specifics.

First major issue: There’s no such thing as “the prevalence of artificers.” The player character classes are rare and exceptional. If you go to the average temple, you won’t find a cleric or a paladin there; the priest will most likely be an expert trained in Religion, Diplomacy, History, and similar skills – someone who offers spiritual guidance, not magic. Where you do have magical healers – whether at Jorasco or in a charitable clinic dedicated to Boldrei or the Silver Flame – they’ll be adepts, not clerics. The vast majority of spell-workers employed by House Cannith (or anyone else) are magewrights. You said it yourself: Artificers are the inventors and creative geniuses of the world. The magewright is the magical equivalent of an electrician; an artificer is someone like Nikolai Tesla or Merrix d’Cannith—an innovator who can challenge the way people think about magic. There are AT LEAST a hundred Jorasco heirs for every artificer in the world… possibly considerably more.

Next, to quickly look to the original 3.5 artificer, there are no infusions on the default list that can directly heal organics. There’s only one way for an artificer to do this: to create a spell storing item. The whole idea of this is that you are literally creating a new prototype magic item on the spot—one that’s unstable and is going to be destroyed after one use. You have to make a UMD check to have it work at all, and if it fails, it might blow up in your face. Furthermore, it requires you to spend XP, which means it’s entirely possible that an NPC can’t use it at all, since NPCs don’t necessarily HAVE XP the way PCs do. Spell Storing Object is the infusion that truly represents the idea of an artificer as a creative genius: you are creating an item that CAN’T be created by a wizard, and you’re making it out of lint and pure determination. A wizard CAN’T create a wand for that – but you just did. It’s not a casual thing. It’s dangerous—and just as dangerous the second time as the first—and it costs you to do it.

If you’re talking about the 4E artificer, I can’t help you there. I didn’t work on the 4E Eberron Player’s Guide. The artificer isn’t my design; it was chosen to be a “leader” class, and leaders heal. But what I will point out is that healing in 4E means something very different than it does elsewhere. A warlord can heal you with an INSPIRING WORD. Literally. That’s not magic, it’s him being so encouraging that you get the will to get back up and get in the fight. So think of the 4E artificer’s healing as being more like that of the warlord than that of the cleric; it’s more that he’s giving you a shot of adrenaline than divinely removing your wounds. With that in mind, don’t think of “healing” as literally wiping away serious injuries; “hit points” are a very abstract thing representing morale, determination, and the strength to keep on fighting. Which brings me to the next major point…

MOST PEOPLE DON’T GO TO JORASCO FOR CURE LIGHT WOUNDS.  Loss of hit points is, by and large, a problem suffered by adventurers. Frankly, they make no sense when it comes to the idea of the health care industry. Consider that 90% of the population are either 1st level commoners or experts, and thus have three or four hit points. A sixth level dwarf fighter might have sixty hit points. What does that even mean? Can the dwarf literally stand there and get shot with a dozen arrows and just walk it off? Or are hit points a measure of his martial skill and ability to avoid damage in the first place? The short form is that a cure spell that heals 3d8+6 hit points isn’t a service that first level expert will ever require, and it’s questionable what it even MEANS in a physical sense. Most people are going to go to Jorasco for the same reason WE go to a hospital. You’ve got the flu. There’s a weird pain in your side that won’t go away. You broke your arm. Now, Jorasco DOES have the power to make these troubles go away instantly with magic, but frankly, most people can’t afford to pay for that, and most people don’t NEED the problem to go away instantly. They don’t go to Jorasco for magic; they go there for the mundane services of the Heal skill. When you go to a Jorasco healing house, you know that the people are professional healers; and you know exactly what to expect in terms of prices, because they are standardized.

Looking back to system, when the people of 4E go to Jorasco, if they aren’t just going for mundane healing they are likely going for a healing RITUAL, like Cure Disease or Remove Affliction. As noted in this Dragonmark, I actually restrict key rituals like that to the Dragonmarked. In the case of healing, I would make an exception for certain especially holy divine healers – but in my campaign, a cleric of Dol Dorn couldn’t actually learn the Cure Disease ritual. A cleric might be well versed in the Heal skill, and be able to help you through the disease that way – but the instant cure only comes from Jorasco.

