The Untamed Wilds
The twelve true dragonmarks are central to life in Khorvaire. Even those who have never seen one firsthand know of the dragonmark powers and the exploits of the heirs who carry them. However, few know that not all the dragonmarks of Khorvaire fit within the hierarchy of the twelve houses—and those who do know have reason to keep such knowledge to themselves.
To those versed in the lore and legends of the Five Nations, aberrant dragonmarks conjure up images of monsters in human form—terrifying creatures driven mad by their own powers, who can kill with a touch or control the forces of fire and fear. In Sharn, mothers still frighten their children with tales of the Lady of the Plague. Even the most reasoned people whisper that aberrant dragonmarks are signs of the Dragon Below, and that those who bear these symbols are cursed souls who spread misfortune wherever they go.
On the surface, aberrant dragonmarks are similar to their true counterparts. An aberrant mark allows its bearer to make use of its special powers. It appears as a mark on the skin that grows warm when its ability is used, and a mark that is damaged or removed eventually returns. The design of the mark is a sinuous pattern of lines, often with a vaguely draconic shape.
However, that’s where the similarities end.
The true dragonmarks have a standard form. Two characters with the lesser Mark of Passage have exactly the same design on their skin, and each mark is drawn in lines of vivid blue and green. A child of two dragonmarked heirs has a good chance of manifesting a mark, and all dragonmarks of a particular type bestow the same range of powers on those who bear them.
None of these things holds true for aberrant dragonmarks. No two aberrant marks are identical. Certain standard patterns provide hints as to the powers they grant, but two aberrant marks that grant the same power can be wildly divergent in appearance. Aberrant dragonmarks come in a wide range of colors, including oily black, blood red, and vivid green. The flesh around an aberrant dragonmark is often covered with welts and boils, and marks related to fire sometimes leave scars or burns on the skin.
This has contributed to the dark reputation of aberrant dragonmarks, with observers often mistaking such disfigurement as a symptom of disease. However, this scarring is usually confined to the mark, and has no adverse effect on the bearer. The child of aberrant parents might develop an aberrant dragonmark, but if so, it could bestow any of the aberrant powers. There is no Mark of Fire or Mark of Fear, and this lack of a clear lineage is a defining element of the aberrant marks.
Who was the first person to manifest an aberrant dragonmark? Did he consider his power to be a blessing or a curse? The answers will likely never be known. Over the course of centuries, the archivists and bards of the dragonmarked houses have carefully compiled a onesided version of history. The aberrants slain in the War of the Mark never had a chance to tell their story, and fact can no longer be distinguished from superstition.
Aberrant dragonmarks appear to have come into existence at the same time as the true dragonmarks. The first records of aberrant marks refer only to individuals as opposed to families. Scholars believe that aberrant dragonmarks appeared sporadically and were only rarely passed to children. Fragmentary histories paint a grim picture of the “children of Khyber,” attributing all manner of depravity to the bearers of aberrant marks. Of course, these tales also attribute astonishing powers to the early aberrants, such as the story of one who burned down an entire thorp with a wave of his hand because he “desired warmth.” Whether these stories have any grain of truth or not, tales of aberrant activity grew more frequent over the centuries. Approximately fifteen hundred years ago, the appearance of aberrants reached an apex — and the bearers of the true marks decided it was time to act.
THE WAR OF THE MARK
The War of the Mark transformed the dragonmarked houses into their modern form. It solidified the early influence of House Cannith and House Deneith, both of which brought significant military force to bear in the struggle. House lore presents the war as a bold struggle to
eliminate the deadly threat posed by those bearing aberrant dragonmarks. A close study of historical documents suggests that aberrant dragonmarks began to appear in far greater numbers in the century prior to the war, and that many of these marks carried great destructive power.
However, revisionist scholars claim that the so-called war was largely fought to secure the power and prominence of the true dragonmarked bloodlines, and to eliminate a possible source of competition. Whatever the rationale behind the conflict, its first few years were one-sided. Spread across the Five Nations, the aberrants were hunted down and exterminated by their better-organized and well-disciplined foes in the dragonmarked houses. The war might have ended then if not for Halas Tarkanan. Tarkanan organized the surviving aberrants into an army. Under his leadership, the aberrants proved a surprisingly resilient foe.
Tarkanan, known as “The Earthshaker,” possessed a dragonmark with great influence over natural forces, but his strategic brilliance often played a greater role in battle. His consort, an enigmatic woman known only as The Lady of the Plague, was considered an even greater threat. Though she is commonly depicted as a monster in folktales, many scholars have observed that she seems to have used her powers only when forced to, and might even have despised her gift—facts carefully omitted from the official Sivis histories.
