Saturday, November 5, 2022

Commissioned Post: Eberron's Mark of Death

"Any thoughts on the Mark of Death in Eberron?  If true dragonmarks are "creative" forces - as opposed to the destructive aberrant marks - how do you think a Mark of Death might be implemented (mechanically) in a 5e game if one were to manifest?  Also open to adventure hooks!  What's Erandis been up to for the past 3500 (ish?) years?"
— M. Gondsman

You got it!

For the subrace, I decided I'd closely follow the structure of the 5e dragonmark subraces presented in Rising from the Last War, with the addition of some extra character fluff. Death used to be their 13th member, so I think it should have a certain familiarity to it, even as it's doing stuff that is quite different from any of the other marks.

For the dragonmark abilities and spell list, I tried to stay close to the concept of being creative as opposed to destructive, as you mentioned. That was a bit of a challenge, considering how narrow in scope the Necromancy school tends to be. Still, I was able to create a list that is mostly filled with buffing and utility spells that represent a less violent manipulation of life, death, and negative energy. One or two debuffs and combat spells did end up making the cut, but I think that's permissible in light of some of the other dragonmark lists: Making has conjure barrage and Scribing includes confusion, for example.

The adventure hooks were fun to come up with, though they ended up becoming a bit more like adventure harpoons. I see Erandis' schemes being multifaceted, and sometimes disarmingly benign. Make of those what you will.

I know lots of people have taken a crack at this dragonmark over the years, so doing the research without getting influenced by other people's original work was tricky. I hope I did well enough. Enjoy!

Apparently this is the Mark as it was depicted in that Lost Mark trilogy,
which Keith Baker didn't agree with, but it's still a damn good logo.

House Vol

Leader: Erandis d'Vol, at least in spirit.
Headquarters: Illmarrow Castle (Farlnen, Lhazaar Principalities)

The bearers of the Mark of Making are great crafters. The heirs of the Mark of Shadow are expert spies and assassins. The Mark of Healing, healers; Handling, handlers; Scribing, scribes. And so on, and so forth. In a way, it is only appropriate that the bearers of the Mark of Death are all dead— dead, or something close to it.

    But once upon a time, that was not so. House Vol was once preeminent in Aerenal, poised to lead their people against the dragons into a new era of peace and prosperity thanks to their unconventional knowledge of life, death, and negative energy. But those hidebound carcasses in the Undying Court, for all their wisdom, could never stop staring down their withered noses at House Vol long enough to step outside their narrow comfort zone and see the truth of things; that if the elves were to survive, they needed to consider all options with an open mind and eyes unclouded. So what if they reanimated a few corpses, if it meant they survived the onslaught of the dragons?

    Ironically, it was not death that made the Aereni elves condemn their fellows, but life. The life of a child, born out of love and such grand purpose. When Matriarch Minara Vol eloped with a rogue green dragon to produce a hybrid daughter named Erandis, it was out of hope that the union of species she embodied would bring an end to hostilities.

    Minara was right, after a fashion. Horrified by this genetic project and the potential power held within it, dragon and elf united to exterminate every last member of House Vol, right down to mother and child. What survived of the house's allies and servants when the smoke cleared were allowed to live, banished to the bitterest reaches of distant Khorvaire. The dragons and elves did not know that they took with them Erandis' corpse, reanimated by a mother's desperate love, and the power of the Mark of Death.

    Now, the half-dragon lich "lives" a life of bitter secrecy. She has sworn to manipulate events through her many cults to one day unite dragon and elf kind in death, for having refused it in life. Her dragonmark lies useless upon her undead flesh, and her relict house begins and ends with her. And she knows that. No amount of cold, ashen revenge will bring back what was lost.

    Truly, there is no soul on Eberron more marked by death than her.

Variant Elf:
Mark of Death

... And yet here you are, with all the questions and grim implications your existence entails. Perhaps some long-forgotten extramarital dalliance spawned the bastard bloodline of your parentage by mere chance. Or perhaps destiny itself willed you into being; not even Death may die until it has served its purpose. The Draconic Prophecy is as cruel as it is inexorable, it seems.

    There is much you do not know about yourself, least of all your birthparents. People used to say you were orphaned by the Last War, and for a long time you believed that, without even wondering whose side, if any, your parents had been on. The Last War made a lot of orphans, after all. You made your peace with it, and tried to appreciate the life that had found you.

    But then came adolescence, and puberty hit you harder than any other elf in the past three millennia. Your dragonmark appeared in a traumatic near-death experience that left you suddenly, painfully aware of the weight of ages on this world, and your own utter insignificance in the face of eternity and oblivion. And as if that wasn't bad enough, people started to avoid and persecute you. Aberrant, they called your dragonmark. Dangerous. Bad luck. Only one of those was wrong.