Although given your concerns about arcane healing in general, I’ll note that you’ve got problems beyond Eberron; the 3.5 Bard is an arcane caster with cure spells on his list, which is the loophole that does let the artificer make an arcane wand of cure light wounds.

Now, given that we’re talking about Dragonmarks, I’ll throw an extra question in…

Do Aberrant Dragonmarks only do big dangerous things? Or are they just the ones talked about? Would people fear a rubbish one? If an Aberrant Dragonmark allowed me to control the actions of snails, would the cultural fear of the mark exile me?

The core idea is that true dragonmarks are constructive, while aberrant dragonmarks are destructive. The true dragonmarks deal with healing, communication, creation—and they do so in predictable ways. Aberrant dragonmarks deal with fire, plague, madness and more, and beyond that do so in unpredictable ways. One person’s aberrant fire mark lets them spontaneously generate flame; another burns enemies up from within; a third sets anything the bearer touches on fire. Furthermore, aberrant dragonmarks are often difficult or dangerous to the bearer. The person with the flame mark may suffer painful burns any time they use the mark, or it may activate spontaneously in times of stress.

There are exceptions to these rules; for example, the Mark of Storm has some offensive applications. But the mark is still predictable and doesn’t harm its bearer. On the flip side, take Brom’s mark in The Son of Khyber. It’s essentially localized reincarnation; he can survive almost any injury, but the wound heals with the flesh of a random species… so he has the arm of a troll, and it’s called out that he often regrows internal organs that don’t work with the rest of his physiology, requiring the medic to cut them out until they regrow in a compatible form.

Coercion is certainly a valid form of aberrant power. So it’s POSSIBLE you could have an aberrant mark of snail control. However, the key point is that aberrant marks are entirely unpredictable and never take exactly the same form. So no one is capable of looking at your mark and saying “Oh, that’s snail control.” All they know is that it’s aberrant, and that aberrant marks CAN spread disease, control minds, cause fire, and worse, and often cause the bearer to go mad. So yes, you will be ostracized and feared by many.

Some point out that the powers of least marks are easily mimicked by, say, a low-level sorcerer, and that’s true. The point is that generally, a sorcerer has to learn how to perform sorcery; it’s the result of training and discipline. An aberrant mark is thrust on the owner; is often difficult to control; and may cause pain or madness to the bearer. Essentially, people don’t automatically assume a sorcerer is a sociopath—while they tend to jump to that conclusion with aberrants.

With regard to the matter of true dragonmarks I have a question. If true dragonmarks are constructive in nature, what does that say about the Mark of Death? In terms of its role in the Prophesy/cosmology, is the act of creating undead a creative, potentially civilizing force? Or did the Mark have other applications and House Vol was simply doing it wrong?

I’ve written about this subject at length in a previous post on The Mark of Death. Here’s two key quotes:

…the Mark of Death should be about interacting with death and the undead, but I wouldn’t make it about KILLING, because that’s an aberrant path. Things like speaking with the dead; animating the dead; controlling or even laying undead to rest; these all fit. It could be that a dragonshard focus item could be created that would harness that power in a destructive fashion – but that’s not the innate power of the mark.

In 4E, I will say that in addition to providing access to focus items and any logical rituals, I’d probably allow someone with the mark to perceive ghosts and to use speak with dead as a skill challenge as opposed to a ritual. I’d likely put a limit on length of death, but I’d personally have the Mark of Death involve interaction with the dead… not to be confused with the Mark of Healing, which prevents people from dying.

Addressing your question specifically, look at your own phrase – “the act of CREATING undead.” Right there, it’s a creative act as opposed to a destructive one. Note that the Blood of Vol frequently uses undead to perform useful domestic labor; skeletons or zombies don’t HAVE to be used for aggression. Now, the Undying Court maintains that the creation of Mabaran undead harms Eberron itself – that negatively charged undead inherently consume the ambient energy of the world. But that’s a particular religious view that’s essentially like worrying about your carbon footprint; the UC believes it’s a serious threat and the BoV asserts that it’s nonsense.

Short form, though: The Mark of Death shouldn’t be about CAUSING death; it should be about INTERACTING with death and with the dead, just as the Marks of Handling and Healing interact with the living.

In light of your response, could the Mark of Death have been used to create undying, as opposed to Mabaran undead?

