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!).

54 thoughts on “Sidebar: Aberrant Champions

  1. “He was a Karrnathi officer before he developed his mark, a brilliant soldier who learned the arts of war at Rekkenmark and the ways of House Deneith from his mother. His forces weren’t solely aberrants; many of his unmarked soldiers stood by him, and he won others to his cause… as well as taking in goblins and other oppressed forces.” -

    So is Halas no longer a Rekkenmark educated soldier? I had previously had a Karrn fighter I was playing boast of the school’s prestige, noting that a graduate was even able to outwit the Dragonmarked Houses (blasphemy I’m sure). Is his connection to Rekkenmark now more a product of his mother being from there (as noted in the previous article)?

    Also on the subject of the goblins he took in, do the Dar remember Halas differently? Or is their history too broken up and disjointed to really hold onto a cultural story about a human from another part of Khorvaire? Were these goblins living in Shaarat/Sharn already or gathered from around Wroat?

    Also finally, thank you, once again I didn’t know I needed this article but it is so good!

    • So is Halas no longer a Rekkenmark educated soldier?
      As I say, these are possible facts. There are surely STORIES that say he trained at Rekkenmark; after 1600 years, it’s likely that the actual records have been lost. On the other hand, he fought his greatest battles in Wroat, so it makes sense that he had strong ties to the region. However, I have updated the doc accordingly:
      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.

      Also on the subject of the goblins he took in, do the Dar remember Halas differently? Or is their history too broken up and disjointed to really hold onto a cultural story about a human from another part of Khorvaire? Were these goblins living in Shaarat/Sharn already or gathered from around Wroat?

      Tarkanan drew goblin followers came from across Wroat, though the bulk were certainly from Shaarat/Sharn. It’s questionable how he’s remembered by the city goblins; it’s not like he enacted any lasting change for them. I will say that there were surely other goblin uprisings led by dar leaders, and those stories would probably stick more than Halas. However, it’s not impossible that there is a particular community of goblins that shows sympathy to people with aberrant dragonmarks because of that shared struggle—but I wouldn’t think it’s widespread.

      • Cool so it’s speculated, or maybe a complete embellishment, or combining an aberrant marked Rekkenmark graduate and Halas into one person in later folk legend (after all he might take to using doubles, impostors and bodyguards?). That’s perfect!

        And doubly perfect on the sympathy between Tarkanan and the Dar being a surprise or limited in modern day!

  2. This is a really interesting article, thank you for the deeper insights into the War of the Mark.

    I ran a game for a small group of Sharn criminals, bound together by theme and that many members of the gang carried aberrant marks. Their incognito benefactor was someone named Mr. Fetch, and he had plans for the aberrant marks of the group and would reward missions with aberrant focus items. The campaign is currently on hiatus, but I am looking forward to delving more into their mark abilities.

    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 there destructive abilities quickly categorized into the realm of dangerous and taboo?

  3. While you’ve emphasized before and here the aberrant dragonmarks don’t follow any particular pattern, it seems here there’s a case to be made for aberrants being patterned as the inverse of “true” marks – Halas, despite being human, having the power over of Earth and Fire to contrast the Mark of Storm’s Air and Water. Lady of Plague could invert Hospitality or Healing, the Tinker invert Making, and the Dreambreaker inverting Scribing.

  4. For me, “The Tinker” instantly brings to mind Jack-in-Irons from your old ‘Steel Shadows’ adventure. The story says he was a Cannith artificer enslaved by the “aberrant warlords” during the War of the Mark and *forced* to make weapons for them, but I know that instantly smelled like House propaganda when I read it. He was 100% an aberrant sympathizer in my campaign now, if he wasn’t before. So cool to find those possible links (heh, like a chain)! x)

  5. Cool article Keith. It addresses one question I was going to ask which was artifice relating to Aberrant marks.

    I do have a couple more questions though :).

    Who is Kalara of the Ten Terrors? I may have missed this reference somewhere.

