Dragonmarks are physical manifestations of the Draconic Prophecy. They have appeared on seven of Khorvaire's common races. They are more intricate than a birthmark and more distinct than a tattoo. There are twelve families of dragonmarks, originally there were thirteen, but no living creature on Eberron possesses the destroyed mark of House Vol. (Kind of….. maybe) In addition to being a status symbol in Khorvaire the dragonmarks provide the bearer with magical talents.
Aberrant Dragonmarks can be clearly distinguished from a standard house dragonmark and no two are alike. The dragonmarks are passed through bloodlines and when two members of different dragonmarked families reproduce it often results in aberrant dragonmarks. The aberrant marks do not manifest identically each time therefore it is possible for two individuals with completely different looking marks to produce the same magical effect using the mark. Indeed each aberrant dragonmark is completely unique to its bearer. Originally aberrant marked were seen as outcasts and outsiders. Often they were shunned by the houses and eked out a pitiful existence. Many members bearing these aberrant dragonmarks have since united in their differences and formed House Tarkanan most notably present in Sharn.
Dragonmarks typically appear in the bearer's adolescence as they pass through puberty, however this is not exclusively the case. There are three distinct manifestations of each dragonmark that correlate in size, intricacy and power. As the dragonmark gains power (from least to greater) it will expand in size and complexity rather than forming a different mark. Often the mark will manifest first as a least mark and through study and focus the bearers increases his power and with this increase the dragonmark also increases granting additional abilities. However there are some who will manifest lesser mark or even greater mark without explaination. House members who manifest even a least dragonmark however can expect at least some change in their lifestyle as they find new and better employment oppurtunities within their house guilds as well as new social avenues to explore.
Heir of Siberys
Much rarer are the so called Heirs of Siberys who possess the Siberys Mark, marks that cover much, if not all, of their body. A dragonmarked individual might labor all of their life and never manifest the Siberys Mark, while an unmarked member of a house bloodline might suddenly manifest the mark overnight. It is unpredictable and unexplained despite steady research by top minds across Khorvaire. The Siberys Mark grants the bearer extraordinary power based upon which houses mark he manifests. These Siberys dragonmarks can lead to otherwise unknown or undiscovered members of a house to suddenly rise in importance within their own ranks and those who were formerly unmarked may have a hard time adjusting to this new fame.
Dragon Marked Houses
Dragonmarked houses are organizations that are based on bloodlines descended from the families that first manifested dragonmarks. Not all members of the Houses have dragonmarks; nor is it an assurance of power. Talent is considered a better choice. Most common people have at least a small amount of House blood in their ancestry, usually unnoticed.
The Dragonmarked Houses are the cornerstone of the economy of Khorvaire. Most banking, security, communications, transportation and fabrication are run by the Dragonmarked Houses. The Houses use their exclusive access to the powers of dragonmarks to sustain their economic empires that extend far beyond arcane powers of the dragonmarks themselves. The houses can attribute most of their success to their meticulously crafted reputations for standardization and quality that have elevated bearers of dragonmarks with a status that mundane wizards and artificers cannot possibly match.
The houses are not traced back to a single member bearing a certain mark, rather that certain marks manifested in certain regions on specific races and families. After several generations these families began to understand the significance of each individual mark and came to see certain marks as "true marks", marks that breed true in a bloodline. Aberrant marks are those that manifest as a consequence of interbreeding of bloodlines.
Ultimately the true bloodlines would wage war on those with aberrant marks in a conflict known as the War of the Mark. The results of this conflict would unite the true bloodlines officially into the current houses represented and lead to a founding of the council known as the Twelve. The Twelve would become responsible for codifying the traditions of the dragonmarked families and set forth the standards by which the current houses are governed.
Eventually a man who famously became known as Galifar I would succeed in uniting the continent together into the nation of Galifar, the house leaders would come together in the city of Korth and make arrangements with the would-be-king that would limit their political power in exchange for assurances of their continued economic strength. These would become known as the Korth Edicts and would last for a thousand years and were designed to prevent members of any of the dragonmarked houses from creating standing armies (excepting house Deneith to provide mercenary services), disallowing members of the houses from marrying into the aristocracy of Galifar, and insuring that no house could hold a grant of land.
By the time the Last War was in full swing, the Korth Edicts would be set aside allowing house enclaves to maintain forces and by the end of the war several houses now have large land holdings of their own. Many of the houses themselves were said to wield as much power as the nations themselves and it is doubtful any of the twelve new nations have enough power to enforce the terms or renegotiate the edict.
The worst punishment for a member of a dragonmarked house is called excoriation. It is similar to excommunication in that the other members of the house are not allowed to have any contact with the excoriate under threat of severe punishment themselves. Excoriates may not even avail themselves of the publicly-available services their house provides. Excoriation is the punishment for only the worst offenses that dishonor the house. In prior times, the house would actually flay the dragonmark from the person's body. If the person survived excoriation, the missing dragonmark would regrow on a different part of the body and continue to function, but its use caused severe pain to the person.