It’s possible. The line of Vol had been invested in the pursuit of Mabaran necromancy for thousands of years prior to the appearance of the mark. I wouldn’t say that the mark was inherently oriented towards Irian necromancy, but it could be that the mark was essentially “neutral” and Vol only explored its Mabaran applications.

With that said, bear in mind that there are some deep and fundamental differences between the two styles, which drive the reasons the different factions pursued each style.

First, there’s a basic mystical concept: creatures need energy to survive. An undead creature isn’t a zero-sum proposition; it has to have an ongoing source of energy to sustain its undead existence.

Negative necromancy is self-contained. You create a vampire and you let him go… from that point on he is self-sufficient and doesn’t need you to survive. Negatively-charged undead get the life force they need to survive by consuming it. In some cases this is obvious – the vampire drinking blood, the ubiquitous level drain. The Undying Court maintains that it is in fact the case with ALL Mabaran undead, even when it’s not obvious. A skeleton doesn’t APPEAR to be consuming anyone’s life force; but Court scholars assert that the skeleton actually absorbs ambient life energy from its environment – a theory that seems to be born out by the blighted areas around Fort Bones. In short, the UC believes that negative undead cause environmental damage just by existing.The key point, however, is that negative undead TAKE the energy they need to survive.

By contrast, positive necromancy requires energy to be given. The deathless can’t survive on their own. Deathless can be sustained by ambient energy in an Irian manifest zone, and many of the major Aereni cities (notably Shae Mordai) were constructing in Irian zones for exactly this reason. However, their primary source of sustenance is mortal devotion. The faithful of the Undying Court channel positive energy through their adoration of their elders. No one is harmed in this process – but it’s not something that can be forced. So if all the Aereni died or simply turned away from the faith, the spirits of the Court would dwindle and fade, clinging to their manifest zones just to survive.

The whole purpose of the Elven faiths was to prevent the future loss of the greatest souls of the elves. The line of Vol asserts that the Irian approach fails because it relies on continued devotion from the living… while a lich never runs out of power. While the Undying Court maintains that this is only because the lich preys on the living – and that if the people aren’t willing to sustain the undead of their own free will, it doesn’t deserve to continue.

Short form: Even if the Mark of Death COULD be used to create positive undead, bear in mind that those undead would still require Irian energy or mortal devotion to survive long-term; that’s the nature of positive necromancy.

Dragonmarks: The Dragonmarked Houses, pt 2

As always, this material represents my own personal opinions; it’s not canon and may contradict canon sources. I still don’t have any new information about official Eberron support in D&D Next, but I hope to have news soon.

I’ve talked about the Dragonmarked Houses and Aberrant dragonmarks before. Before getting to the current questions, I want to bring up a key point from the earlier article.

The power of the houses comes from the fact that they offer services that are unavailable elsewhere, at least on the scope and scale they can provide. While some houses do work to eliminate competition, for many of their services there simply isn’t significant competition. While clerics can heal, there aren’t a lot of spell-casting priests in Eberron, and they generally have a divine calling and a purpose in the world; it’s not viable to fully replace Jorasco healing houses with clerics. Likewise, while an individual spellcaster could learn and cast sending, that’s trivial compared to the network of Sivis speaking stones that deliver thousands of message each day. Magic is a form of science, and new discoveries require innovation; and it’s always easier to create a tool that enhances an existing power than to make one that generates the same effect from nothing.

So it is a default assumption of the setting that people simply haven’t found a way to create magic items that duplicate the effects of most dragonshard focus items without the need for a mark. In 4E, I suggest restricting many rituals to the Dragonmarked to reflect this. Groups like the Arcane Congress are always working on this, and your PC might be an innovator who can make some of these effects no one has until now. But the key point is that while the houses are monopolies, this is often because no one knows how to replicate what they can do on an international scale; only a few have to actively deal with serious competition.

What would happen to Eberron if all the Dragonmarks suddenly went dormant?

It would be a serious blow to the culture of the Five Nations. Swift long distance communication relies on Orien and Sivis. Orien and Lyrandar are cornerstones of mass transit and freight. Loss of Jorasco removes basic medical services, which would likely lead to plagues. Between loss of transit and Lyrandar weather control, you’d probably end up with famines when crops fail or food can’t be delivered. Loss of Cannith brings mass production of common goods and primary creation of magical goods to a halt. Breaking the Kundarak vault system suddenly cuts many people off from their wealth, which could seriously impact some nobles. If you look at my list of restricted rituals in 4E, suddenly those rituals just don’t exist in the world.

