Children in Breland, Aundair, and the Eldeen Reaches are raised on stories of Mordain the Fleshweaver and the monsters he creates. He was born into House Phiarlan and was one of the most gifted wizards of the Twelve; it’s said that the standard House Jorasco potion of healing is Mordain’s recipe. But his obsession with creating and improving life drew him down dark paths, adapting the techniques of the daelkyr and delving into the secrets of Sulk Khatesh. According to one story, he sought to magebreed a new dragonmarked house but instead produced a line of aberrations that consumed his own family before they were destroyed. Parents warn their children that Mordain steals disobedient children and carries them off to his living fortress, leaving perfect simulacra in their place so even their friends won’t miss them. Whatever the truth of these stories, Mordain was excoriated from House Phiarlan in 797 YK. According to the records of Salyon Syrralan d’Sivis, the Twelve tried to execute Mordain and failed. Salyon’s account states that Mordain was bathed in acid, burnt at the stake, drowned, and even dismembered, but after each attempt “he rose again, his vigor unchecked and flesh rebound.” He was petrified and sent to Dreadhold, but escaped before reaching the island prison; Salyon speculated that “no lesser mage could set his will over the flesh of Mordain.”
The first confirmed sighting of Blackroot – Mordain’s tower – occurred in 873 YK. In the heat of the Silver Crusade, a troop of Aundairian templars pursued a few werewolves far to the south of modern Aundair (a region now considered to be part of Droaam). Weeks later, another patrol encountered a lone survivor from this force, half-mad and delirious. The templar spoke of a tower “with blackened, leathery walls, twisted as the limb of a dragon reaching up to grasp the sun.” The soldier couldn’t account for his companions, but his own condition was testimony to the horrors he had seen. His upper torso had been fused to the lower body of what was posthumously confirmed to be a werewolf. His mental state quickly deteriorated and he soon died of self-inflicted wounds.
Mordain is the most powerful wizard living in Khorvaire today, and the region surrounding his tower is warded against divination and teleportation. Paladins of Dol Arrah have attempted to destroy the foul wizard and his works, while emissaries of every nation sought Mordain’s aid at some point in the Last War; knights and envoys both met with failure, and only a lucky few survived to share their stories. Mordain remains a sinister enigma, a dark legend on the edge of Droaam. Some believe that he has an arrangement with the Daughters of Sora Kell, but many believe that even the hags fear Mordain.
Using The Fleshweaver
The basic principle of Mordain is that he’s the mightiest mortal wizard in Khorvaire. He’s as powerful as you want him to be. His specialty is creating and transforming living creatures, but he can easily have other talents. Notably, you could substitute “Mordain” for “Mordenkainen” in spell names in Eberron; this gives us Mordain’s private sanctum and Mordain’s magnificent mansion, suggesting that he has a talent for manipulating extradimensional space; this would imply that Blackroot is far larger than it appears to be, and also makes it easy to say that Mordain has a few extradimensional back doors scattered around the continent… which allows him to drop his experiments wherever best suits a story. With that said, part of the idea is that Mordain isn’t simply using the sorts of magic that player wizards and artificers might use. His techniques are adapted from the daelkyr and the Overlords, and involve channeling the energies of Kythri and Xoriat. While he can place his experiments wherever he chooses, most of his magic can only be performed in Blackroot, which is essentially a vast eldritch machine. It’s quite possible that through his centuries of work he has essentially become Blackroot—that his physical body is just a shell he creates to interact with people, but that the true Mordain is merged with his tower. This is a way to limit his impact and adds a reason for him to work with adventurers.
Mordain pairs unmatched arcane power with an utter disregard for the suffering of others. At the same time, Mordain has no interest in wealth or influence. He’s not trying to conquer Khorvaire, and while he’s indifferent to the suffering his creations can cause, he’s not actually trying to harm others. A DM could decide that Mordain wants revenge on the dragonmarked houses for driving him away; but by default he considers the houses to be as pointless and irrelevant as the Five Nations. All that he cares about is his work—creating and perfecting life. While his tower is in a dangerous region, his location is known; adventurers know where he can be found. With this in mind, there’s a number of ways Mordain can enter a campaign.
MORDAIN THE VILLAIN
Unlike most of the major conspiracies, Mordain has no grand plans for Khorvaire, which makes him an excellent source of one-shot problems that have to be dealt with but that have no long-term consequences. While he rarely leaves his tower (assuming he even can), he can use scrying and teleportation to target his experiments across Khorvaire. Consider the following options.
- Mordain might engineer a magical plague and inflict it on an isolated village to see what happens. Can the adventurers find a cure? Perhaps he’s experimenting with a new form of lycanthropy: how does it differ from the traditional form?