    Also, there are spells in 3rd edition (Dragonmarked) that specifically target and harm creatures with a dragonmark. Do you think these spells were created during the War of the Mark? Or maybe during or after Karrn’s conquest when the dragonmarked had made contact with each other for the first time and came into conflict? Since it targets any dragonmark I would think the latter, but I’m not sure how sophisticated magical research and development was at that time.

    How do you see the participation of the Houses that existed at the time playing out in the War of the Mark? Dragonmarked says that Cannith and Deneith were on the front lines of the War. This is before Kundarak is recognized, or the Mark of Finding has even manifested. Detection just pops up about this time (though in Breland). Since this is before the Twelve, did all of the Houses that existed at that time participate in the War or was it mostly Sivis, Cannith, Deneith?

    • Who is Kalara of the Ten Terrors? I may have missed this reference somewhere.

      It’s a pretty obscure reference. Kalara is mentioned in The Son of Khyber by the character reflecting on the War of the Mark, mentioned as an ally of Tarkanan and the Lady of the Plague. Nothing further is revealed in the novel. As the author I can say that I think of her as an elf. The question is whether her powers were tied to fear and illusion—her ten terrors being phantasmal killers—or whether she had the ability to summon monstrous creatures.

      Also, there are spells in 3rd edition (Dragonmarked) that specifically target and harm creatures with a dragonmark. Do you think these spells were created during the War of the Mark?

      Not in their current form. The War of the Mark was 1600 years ago, and as I’ve mentioned elsewhere I think that the state of arcane magic was quite different then. However, these could be effects that were produced through items or rituals that have been refined into their current form over time.

      I’ll add the answer to the final question to the end of the article, since it’s an important one.

      • Ah ok, I have read Son of Khyber but did not remember that reference to Kalara. Probably because I was so impressed with Brom’s aberrant regeneration! That was seriously a great power to envision and wonder about.

        So with regards to the anti-dragonmark spells, would there be room for a sword enchanted with something like Dragonmarked Weapon or Greater Dragonmarked Weapon? I think it would be a cool relic for the player’s to find from the War of the Mark.

        • Probably because I was so impressed with Brom’s aberrant regeneration!

          I liked Brom having a power that’s technically positive—healing—and yet that works in an alien and disturbing way.

          So with regards to the anti-dragonmark spells, would there be room for a sword enchanted with something like Dragonmarked Weapon or Greater Dragonmarked Weapon? I think it would be a cool relic for the player’s to find from the War of the Mark.

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

      I’ve added my answer to the end of the article.

  6. Oh, stories probably say that the Tinker was literally the Traveller.

    Great article as usual, Keith! More information than I would’ve expected from IFAQ. Definitely gives me an inspiration for a War of the Mark game of some kind.

    • Oh, stories probably say that the Tinker was literally the Traveller.

      Some certainly do, for sure.

  7. I’ve noticed a lot of references to the Houses that date back hundreds of years, and I find it rather difficult to envision the forms in which these institutions existed in ancient times. In part, it’s because it’s hard to imagine how a guild or corporation could be maintained for this long; but the bigger obstacle for me is not knowing how the advancement of magical technology relates to the development of the Houses. While there’s a lot of mentions of how the structure of each house developed throughout history, I don’t see many references to how the techniques and technologies used by the Houses have evolved over time.

    For some houses, the answer is probably fairly simple. House Deneith trains and contracts mercenaries, which are needed whenever there’s war, and they can simply outfit each generation of warriors with new technology and train them in newer tactics to keep up with the times. Others, however, are harder to speculate. What products did House Cannith sell 1000 years ago? 500 years ago? 250 years ago? Industrialized production of technological items (especially weapons) have only existed for about 2 centuries in real life, and if I’m not mistaken, Khorvaire only truly entered the industrial age during the Last War.

    So broadly speaking, I’d like to know more about the history of the Houses in terms of how their products, production methods, infrastructures, and internal hierarchies advanced over time. What were some significant inventions that revolutionized a House’s industry? How did this impact the lives of average Khorvairans? Were there any significant split-ups like Phiarlan and Thuranni in the past? How and why did it happen, and how and why were they merged back together?