Now, it’s not the end of magic or civilization. You’ve still got magewrights out there; check this article for examples of services magewrights provide. The lamplighters who keep the streets lit aren’t using dragonmarks to do it. Some standard magical services would remain intact. Furthermore, there ARE skilled wizards and artificers outside of the houses. Nobles would still have access to some of those old services by hiring the best independent mages money can buy. But much of the system that provides magical services to the middle class would fall apart, and people would have to implement mundane systems to take their place.

Aundair would be in a strong position because of the Arcane Congress and the general effort to bring arcane magic into everyday life. Thrane has the highest percentage of divine casters and would thus have the best ability to counter the loss of Jorasco healing. Karrnath has a decent war magic program, but would be hurt by the loss of things like communication, transportation, and weather control.

I get the impression that the houses are everywhere, and if you open a business that’s within their “domain”, you either have to join the house or get stomped on. If my character starts a mercenary Company, would they have to eventually join with house Deneith? The problem with that, is that, if my character don’t possess a dragonmark or family within that house, he’ll only be able to climb so far within it.

First: It is entirely possible to operate a business without being affiliated with a house. There’s many independent mercenary companies, many smiths who don’t work for Cannith, many inns that aren’t tied to Ghallanda. One wizard who can cast Sending doesn’t pose a threat to House Sivis; it’s only if he actually comes up with a way to offer service on the same scale that they do that he becomes a real threat.

So, one independent mercenary company of 100 people based in Sharn doesn’t pose a threat to Deneith. But an independent mercenary army of 10,000 people with branches in multiple cities DOES pose a threat to Deneith, and they would attempt to stop it or assimilate it before it reached that level.

With that said, assimilation is always the preferred path. Most houses would rather just get a share of your profits that wipe you out. As described in Dragonmarked, Guild membership comes in three flavors. Most businesses are licensed. They pay a small percentage of profits and vow to uphold guild standards, and in exchange they get to show the guild stamp. So the average inn isn’t OWNED by Ghallanda, but it’s licensed by Ghallanda; the seal of the Hosteller’s Guild is an assurance that you won’t get food poisoning, be killed in the night, etc. Bound businesses are essentially franchises, and the nature of the services they offer are dictated by the guild. So an inn licensed by Ghallanda can serve whatever food it wants, as long as the quality meets Guild standards; but a Gold Dragon Inn has to serve the same core menu as all other Gold Dragon Inns.

So back to you: You want to start a mercenary company. You could be entirely independent and do your own thing, and as long as you don’t seriously threaten Deneith’s business they’ll leave you alone. However, you might find that clients pass you up and hire licensed Deneith mercenaries instead, because the Deneith seal assures them that the soldiers meet Deneith standards of training and discipline, and because they can go to the house for compensation if the mercs fail to perform. And if you decide to be licensed by Deneith, they aren’t going to try to limit your success; they’ll even send work your way. They’ll simply expect a share of your profits.

The houses do work to maintain their monopolies, but they’d rather be making money from you than spending money crushing you. They’ll only take ruthless action if they truly see you as a mortal threat to their overall success.
How do the different houses respond to a dragonmark going from least to lesser, lesser to greater, etc? There are system reasons why it happens, but does anyone in the game world have theories? Does anyone do anything to try to encourage/suppress the progression?

Well, now we venture into the realm of house rules. MECHANICALLY, marks are clearly delineated into four sizes. We have pictures of each of those four sizes. However, I personally don’t believe that you go to sleep with a Least Mark and wake up with a Lesser. I believe that marks grow organically over time. So take three people with Least Marks and they might all be different sizes and shapes – all clearly recognizable as somewhere between Least and Lesser, but different stages of development. You know you’ve reached the next stage when you are capable of performing the magic associated with the next stage, or using a focus item that requires that level of mark.

Now, that doesn’t change the question of why people think Marks grow and what affects someone’s potential. Most people believe it’s largely genetic, and that a child whose parents have powerful marks will be more likely to develop a powerful mark of their own; this also ties to the belief that children of two houses will develop aberrant marks. However, there are any number of other theories, ranging from diet and mental exercise to planar alignment and the influence of the Prophecy.