- Mordain could introduce a dangerous monsters into a region as an isolated threat, most likely just to see how things play out. Do you want a gargantuan gelatinous cube in the heart of Aundair? Blame Mordain.
- With that said, Mordain could also introduce a significant population of monsters to a region, introducing a nest of kruthik or a band of yeti into an area. A twist on this would be if he created these creatures by transforming a village. Can the victims be restored? If not, can the adventurers find a way to stabilize the situation?
- Mordain’s creations don’t have to be monsters. Mordain could transform the inhabitants of a village into tortles, or create a murder of kenku. This can be a simple way to introduce a small population of an exotic population into a location; no one knows WHY Mordain put a tribe of tabaxi into the King’s Forest, but he did.
- Likewise, adventurers could stumble upon bizarre experiments. Dolurrh’s Dawn—originally presented in Dragon 365—is an isolated village in Droaam where Mordain has recreated legendary characters from history. His motives are unclear; but it’s certainly an interesting thing for a group of adventurers to discover.
- Mordain could also be supplying or supporting an organization that the adventurers are fighting. He could be providing them with symbionts or other magic items, or giving them access to monstrous forces (you kill the leader of the organization, but a week later he’s back as a flesh golem!). The main question here is why? How is the group interesting or useful to Mordain?
A twist on this is for Mordain to take a personal interest in the adventurers. Will he turn their friends into monsters, or grant strange powers to their enemies? Is he testing the adventurers, or is there something about them that poses a threat to his experiments? Does he know something about one of the adventurers they have yet to discover?
Mordain can be an interesting backstory element for an unusual character. Perhaps a player wants to create a character using a race that has no established place in Eberron, such as a Loxodon or a Simic Hybrid. Simple answer: they were created by Mordain. This path could also be used to explain class features. Perhaps a sorcerer’s arcane powers stem from being magebred by Mordain. A character who’s mechanically a half-orc barbarian could decide that they’re actually an artificial lifeform created by Mordain and that their “rage” reflects a hulking-out battle mode. A monk could likewise describe their Unarmored Defense and enhanced abilities as being tied to Mordain-crafted mutations. An idea could be even more exotic than this; tied to Dolurrh’s Dawn, a character could say that they are a clone of a famous historical figure—that they are Karrn the Conqueror or Tira Miron reborn… or even a clone of a young Mordain the Fleshweaver!
With any of these ideas, there’s a few critical questions. Were they created in an isolated incident, or are they part of a larger experiment (like Dolurrh’s Dawn)? Did Mordain release them into the wild, or did they escape captivity? Do they know the purpose for which they were created and are defying it, or could their adventuring career be part of Mordain’s plan? Which ties to the next option…
MORDAIN THE ALLY
Mordain has much to offer, from magic items to mysterious boons. Mordain could easily serve as a patron for a warlock or a mysterious mentor for a wizard… or even an entire group (following the model of the Immortal group patron, even if he may not be immortal). What would he want from adventurers? A few possibilities…
- Mordain wants the adventurers to clean up his messes. Use the same seeds from the previous section, but Mordain dispatches the PCs to minimize the collateral damage. He still feels a need to drop a gargantuan gelatinous cube into Aundair, but once he’s learned what he needed, he’s happy to have the PCs deal with it.
- Adventurers encounter a lot of exotic creatures. Mordain wants them to harvest organs of monsters they defeat, and will pay them (in gold or in other ways) for unusual finds.
- Mordain is always interested in relics of the daelkyr, and could send players into dangerous dungeons.
- The lesser of two evils: a Cult of the Dragon Below, the Lords of Dust, the Dreaming Dark or a similar force could be interfering with one of Mordain’s experiments; he sends the adventurers to resolve the problem.
- Mordain could want the adventurers to mediate a local problem with some of his neighbors in Droaam (likely a last resort before resolving the problem in a horrifying and deadly fashion).
Working with Mordain should never be an entirely comfortable experience. There should always be the sense that he’s incredibly dangerous and could do something terrifying at any moment. But again, Mordain is motivated solely by his experiments; as long as those current experiments aren’t harming innocents, there’s no reason he can’t be a useful ally.
The 4E Eberron Campaign Guide included a stat block for Mordain. I’m not including one here, because in my opinion fighting Mordain is simply a bad idea—both in terms of difficulty, but also because it won’t really accomplish anything. Remember that according to the legends, the TWELVE couldn’t find a way to kill him—and that’s when they had him as a prisoner, not when he was in Blackroot surrounded by his creations and defensive spells. One option is to use the statistics of a lich as a base, though I’d consider him an aberration as opposed to undead (or humanoid) and I’d add high regeneration. But there’s another approach, which is to say that his combat abilities aren’t that dramatic but that it doesn’t really MATTER… that at this point he has essentially become Blackroot, and that he simply produces a humanoid body when he needs to interact with outsiders. So he doesn’t need to be a terrifying force of destruction, because if you kill him he’ll just make a new body within a few rounds. This ties to the basic point that his role in the story isn’t really to BE a monster himself; it’s to create monsters and challenges.