    Again I know these are extremely complex topics with lengthy answers, and I don’t expect to find exact parallels between the history of the Houses and the history of technology in real life, since flukes of magic such as Siberys marks hasve no realistic technological analog. I mostly wanted to have a grasp of what was, and was not, possible at different time periods; what was common that was replaced by an improved version later; and what was extremely difficult but popularized after a breakthrough. Knowing what tools were available and what wasn’t would be a great help in understanding the strategies and tactics employed by the Houses during well-known historical events, such as the War of the Mark. It would also help storytelling for games set in the modern era, if history repeats itself. What would the Houses do differently now that they have more magical technology at their disposal What would they still be unable to anticipate or counter?

    • So broadly speaking, I’d like to know more about the history of the Houses in terms of how their products, production methods, infrastructures, and internal hierarchies advanced over time. What were some significant inventions that revolutionized a House’s industry? How did this impact the lives of average Khorvairans? Were there any significant split-ups like Phiarlan and Thuranni in the past? How and why did it happen, and how and why were they merged back together?

      All good questions, but definitely the subject for a major article on the topic; it’s adjacent to the topic of this article. This ties to the general question of how arcane magic has evolved.

      • I’m also very intrigued by the questions brought up by Bob, and in addition would love to know a bit more about possible spells or techniques used in architecture and the like. Magic in D&D has always been primarily battle-focused, and one of the things I’ve liked about the Dragonmarked Houses is a de-emphasis on war magic and the expansion of possibilities in every-day life.

    • Not Keith, but from what I understand from reading the other materials and posts, the houses didn’t pop in fully industrialized (and I know that’s not what you’re saying) but instead arose from like-minded groups.

      Sivis was the one that most resembled what they are today at the outset, with archivists and scribes and lawkeepers manifesting the mark, but Ghallanda were originally wandering caregivers and keepers of sacred ground (hospitable areas to eat and drink and keep feuds outside of). Jorasco were medicine men and Cannith arose both among the wandering tinkers and noble artisans. Lyrander were farmers and sailors on the Scion Sound, Vadalis lived in the edge of the Eldeen Reaches right between farmlands and towering forests, and Orien is perfectly situated in the region around Lake Galifar to have made their livings running caravans around the lake regions of western Khorvaire. Kundarak are explicitly the sealers and keepers of the ancient vaults of the Mror and guards against the exiles’ return (and then the people who helped bridge the exiles into dwarven society)

      Before industrializing, before Galifar’s Kingdom, the Cannith houses likely spent their time making weapons and armour and other innovations. They are both the best mundane and magical craftspeople in Khorvaire and likely numerous “useful” magic items were popularized (if not downright invented) with their help. Handy Haversacks, bags of holding, decanters of endless water, Murlynd’s Spoon (a Ghallanda heir would be appalled at tasteless gruel!), cloaks of comfort and traveler’s cloaks (from 3.5), things which the rich (especially in Metrol) would pay well for to make their lives easier. But the rise of the Twelve and Galifar would have given them the other houses as clients too, letting them make the dragonshard focus items the other houses needed to really cement their control. Because it isn’t the marks that make their market control possible, but the focus items that let them do things over and over and over in a day instead of just once.

    • A few quick things to bear in mind: You’re correct that the industrial age is recent. However, bear in mind that the dragonmarked are simply better at their fields than unmarked folk. Cannith have a bonus to the use of artisan’s tools. Phiarlans have a bonus to Perform. The secondary point is the idea that magic has evolved, and that many of the spells of the mark weren’t available to general casters at the time. Mending, comprehend languages, lesser restoration, zone of truth, arcane lock, disguise self, continual flame… In a world where these services aren’t available any other way, the ability to produce these effects would be powerful. So those are two things to bear in mind: that whatever the state of the art was at the time, the dragonmarked had an edge; and the dragonmarked were always able to offer important services that weren’t easily accessible in other ways.