Which houses meddle in their members’ love lives, and why?

In dealing with this, it’s vitally important to remember that houses aren’t monolithic  entities. Every house is made up of multiple families; the Shadow Schism that created House Thuranni was a civil war between the Phiarlan families. The different Cannith factions are likewise largely divided along family lines. So with this in mind, I’ll give you some reasons, but interfering with your love life is something that’s more likely to be done based on the policies of your FAMILY than your house. One Cannith family may go out of its way to arrange political alliances or bring new blood into the house; if you’re the best artificer of the age & not dragonmarked, they’d like to convince you to marry into the family. Meanwhile, a different Cannith family may strictly forbid people marrying outside the house. Now, why might they interfere?

  • Dragonmarks. You’ve got a Siberys mark. You think we’re going to let you  waste that on unmarked trash? Elaydren Vown has a greater mark, and we’ve already made arrangements.
  • Race. You may love this elf, but think of your children. If they aren’t fully human, there is no chance they will manifest a mark. Will you damn them for your own selfish desire?
  • Politics. We have an opportunity to secure a connection with the Brelish aristocracy/end the feud with the Vowns/Arcane Congress etc. We’re not letting you waste yourself on some guttersnipe ex-soldier.
  • Recruitment. Flega is the finest artificer in the Five Nations. We need to bring her into the house, and you’re going to do it.
  • Prejudice. Your father was killed in the attack on Shadukar. I’ll see you excoriated before you sleep with a Thrane.

Vadalis is highly likely to arrange marriages for marks. Tharashk is remakably liberal and sees outside marriage as a good way to increase its influence. But beyond that, it’s really about your personal family.

Dragonmarks are seen only on the peoples living on Khorvaire. Why are there none on the goblin race, who lived before humans?

Good question. And why do they appear on half-orcs but not full orcs? And why not on gnolls or shifters or changelings? Nothing about the marks is clear. Bear in mind that they didn’t all appear at once; marks appeared on the Aereni and Talenta Halflings more than five centuries before they appeared on humans, and more than TWO THOUSAND YEARS before the Mark of Finding appeared on half-orcs. Who’s to say that the goblins won’t suddenly manifest a mark no one’s seen before?

And, of course, one answer is that the marks have only appeared at certain times and on certain races because they are an experiment of, say, the Daelkyr; they are actively picking and choosing who gets what mark.

Is there any reason why Greater Aberrant marks aren’t as common any more? Is the ‘bloodline’ that much weaker or another reason?

No one knows for certain. The common belief is that the strongest bloodlines were wiped out in the War of the Mark and that strength is simply gone from the world. But aberrant marks have never been strictly tied to bloodline, so it’s a little odd. So a secondary question would be “Why are aberrant marks becoming more common now?” I’ll give you a few possible answers for that:

  • The Mourning has wounded nature and increased the number of aberrant marks.
  • It’s a sign of the increased power of an overlord.
  • It’s dictated by the Prophecy.
  • It’s the work of the Daelkyr.
  • It’s just natural; the aberrant lines were weakened in the War of the Mark, and now it’s finally regaining strength.

If another house started to form, under what kind of mark do you think would be new and novel?

I’d probably start by saying that there’s been a changeling Dragonmark for over a century, but unlike most marks they can hide it by shapeshifting, so no one KNOWS about the changeling Dragonmarked House. I’d also consider the idea of the goblins developing a mark. With that said, I like the 13-1 structure… so what I might do is to have one of these two races develop the Mark of Death. There’s only 13 marks; the elves had their time with the Mark of Death; now it’s moving to another race. Is this a sign? Will the other marks start migrating too? If it’s about how long they’ve been around, the Mark of Shadow and the halfling marks would be the next to go…

Are there any houses /marks you would redesign or replace if you could? Any reason why, or ideas to that effect?

I’ve never been happy with the mechanics for aberrant dragonmarks; I’d change those if I had the opportunity. And I’ve already redesigned the relationship between marks and rituals in 4E, as noted in the previous articles. As for the houses themselves, I’m generally happy with them. I don’t think Orien has ever had the attention it deserves, and I could see doing more with Vadalis and eugenics. In general, I’d love to look at ALL of the houses in more detail, but I’m happy with the fundamental concepts.