Mordain or Daelkyr?
One valid question is how Mordain differs from a daelkyr. Why use Mordain instead of Dyrrn the Corruptor? There’s a few simple answers. The first is that Mordain operates on a smaller scale. He doesn’t have cults or armies of minions spread across the continent. Likewise, the daelkyr are mysterious but unquestionably destructive; they will destroy civilizations if left unchecked. Mordain, on the other hand, has no desire to destroy civilizations; his experiments are on a smaller scale and collateral damage is generally incidental, not the point. A final critical factor is that Mordain is an eccentric sociopath, but he’s not as completely ALIEN as the daelkyr are. You CAN have a conversation with Mordain. You can talk to him about what he’s doing with his latest experiment, and he’d be happy to pay you for those remorhaz entrails you discovered on your last adventure. He’s infamous and he’s deadly, but he’s more grounded than the daelkyr, and his schemes are generally more focused.
Why So Powerful?
One of the core principles of Eberron is wide magic, not high magic. Spells of over 5th level are all but unknown in the Five Nations. So how is it that Mordain wields this level of power? Why hasn’t it had a greater impact on life in the Five Nations? Why don’t people just copy what he’s doing?
Ultimately, this is based on the idea that Mordain is a pulp villain. He’s not SUPPOSED to logically fit into the structure of the world; if he was sane and reasonable and willing to lend his skills to House Vadalis, Khorvaire would be a better place. Instead, he’s channeling powers normal artificers and wizards can’t understand and using them for dangerous and selfish reasons. But beyond that, the idea is that these powers can’t be easily duplicated and have come with a terrible cost. This ties to the idea that at this point I’d consider him an aberration, and that he may be bound to Blackroot. Even if people in Arcanix could copy what he’s doing, they might not WANT to; anyone who could master his techniques would likely lose their humanity in the process.
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We’ve never heard much about Mordain’s life before his horrific experiments were uncovered and he was excoriated. His excoriation happened two hundred years ago. Within the lifetime of elves, gnomes, and dwarves. To those who knew him before… How shocking was the discovery of his experiments. Was he well regarded and liked within The Twelve before?
I think that Mordain was a prodigy who was always pushing beyond the limits of acceptable arcane science. I think his RESULTS were respected, but I think he probably angered many seneschals and stepped on a lot of toes—and took a lot of paths that were forbidden. “Dammit, Mordain! Look at what happened to the Closed Circle in Sharn. There’s a REASON no one’s revised Dyrnin’s techniques!” I suspect that he was passionate and brilliant, and that may have won him some friends or followers. But I also think that his revelations came with a cost. I’ve suggested that at this point I’d consider him to be both a sociopath and an aberration. I think Mordain today isn’t the person he was when he started at the Twelve; and I think that by the time the Twelve failed to execute him, those who knew him were horrified by what he’d become.
With that said, the sourcebook City of Stormreach mentions Elira Dawn, a wizard and war criminal who was a protege of Mordain’s—though it incorrectly states that Mordain taught at Arcanix. One possibility is that Elira studied alongside Mordain at the Twelve; suggesting that he did have a following before his fall. The other possibility is that she worked with him AFTER he was excoriated, as I suggest could be an option for a PC wizard or warlock.
Any info on how Mordain has escaped the ire of the dragons? That level of power feels like something they’d be uncomfortable with, but more than that the last time someone tried to magebreed a new Mark into existence they destroyed an entire family line.
There’s a few answers to this. The first is that the dragons really don’t care about something unless it threatens the Prophecy or Argonnessen. The fact that they HAVEN’T destroyed Mordain implies that he’s done neither of those things. You’re correct that they took drastic action to deal with Vol, but part of that is because Vol succeeded—They DID create an apex mark, something that surely DID have Prophetic significance. By contrast, Mordain ATTEMPTED to make a new dragonmark and FAILED COMPLETELY. If he had succeeded, it might have spelled his doom; odds are likely that there was never any chance of his success.
The dragons aren’t peeking over the shoulder of every wizard. When adventurers get to 18th level they aren’t immediately killed by angry dragons. Mordain’s techniques are impressive, but compared to the epic magics the dragons used to destroy Xen’drik, they’re not THAT impressive. He’s a big deal in KHORVAIRE, but he’s hasn’t done anything that makes him a serious threat to Argonnessen.