  8. I’m DMing a campaign for a small group of 3 who are all aberrant marked members of House Tarkanan. I have Ideas regarding the Mark of Death, and I’m certain there will be a lot of Dragonmarked House shenanigans (especially seeing as they just murdered a member of the Mark of Shadows house; not saying which because I KNOW one of them reads your blogs). This is a lot of good info to build off of. If I had a question, I’d ask how, if they were to find a/the Tinker in the present day, how you would create focus items for aberrant marks in 5e? Evolving artifacts a la the Vestiges of Divergence from Exandria, or something else?

  9. In 3.5e, the true dragonmarks were physically bigger as their power increastd from least to lesser to greater, with Siberys marks covering almost the entire body. Is there anything in the histories to suggest that this was also true of the high-powered aberrant marks, or was mark size disconnected from mark power for the aberrants?

    • It is generally suggested that mark size grows with power for aberrant marks, yes. This is an example of aberrant mark progression:
      … THough it’s important to bear in mind that this is just one example fo an aberrant mark, as they have no standard appearance. If you look at the cover of the novel The Son of Khyber you can see that his mark is spread across his body.

  10. This is really interesting, especially as I’m planning on taking the party down to a small bit of Old Sharn (an ancient ruined temple to the Sovereigns) in their next adventure… and I’ve been looking to incorporate House Tarkanan and the Aberrant Dragonmarks into the story at some point (so far my main idea is looking at Warforged with Aberrant Dragonmarks, and how everyone would react to that)

    Also the concept of The Tinker is something that I can work well into a new NPC I’ve been trying to think of a personality for, a Cannith Artificer working in a hidden lab in Sharn who supplies the party with custom magic items (for a price)

  11. Feel free to correct me if I’m wrong, but wasn’t Kundarak only established as an actual house about a century after Galifar united Khorvaire, placing their formation about 300 years after the War of the Mark?

    • It’s shifted around, but you’re correct as of current canon. So they wouldn’t have been involved in the War of the Mark, correct.

  12. Hey, Keith! Cool insight into the aberrsnt heroes.

    If you had to explain how or who could make an aberrant focus item in 999 YK, a high level Artificer could work on that? Or that someone who does it should be someone “special” would you say?

    • An artificer IS someone special! I think any artificer could work on it today. It’s possible that they would need to have either a dragonmark or aberrant dragonmark to create one, but that might not be necessary.

  13. I’m curious whether the use of aberrant focus items in the war of the marks inspired the creation of “true” dragonmark focus items? If so, it raises questions about whether the aberrant focus items presented were stored somewhere by House Cannith.

    • I think it was probably a case of parallel development; the houses were working on dragonmark focus items of their own, even if they hadn’t unlocked the secrets of the items that exist today. The three items mentioned here—Silence, the Earth’s Fist, and the Delirium Stone—were buried in the ruins of Old Sharn and protected by the death curse of the Lady of the Plague, so it’s unlikely that the houses got ahold of them at that time. It’s possible they were recovered since then, if that’s a story you want to tell; or they could still be hidden below Sharn. The RPGA adventure “The Delirium Stone” specifically deals with an attempt to recover the Delirium Stone from Old Sharn.

  14. In Expeditionary Dispatches: Dangers of Taer Valaestas, in addition to the Dreambreaker you mention Darya Blaze as an aberrant champion from the War of the Mark who could make firestorms of greater power than modern aberrant marked. Did you have any stories or artifacts associated with her or was she a simple throwaway?

    • The point of Darya — like Talara of the Ten Terrors — is that we’ve generally only written about Halas and his direct allies (The Dreambreaker and the Lady of the Plague) but that the War of the Mark occurred across what is now the Five Nations. There were other aberrant champions who would be known in the regions in which they operated. Darya Blaze wielded immense firepower. At the moment, nothing else is known about her; I admit, I just created her for that article to make that point. But it’s the idea that you shouldn’t be limited to those champions that have been mentioned; there were certainly more.

  15. Hi Keith! As far as I remember, but I might be wrong, it is told that no dragonmark manifest in Sarlona, but it’s not told that they manifest only in khorvarie. So, do we know of aberrant Mark’s on Aerenal and Argonassen? How are they seen? Do Tairnadal elves have stories of aberrant ancestors?