I wonder what it’s like for non-creepy Vadalis who just want to breed a better pig.

Which is most of them. For that matter, magebreeders are only a small segment of the house; most heirs are ranchers, teamsters, veterinarians, handlers, jockeys, and more; people who love working with animals and whose animals can do amazing things.

Which house do you think has most potential as an outright villain? Would your answer be different for adventure v. campaign?

Certainly. Again, I think Vadalis has a lot of long-term potential because magebred humans are creepy (and an extremely logical source of homegrown Inspired for the Dreaming Dark to use). Lyrandar has tremendous ambition. And hello, by canon (which you can of course ignore) Zorlan d’Cannith of Cannith East is a seeker of the Blood of Vol; you could easily make him an ally of the Emerald Claw.

What is Cannith East’s greatest strength?

In my opinion? War. Cannith South specializes in warforged and manufacturing, but I’ve always considered Cannith East to be the arms specialists. They may not have manufacturing facilities to match South, but their unique form of ingenuity is building better weapons. Aside from that, they’ve been experimenting with undead, so consider the weird things you can do with that.

If all marks of a kind are the same, what about the Draconic Prophecy? Not every Mark of Making can indicate the same destiny, can it?

Not at all. First of all, speaking GENERALLY, the prophetic significance of dragonmarks isn’t tied to the individual; it’s about patterns. Think of dragonmarked individuals as tarot cards or runes. Someone who knows the Prophecy may walk into a bar, say “OK, I see Greater Storm, Lesser Making, and three of Least Healing. Which means… it’s going to be a bad day.” That bad day may not even involve any of the marked individuals; they’re just signposts for someone who knows how to read them. Having a Dragonmrk doesn’t automatically mean that YOU are significant to the Prophecy; in means that you are now a tea leaf others can use to read it. If you ARE personally significant to the Prophecy, your mark will be one of the things that identifies you, but it won’t be the only thing.

Do you think there is tension or rivalry between houses Tharashk and Medani given how both work with inquisitives?

Certainly. However, one issue here is that Medani is a very subtle house; its services also overlap with Deneith when it comes to bodyguards. Medani is the warning guild. Its specialty is counterintelligence and predictive work. You hire a Deneith bodyguard when you want muscle at your side; you hire Medani for defense when you want them to identify and neutralize the threat before it actually manifests. The same is true of inquisitives. Tharashk inquisitives are more of your classic private eyes. They are the people the innkeeper will hire to find out who stole his valuables, or who’s dating his wife. Medani’s inquisitives deal with more complex problems and generally, wealthier clients. They’re who you call in to negotiate with a blackmailer – or to prevent blackmail when you’re vulnerable but it hasn’t happened yet. Think someone might have spies watching you, or an assassin after you? Hire Medani. Short form: Medani inquisitives handle complex cases for wealthy clients; Tharashk inquisitives solve basic problems for a broader client base.

Likewise, Tharashk’s monstrous mercenaries overlap with Deneith, but don’t really fill the same space. Most of Deneith’s best clients won’t turn to ogres and gnolls instead of Deneith’s reliable forces.

While Tharashk is stepping on toes, it’s also the best source for the single most valuable resource in the magical economy: dragonshards. As a result, while Deneith and Medani are rivals with Tharashk, they don’t really want to get into an all-out feud with the house, and many other houses are willing to support Tharashk in conflicts.

I wonder why house Phiarlan does not seek to outlaw Thuranni. After all, both houses have the same dragonmark.

Among other things, because they are family. The Shadow Schism only occurred a few decades ago. The Mark of Shadow has been around for thousands of years, and elves themselves live for centuries. There are still members of the Thuranni families in House Phiarlan and vice versa. They are now professional rivals, and the wounds of the schism run deep for some; but they are still brothers and sisters. What they have largely done is divide up Khorvaire, so for the most part they aren’t directly competing in the same territories.

Moreover, why do not the sentinel marshals or national authorities imprison and prosecute those they know are killers from Thuranni? Granted, in the shadow war there is a place for spies and assassins, but an overt assassin organization should be frowned upon by the populace, and despite their alibies, many are aware of the true business of house Thuranni.