    Now, you do best when you're alone and on the move. You hide your mark from others as best as you can, especially from those men with the Karrnathi accents and the green claw amulets who say they have such wonderful things in store for you. You know you won't last much longer without some answers, but where is one to even begin?

If you're an elf with the Mark of Death, you have this subrace, with the following traits.
    Ability Score Increase. Your Intelligence score increases by 1.
    Deathly Intuition. When you make an Intelligence (Arcana) or Intelligence (Religion) check, you can roll a d4 and add the number rolled to the ability check.
    Favored by Dolurrh. You know the spare the dying cantrip. You can also cast false life once with this trait, requiring no material component. Starting at 3rd level, you can also cast gentle repose with it. Once you cast either spell with this trait, you can't cast that spell with it again until you finish a long rest. Intelligence is your spellcasting ability for these spells.
    Touched by Mabar. You have resistance to necrotic damage.
    Spells of the Mark. If you have the Spellcasting or the Pact Magic class feature, the spells on the Mark of Death Spells table are added to the spell list of your spellcasting class.


Spell Level



detect evil and good, false life


gentle repose, ray of enfeeblement


animate dead, speak with dead


death ward, shadow of Minara (shadow of Moil)


raise dead

Volal (Volite? Vollish?) Adventure Hooks

1) A small, clandestine group of Seekers led by a mummy abactor has begun a secret war with the Cult of Life. They cannot abide by the use of other people's lives in the Cult's schemes, because it denies them the pursuit of the Divinity Within that they believe everyone should aspire to. It remains to be seen how the Crimson Covenant will react to this sectarian strife.

2) The ranks of the Hornblade Clan have swelled since chieftess Janilya's miraculous and violent ascension. The half-orc's acceptance of outsiders devoted to the Blood of Vol has created one of the most ethnically diverse populations this side of Khorvaire, while their spartan unity of purpose puts the feuding warlords of nearby Droaam to shame. The Hornblades seem intent on proving themselves peers to House Tharashk. But are they a threat, or a chance at stability in the region?

3) A most curious interfaith dialogue is about to occur on the edge of Sarlona. An embassy of Seekers has come to the shores of Adar to speak with several prominent yannahilath of the Path of Light. Despite their many incompatible views, the Seekers maintain, there are strong core values like individual action, transformative change, and community-mindedness that their faiths share. The Seekers have also expressed a desire to learn about kalashtar meditative techniques, and the lightspeakers are eager to spread the Light wherever it may find a place, despite their misgivings. But why here, why now? And does it have anything to do with recent rumblings from Adar's northern neighbor and foe, the Unity of Riedra?

4) Adventurers and government agents in major cities across several nations are reporting on a disturbing trend: some cults of the Dark Six that are occasionally rooted out and dispersed have added a seventh object of worship to their pantheon in the form of the Blood of Vol. Authorities call for investigators willing to go deep undercover in the seedy underbellies of Khorvaire to see what these syncretic "Keepers of Blood" are up to.

5) The Karnnathi fleet recently repelled a large Bloodsail raid and took from it grand trophies indeed: the ships' eponymous blood sails, full of elf ghosts screaming to be returned home to the black shores of Farlnen. Out of personal spite, or perhaps seeking to provoke the Bloodsails, the victorious fleet master refuses to hand over the sails, and is instead agitating populist support along the coast. As the elves' alliance of pirates across the Lhazaar Principalities rattles its sabers louder and louder, an unlikely alliance of Sentinel Marshals and sympathetic Seekers rushes to reclaim the sails and prevent an international crisis.

6) Dolurrh is on the verge of becoming coterminous again, and a powerful new manifest zone has unexpectedly formed in a populated area. Bands of fiend-slayers rush to prepare for the inevitable waves of nalfeshnee demons and worse, while Seekers try to push through the filmy boundary between planes and rescue souls who would otherwise be doomed to oblivion by all the interference with resurrection magic.

7) Several Aereni wizards have been caught dabbling in negative energy magic and undeath. Fearing more necromancy cells and the unknown player who established them so deep in Aerenal, the Undying Court has ordered a sweeping investigation of the islands. Can their agents cut the rot out in time? Will the pursuit of knowledge win out in the end? And what power instigated this?

8) A series of sporadic thefts and raids on libraries and magical archives across the world begins to point toward the Order of the Emerald Claw as the culprits. They seek something deceptively simple: the long-lost name of a rogue green dragon...