    • We know dragonmarks manifest on Aerenal, because the Mark of Shadow and the Mark of Death come from Aerenal. Given that, it’s logical to assume that aberrant dragonmarks appear there as well. However, as all of the dragonmarked bloodlines either left the island or were wiped out, mixed marks would be vanishingly rare and you’d only be dealing with the spontaneous appearance of aberrant marks (which are, after all, non-hereditary). So sure, there are likely aberrant-marked elves, but they are extremely rare. Consider also that the appearance of dragonmarks at all is quite a recent event in the scope of Aereni history. For there to be an aberrant-marked Tairnadal ancestor, they’d have to have performed spectacular deeds in the last two millennia. The only conflict that seems likely to justify that would be the conflicts with the dragons, so if there are aberrant Tairnadal ancestors they’d likely be tied to the Draleus Tairn, not the Valaes Tairn who claimed Valenar.

      As for Argonessen, the dragonmarks are tied to dragonmarked bloodlines. Even aberrant marks only appear on humanoids. There’s virtually no dragonmarked races ON Argonnessen. Aberrant dragonmarks could appear among the Serens, but again, they’re not hereditary and they would be spontaneous. So possible? Sure, but certainly rare.

  16. Yes, I did, one of the clause of my Thronehold Treaty was the Aberrant Protection Clause, as the aberrants were used are super soldiers during the war. The Clause also forbode the Houses from persecuting Aberrrants.

  17. How likely is it that new Hereditary dragonmarks could have been found and mistaken for Aberrant ones? As well, would Cannith or one of the other Houses have taken a Gattaca style approach to checking for abberatant marked individuals marrying into their houses (i.e. checking bloodlines for an inability to carry a hereditary/House specific mark)?

    • How likely is it that new Hereditary dragonmarks could have been found and mistaken for Aberrant ones?

      Not very likely. As discussed at the end of the article, hereditary dragonmarks and aberrant dragonmarks are quite different from one another. The hereditary marks have a uniform appearance and a purple-blue coloration, and all Marks of Making have the same inherent design. Aberrant marks are all unique. It’s highly unlikely that one would have the purple-blue coloring of a hereditary mark, so that alone would cause people to pause and question if it was aberrant. And as soon as they found two identical marks——two people in the same region with the SAME purple-blue mark design——they’d assume that they had found a new hereditary mark.

      As for testing bloodlines, it’s quite possible that the Twelve—likely Cannith, Vadalis, Jorasco—have been developing a form of divination based DNA testing.

  18. Since 5E allows any humanoid (which in 5E includes a decent number of traditional “monsters” found in Droaam) to gain an Abberant Mark: Do Abberant Marked born in Droaam get any particularly different recognition compared to parts of Khorvaire where the Twelve have influence?

    • Just because it’s allowed doesn’t mean it’s common. In my opinion, aberrant dragonmarks tend to develop in proximity to true marks. Even when you don’t have the direct instigating factor of a mixed mark, I think that the more true marks you have in an area, the more aberrant marks will manifest—following the idea that the aberrant marks are in some ways a balancing factor, whether they’re tied to the Prophecy, Khyber, the Daelkyr, or someone else. So TECHNICALLY you could have aberrant marks appear on drow in Xen’drik, gnolls in Droaam, or Seren barbarians—but in practice I think they are dramatically less common than in communities with significant numbers of true marks.

      A second factor is that in places that have never dealt with the dragonmarked houses—say, the Carrion Tribes of the Demon Wastes or the region of Droaam prior to the Treaty of Thronehold—they would have no context for aberrant dragonmarks. If no one has ever SEEN a true mark, you don’t have any reason to say “Mark A is an evil version of mark B”—the mark can only be judged on its own. In the Five Nations, the marks are feared because they are typically DANGEROUS. While pre-Thronehold Droaam and the Demon Wastes are places where life is cheap and power is respected. They might well be seen as the touch of Khyber or the Shadow, but among the Carrion Tribes, that amounts to a blessing; and I think most cultures in Droaam would look at what the mark could do and what the bearer does with it as opposed to making a blanket judgment.