Though Tarkanan’s efforts extended the conflict, the aberrants fell in the end. Tarkanan himself was trapped in the siege of Sharn, where the last of his forces had taken refuge. When it became clear that he and his followers were doomed, Tarkanan and his lieutenants unleashed the full power of their aberrant dragonmarks—power sufficient to destroy the entire city. Earthquakes shattered its towers, hordes of vermin rose from the depths, and terrible plagues ravaged those who ventured too close to the ruins.
Many think that The Lady of the Plague’s death-curse still lingers in the depths of Sharn, the source of creatures such as the feral spirit, roach thrall, and rancid beetle swarm.
ABERRANT DRAGONMARKS IN THE MODERN DAY
After the fall of Tarkanan and the aberrant armies, aberrant dragonmarks were all but lost to history. The houses strictly forbade any liaisons between their members, and children of such pairings were often killed at birth. The number of aberrant dragonmarks appearing among the general populace dropped dramatically. In the aftermath of the War of the Mark, the propaganda of the dragonmarked houses depicted aberrants as terrifying monsters.
Many aberrant children among the general population are thought to have been killed by their own parents. The rise of the Kingdom of Galifar placed limits on the power of the dragonmarked houses. Over the centuries, the nobles of the Wynarn line forbade the killing of aberrant children, and it soon became clear that the aberrant dragonmarks of the present day lacked the power or malign influences of their predecessors.
An aberrant heir might possess the power to feather fall or detect secret doors—a far cry from the power to spread plague or destroy a city. The old superstitions remain, but they are losing their power. Few believe the old claim that the aberrant dragonmarked are the children of the Dragon Below, as the horrors of the Last War have driven such concerns from the mind of the common folk.
However, change is in the wind. For over a thousand years, aberrant dragonmarks have been weak and trivial things. Now the marks are appearing more frequently, and rumors speak of aberrant dragonmarked with unusual and potent powers.
These new aberrants are often drawn to the Cults of the Dragon Below, providing a significant boost to the power of these fringe sects. Meanwhile, an organization known as House Tarkanan combs the land for aberrant heirs, training them in the use of their abilities. Even as it builds power in the criminal underworld, House Tarkanan combs ancient ruins for aberrant treasures: the weapons and tools wielded in the first War of the Mark.
To date, no child of Khyber has manifested powers on a par with Halas Tarkanan or the Lady of the Plague, but the leaders of House Tarkanan believe that it is only a matter of time. They believe that a second War of the Mark is inevitable. This time, they intend to be ready.
THE ABERRANT ADVENTURER
Before you take an aberrant dragonmark, you must conceptialize the idea. How does the you want the mark to affect the character’s life? Does he like the notion of being an outcast, feared for who he is? Or does he simply want to be able to use shield as a defending power in distress?
It is possible to minimize the impact of aberrant dragonmarks in a campaign. If a character’s mark is hidden on his body, if it holds a passive power such as shield or feather fall, and if he avoids aberrant feats, people might never even know he bears an aberrant dragonmark.
One place where prejudice against aberrants remains in full force is the dragonmarked houses themselves. With the exception of House Ghallanda, dragonmarked houses rarely accept members with aberrant marks and, especially in those houses central to the War of the Mark, hatred of aberrants runs high. Occasionally, unmarked heirs of a dragonmarked house manifest an aberrant dragonmark. Such characters are almost always forced from their house, especially if they are children of marked parents or scions of well-established dragonmarked families. As a result, house heirs who manifest aberrant dragonmarks often go to desperate lengths to conceal them.
A character whose mark is clearly visible must deal with the consequences of carrying it. Regardless, such a character can be an interesting one. How does he deal with the fear and superstition he encounters on a daily basis? Is he a bitter antihero, withdrawn and grim? Or does he meet the darkness with light, repudiating the fears of those around him through his noble actions?
An adventuring party could be formed from aberrant dragonmarked characters seeking allies in a hostile world. Whether working as independents or in the service of House Tarkanan, such a group could be outlaws fighting to undermine the power of the dragonmarked houses or to reclaim the lost treasures of the first War of the Mark. If the houses decide to move against aberrants again—or to seize power from the nobility of the Five Nations—this band of aberrant heroes could become leaders in the new War of the Mark.
The EBERRON Campaign Setting states that “You can never improve an aberrant dragonmark in any way.” For the past thousand years, this has been the case—but no longer.
Lesser and greater aberrant dragonmarks are extremely rare. They are more likely to inspire fear in the superstitious—and are a source of grave concern among the leaders of the dragonmarked houses. Though these marks can hold tremendous power, they have drawbacks. The strength of an aberrant mark is inherently unnatural, and those who channel such energy might become dazed.