First, it’s the same principle as the Mafia or other major organized crime organizations: you may KNOW they do bad things, but can you actually catch them doing them? And as the Captain of the local city watch, do YOU really want to make a personal enemy of a family of professional assassins? Someone who starts a crusade to bring down Thuranni assassins will immediately become a target. Beyond that, their “alibis” are more than just alibis. You say that many people should be aware of the “true business” of Thuranni. But assassination ISN’T the “true business” of Thuranni. The Shadow Network is a guild of entertainers and artists, including many of the finest performers in Khorvaire. While the Network supports the covert ops that the house engages in, this doesn’t change the fact that the day-to-day business of the house is entertainment. As a normal person on the street, you can’t simply go to a Thuranni enclave to hire a spy or assassin; you go to the enclave to purchase art, to take classes (in music, acting, or other forms of art), or to engage the services of entertainers. If you want those other services, you have to know the right channels to take, and they will reach out to YOU.

With that said, if a Thuranni assassin just walked up on the street and stabbed the Mayor of Sharn in front of witnesses, Sentinel Marshals and Dark Lanterns WOULD be dispatched to bring them in (or simply kill them). Being in Thuranni isn’t a license to break the law. Again, it’s like organized crime in our world. You can get away with it if you’re careful and play by the rules that have been established, but if you’re clumsy you will get caught and pay the price.

Now for a perennial question…
Also, what happened to Cyre, really? You must have a personal Canon, right?

As I just said at DragonCon, no… I actually don’t. To me, the Mourning is much more powerful as a mystery. Once the answer is defined, it is possible to predict if it can happen again and whether it can be harnessed. Once that information becomes public, it will completely change the balance of the cold war between the Five Nations. I like the current balance of power, so I’ve never felt a need to run a campaign in which the answer is found. Meanwhile, I can think of a dozen answers that all could be true. One appears in The Fading Dream. But it could have been a Cannith weapon, possibly tied to trying to harness the power of an Overlord; or it could have been the release of an Overlord; or it could have been the natural result of using too much war magic; or it could have been the harbinger of Xoriat coming back into alignment with Eberron for the first time in thousands of years; or it could have been the beginning of the end that the Children of Winter have been talking about; or it could have been Khyber Herself finally straining against Eberron’s bonds; or it could have been a creation of the Lord of Blades, building a new homeland for his people, and he’s just about got Mourning Mk II ready to go; or… you get the idea.

I’ve always felt like the reason presented for the Mourning in The Fading Dream was not, in fact, the reason, so much as it was the “tea leaves” that indicated an event in the Prophecy was about to occur… I have always felt like the physical cause of the Mourning was still undetermined in the Thorn continuity.

The cause of the Mourning is DEFINITELY undetermined in the Thorn continuity. The Eladrin have advanced a theory, but Thorn herself doesn’t buy it. With that said, you are exactly right: this is exactly the way Prophetic manipulation would work. There could be an aspect of the Prophecy that says something to the effect of “If the Silver Queen wounds the Unknown Prince, his land shall share his pain.” Meanwhile, the Mourning itself could be caused by a Cannith weapon malfunction. What the Prophecy does is says “If event A occurs, event B will follow.” To us, there is nothing directly relating these two things – but the Prophecy lets you control one by controlling the other.

This last question is something of a spoiler for my novel The Son of Khyber. Skip over it if that concerns you.

The Son of Khyber appears in another novel prior to his appearance in The Son of Khyber. What happened between the two appearances?

If it’s not entirely clear, the individual in The Son of Khyber ISN’T the same person you’ve encountered before; he’s another soul occupying that person’s body. He’s the spirit of an aberrant leader from the War of the Mark, an ancestor of the body he occupies. He made his way back to Khorvaire, found House Tarkanan, and essentially took over. The house was a small organization, and the Son of Khyber has significant experience as a military leader, more knowledge of aberrant marks and especially aberrant focus items than anyone in the modern age, and a mark that’s more powerful than any modern aberrant. Having stepped out of time as the aberrants were being hunted down, he was pretty driven to turn things around.

Now, the other side of this coin is what happened to the original spirit that occupied that body, and that’s a good question. I had thought about him and his Jorasco companion making an appearance in The Fading Dream, as Taer Lian Doresh is both on Dal Quor and Eberron, but it was too much to fit in. But he’s still around on Dal Quor, and you can be sure his other companions are trying to get him back.