  19. This is great. I’m running both the Phandelver boxed sets in Eberron….and when they meet the nothic all the PCs will get aberrant marks……..none of which are the same, and none of which look like any others. Now I just need to decide what they actually do. Long term, the campaign centers on helping the druids stop a new Daelker incursion, and being hunted for being aberrations themselves due to the marks…..

    • Well the warforged probably isn’t getting a mark….gotta figure that out….

      • Technically a warforged can develop an aberrant mark. It’s virtually unheard of and would draw a lot of attention, and there are a lot of researchers who would love to study the character, but warforged are living humanoids and there’s nothing stopping a warforged from taking the Aberrant Dragonmark feat. In fact, there’s a warforged character in the novel The Son of Khyber who has an aberrant dragonmark (though again, this is seen as very unusual).

  20. Here’s a bit of wild speculation: You say that it’s not clear what the effect of the Dreambreaker’s curse was. Halas’s curse leveled Sharn; the Lady of the Plague’s curse contaminated Old Shart for centuries. So, one would assume that the Dreambreaker’s curse would be similarly localized. But what if…? The War of the Mark was 1500 years ago. The conquest of most of Sarlona by Riedra was completed about 1300 years ago. So the Quori must have begun possessing the Inspired somewhat earlier. Is there anything canonical tht would rule out the notion that the Dreambreaker’s death curse unleashed a powerful psionic pulse that triggered/facilitated the Quori invasion? One might argue: Why would an event in Sharn precipitate an event in Sarlona. Perhaps the dreams of the victims of the War prompted the Quori to go to the one spot where there were definitely no dragonmarked humans?
    Second question while I’m here: Did/do the Lady of the Plague’s diseases transcend the abilities of clerics or Jurasco to cure diesease? Paladinly resistance to disease? Or are they just particularly contagious and deadly normal diseases?

    • There is no canonical information about the Dreambreaker, so anything is possible. Technically, the RPGA module EMH-7 presents a scenario based on the effects of the Dreambreaker’s curse, but personally I consider that as only one possibility and I intentionally didn’t describe the events of the module here.

      Second question while I’m here: Did/do the Lady of the Plague’s diseases transcend the abilities of clerics or Jurasco to cure diesease? Paladinly resistance to disease? Or are they just particularly contagious and deadly normal diseases?

      The powers of the Lady of the Plague are ultimately a plot device. She certainly had the ability to create mundane diseases, and I’d say that typically that’s what she did. Her creations might be more deadly, might be highly contagious, might have more dramatic effects or DCs, but they’d still be diseases. Of course, consider that at the time of the War of the Mark House Jorasco was far less established and widespread than they are today; even if they COULD combat her plagues, it’s likely that they didn’t have the numbers or spellpower to completely eliminate a fast-spreading contagion. I’ll note that page 178 of Rising From The Last War specifically calls out The Lady’s Day as a day when people practice disease containment strategies (note that Rising was written before our current social distancing!) which implies that her plagues could be fought through traditional methods. With that said, if I brought her back in my campaign, I’d give her the ability—especially when enhanced by Silence—to craft unique diseases, and I’d be open to her introducing a disease that’s resistant to lesser restoration or similar effects.

      Personally, I’d be very loathe to create a disease that overcomes the resistance of a paladin, though. That ability comes up so rarely in most campaigns that it’s somewhat rude for a DM to specifically override it in the one scenario where it should matter. I might say that the paladin is unable to cure this unusual disease by laying on hands, but I’d still say that THEY are protected from it and can safely move among the infected. After all, paladins are exceptionally rare; it’s not like sparing the paladins is going to completely undermine a plague story. Essentially, player characters are supposed to be exceptional: to me, this is an opportunity to HIGHLIGHT the paladin as exceptional, shielded by their faith.

  21. Thank you for doing in-depth aberrant-dragonmark articles like this, I’m going to be playing an aberrant monk in a home game and I’m so excited for it.

    Question, if it’s okay: How much of a “family” were the aberrant forces under Halas, or at least the leaders of the movement? Obviously, the true dragonmarks are literally linked by blood, even if it is the blood of a couple different major families; did Halas’ forces seek to mimic that, if only for the comfort of having a place to belong? In present-day, are those philosophies the same or different than those of House Tarkanan?