As indicated in the EBERRON Campaign Setting, once a character has taken the Aberrant Dragonmark feat, he can never possess a true dragonmark. As with true dragonmarks, taking the Lesser Aberrant Dragonmark or Greater Aberrant Dragonmark feat improves all aspects of a mark usually through blood powers (rituals).
A few common themes run through the aberrant dragonmarks, including cold, fire, fear, death, and the ability to influence the minds of others. However, one of the defining elements of an aberrant dragonmark is that it follows no set progression. A child of Khyber could have the power of burning hands, scorching ray, and flame strike—but he could just as easily possess shield, sleet storm, and confusion. Aberrant dragonmarks are always unpredictable.
Though Halas Tarkanan did not possess the resources of House Cannith, legends of the War of the Mark suggest that he and his lieutenants wielded magic items that enhanced the powers of their aberrant dragonmarks, similar to the dragonshard focus items used by the dragonmarked houses. Such tools might still be found in the battlefields of the War of the Mark, especially the ruins beneath Sharn. House Tarkanan is actively seeking these treasures, but a party of adventurers might find them first.
Items designed for use with true dragonmarks (channeling rods, dragonshard reservoirs, dragonshard focuses, and so on) do not work with aberrant dragonmarks. However, variations of these items could be created with Khyber dragonshards, producing identical powers and effects that work only in conjunction with aberrant marks. Greater aberrant focus items can take as many forms as those associated with the true marks.
While the true dragonmarks are bound to specific bloodlines, aberrant dragonmarks can appear without warning. One cannot predict whether a child from an unmarked family will manifest an aberrant dragonmark, but one well-known source of aberrant dragonmarks exists: the mingling of bloodlines that carry true dragonmarks. When heirs of two different dragonmarked houses produce children, those children are much less likely to inherit the dragonmark of one a parent than to manifest an aberrant dragonmark. The marks produced in this manner
are referred to as mixed marks. Like other aberrant dragonmarks, mixed marks have unpredictable shapes. However, they can be recognized by their color, since they alone share the blue-green tone of the true dragonmarks.
Following the War of the Mark, intermarriage between houses was forbidden to prevent the rise of a new generation of aberrants. In the past, such relationships were grounds for excoriation, but the War of the Mark was long ago and fear of the aberrant dragonmarks has begun to fade. Interhouse liaisons are still taboo, but they do occur. Heirs who stray are often allowed to keep their status—as long as they are willing to abandon their tainted children.
Aside from the color of the mark and the impact it has on a character’s backstory, no significant differences exist between a mixed mark and any other form of aberrant dragonmark. A handful of scholars have attempted to map mixed marks to predict what aberrant powers a specific house pairing might produce, but no clear correlation has yet been found. However, this might simply be due to a lack of available data, since the dragonmarked houses have little interest in discussing their aberrant heirs.
What do you Know?
DC 10: Aberrant dragonmarks are similar to the marks of the dragonmarked houses, but carry different powers and are less predictable. Superstition once held that aberrant dragonmarks are a source of misfortune, madness, and death. Those who are known to possess aberrant marks are sometimes shunned. This prejudice has lost much of its power in the modern age.
DC 15: Aberrant dragonmarks occur frequently when heirs of different dragonmarked houses have children; these are called “mixed marks.” Despite the common fears, aberrant dragonmarks are not especially powerful, and there is no conclusive evidence that an aberrant mark has any harmful effect on its bearer. Aberrant dragonmarks appeared around the same time as true dragonmarks, but the dragonmarked houses sought to exterminate those who bore them in a confl ict known as the War of the Mark.
DC 20: It is clear that the aberrant dragonmarks that existed prior to the War of the Mark were more powerful than those found in the present day. Thus, it is likely that the paranoia and superstition surrounding the marks are holdovers from another age. Contemporary rumors of powerful aberrant dragonmarks arise from time to time, but no clear evidence supports this or suggests what could be causing it.
DC 30: Characters who achieve this level of success can learn important details about aberrant dragonmarks, including the sorts of powers that might be wielded by those who possess lesser or greater aberrant marks.
DC 10: The War of the Mark occurred fifteen hundred years ago, when the dragonmarked houses banded together to fight a common foe.
DC 15: The War of the Mark was what caused the modern dragonmarked houses to take shape. The war was fought against those who possessed aberrant dragonmarks— twisted marks that carry dangerous powers and are said to cause madness.
DC 20: The “war” was largely a one-sided purge, as the dragonmarked houses systematically exterminated those with aberrant marks. Eventually, a leader named Halas Tarkanan brought the most powerful aberrants together in an armed resistance. Tarkanan’s army took refuge in Sharn, but when it became clear that they could not win, he and his lieutenants destroyed the city by unleashing the full power of their marks.
DC 30: Characters who achieve this level of success should be able to acquire considerable information about the important events of the War of the Mark.