    • How much of a “family” were the aberrant forces under Halas, or at least the leaders of the movement? Obviously, the true dragonmarks are literally linked by blood, even if it is the blood of a couple different major families; did Halas’ forces seek to mimic that, if only for the comfort of having a place to belong? In present-day, are those philosophies the same or different than those of House Tarkanan?

      You might want to check out the novel The Son of Khyber (disclaimer, I wrote it!) as it is focused on House Tarkanan and provides more insight into the bond between members.

      In the modern day, House Tarkanan actively recruits and trains people with aberrant dragonmarks. There are few blood connections between the members, as aberrant dragonmarks aren’t reliably hereditary. There are a few cases——Grayn and Halas in the past, Fileon and Zae in the present——but it’s unusual (and note that in both cases, the child doesn’t have the SAME mark as the parent). Most members of House Tarkanan have lost their natural families, either because they were driven out (as is the case with most born into
      dragonmarked houses) or in some cases because they killed people they love, as with the Lady of the Plague. Because of this, House Tarkanan generally does serve as a surrogate family, not just a job; most members treat their comrades as siblings.

      Halas’s forces had less time to develop a culture. They were caught in a struggle for survival. But yes, what’s been said is that Halas and the Lady encouraged aberrants to think of all other aberrants—and to a lesser extent, other oppressed people like the goblin slaves—as kin.

  22. Here’s another theory about the nature of “the tinker”: it was a persona shared among a few changeling artificers who were variously either sympathetic to the specific cause of the aberrants, or followers of the Traveler appreciative of the possibility of any significant change in the world.

    Of course, that does raise the possibility, however remote, that this persona has been maintained over the centuries… though if so, by now their character would likely have evolved quite a bit. In what ways? Who knows?

  23. Dragonmarks, true or abberrant, all emulate spells (and in 5E, actually are spells). Several of these spells are the creations have the name of an individual attached (like Tenser’s Floating Disk, which both Making and Abberant marks can have). Is this just game mechanics, or is the spell’s creation and mark’s ability linked?

    • Aren’t All spell names just game mechanics? In world mages are certainly going to call their spells by different names.

      • I’ve always gone with Eberron using the SRD versions of the named spells, but I recall the creator names being mentioned here a few times.

        • I don’t give much weight to the names in named spells. Among other things, I believe that many spells have been developed independently by different cultures. The dragons surely had a form of floating disk tens of thousands of years ago. Aerenal likely developed a different version of the spell. Warlock spells, sorcerers, dragonmarked casters—while these are all performing arcane magic, they’re casting in different ways; even if the spell they cast is called “Tenser’s Floating Disk” in the rules, they’re casting in different ways.

          So: in various places we’ve suggested that you could either make those named casters people in Eberron or change the names to Eberron specific names (IE, Mordain’s faithful hound)… or that different cultures or subcultures could have unique names for spells. So it’s possible that when a Cannith heir casts mending using their mark, they don’t call it mending, they call it the Juran touch.

  24. Great article and writing as always!
    In a long running campaign that I run as a DM one of my players (a PC elf rogue) is thinking of manifesting an aberrant dragonmark. I wanted to make things more interesting and add something more, since the PCs are already quite high level. I was considering using the Daine approach you used in the Son of Khyber novel, having the PC soul tied in with an aberrant from the past but leaving the PC more in control of his body. Or better yet since he is an elf perhaps some soul of a scion of House Vol which will corrupt the PC’s soul and body making an aberrant dragonmark manifest or even the mark of death itself.
    You said that aberrant marks are not tied to bloodlines but that normal dragonmarks are. So is it impossible for the Mark of Death to make a return since a new bloodline can’t manifest it?
    Or perhaps when the Dragons went all Order 66 on House Vol maybe some members of the house escaped and remained incognito other than Lady Vol. After a few centuries their descendants lost touch with their house traditions and with the blood mingled the mark hasn’t manifested in these few scattered lost scions, until now with the PC.
    Which one of these possibilities would you be more likely to use?

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