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World of Greyhawk character
Mordenkainen, as depicted on the cover of Mordenkainen's Fantastic Adventure (TSR, Inc., 1984)
In-universe information
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Mordenkainen is a fictional wizard from the World of Greyhawk campaign setting for the Dungeons & Dragons roleplaying game. He was created by Gary Gygax as a player character,[1] only months after the start of Gygax's Greyhawk campaign, and is therefore one of the oldest characters continuously associated with Dungeons & Dragons.[2]

Once Gygax was forced out of TSR, Inc., he lost creative control of Mordenkainen.[2] TSR then made Mordenkainen a powerful wizard with strong convictions against moral absolutes,[2] and the leader of the Circle of Eight, a cabal of eight powerful wizards.[3] In fiction associated with the World of Greyhawk, he has played diverse roles as both protagonist and antagonist.

Official publications for the World of Greyhawk sometimes contradict each other regarding Mordenkainen. It is clear, however, that he is an important figure in the fictional history of the Flanaess.[2]

Creative origins[edit]

In late 1972, Gary Gygax created Castle Greyhawk and the dungeons beneath it. After a few months of almost non-stop play as the Dungeon Master,[4] Gygax asked one of the players, Rob Kuntz, to become co-Dungeon Master, which would allow Gygax an opportunity to experience the game as a player. Gygax subsequently created several characters, including a 1st-level wizard in early 1973.[5] Gygax was interested in Finnish mythology, and named the wizard Mordenkainen, a portmanteau of the mythical heroes Mordecai and Lemminkäinen.[6][3] Robert J. Kuntz started a role-playing campaign in his Kalibruhn setting in 1973, in which Mordenkainen and Yrag developed as player characters of Gary Gygax.[7]: 334 

He was to become Gygax's most famous character,[3] and also his favorite to play.[8] Over several years of gameplay, mainly from 1973 to 1985, Gygax developed the character traits and adventures with which Mordenkainen would become associated, as well as raising the wizard to "twenty-something levels".[9] During this period, Gygax united Mordenkainen with seven of his other characters to form the Circle of Eight.[10][11][12][3] During his lifetime, Gygax never disclosed any of Mordenkainen's original game statistics.[13]

When Gygax was forced out of TSR in 1985, he lost the rights to most of the characters he had mentioned in TSR publications, including Mordenkainen.[14][2] TSR subsequently changed Mordenkainen in ways unforeseen by his creator. When the Greyhawk campaign world was reset in 1991's From the Ashes, Mordenkainen was refashioned as the world's most powerful wizard.[2] The Circle of Eight was now described as a cabal of eight wizards supervised by Mordenkainen, who together sought to balance the forces of good and evil.[3]

Mordenkainen is one of the famous mages whose spells were included in the 1988 Greyhawk Adventures hardbound.[15] His name has been associated with various spells published in the Dungeons & Dragons system of magic.[16]

Publishing history[edit]

Mordenkainen's AD&D statistics were first published in The Rogues Gallery (1980), although Gary Gygax was later emphatic that he never gave author Brian Blume any information about the wizard, and insisted that Blume had been forced to make up the published statistics.[17] Variations on Mordenkainen's AD&D statistics were also published in Mordenkainen's Fantastic Adventure (1984), The City of Greyhawk (1989) and Epic Level Handbook (2002).

He was also mentioned in the following publications:

Mordenkainen also figured prominently in the parody adventure Castle Greyhawk (1988), in which he runs a film studio, possibly a reference to Gary Gygax's work at the time as TSR's liaison to Hollywood while he was developing the Dungeons & Dragons cartoon and other projects.

Mordenkainen appears in material for the fifth edition of D&D, including Curse of Strahd (2016), and Baldur's Gate: Descent Into Avernus (2019).

Mordenkainen's name appeared in certain spells core rulebooks of the game's 3rd edition's as one of the few elements from Greyhawk, even though that was designated as the core setting.[16] Spells named after Mordenkainen also appear in D&D-based computer games like Neverwinter Nights.[18]


Mordenkainen is described as tall, with a greyly streaked Van Dyke beard, wearing long boots and carrying a staff.[2]

Mordenkainen keeps his own counsel and does not tolerate fools. He operates according to a theory based on power balance and Neutrality, trying to keep neither Good nor Evil from getting the upper hand; he operates very much from the shadows.[2]


Mordenkainen was #9 on Game Rant's 2020 "10 Must-Have NPCs In Dungeons & Dragons Lore To Make Your Campaigns Awesome" list — the article states that "As an NPC, players might search for Mordenkainen for his expertise in the magical arts. After all, Mordenkainen heads the Circle of Eight, a group of Wizards and prolific spell inventors. Campaigns planning on adapting Curse of Strahd may also include Mordenkainen as an NPC they need to save– or face, depending on the circumstances."[19]

Writer Aubrey Sherman called Mordenkainen one "of Dungeons & Dragons's most famous wizards" and found similarities with both Elminster and Gandalf with respect to appearance, demeanor, outlook and importance in their respective worlds.[2]

Backstab magazine contributor Kaneda considered Mordenkainen one of the greatest magicians from the Greyhawk campaign setting.[20]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Mizer, Nicholas J. (22 November 2019). Tabletop role-playing games and the experience of imagined worlds. Cham, Switzerland: Palgrave Macmillan. p. 124. ISBN 978-3-030-29127-3. OCLC 1129162802.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i Sherman, Aubrey (2014-10-03). "Notable D&D Wizards". Wizards: The Myths, Legends, and Lore. Avon: Adams Media. ISBN 978-1440582882.
  3. ^ a b c d e Zambrano, J.R. (2020-06-10). "D&D: Mordenkainen's Magnificent Backstory". BoLS Interactive. Retrieved 2020-09-17.
  4. ^ Gygax: "An average of seven gaming sessions a week was typical even when I was busy working. Often I played more than that. " "Gary Gygax: Q & A (Part II, Page 9)". EN World. 2003-02-26. Archived from the original on 2011-06-14. Retrieved 2009-03-15.
  5. ^ Gygax: "Mordenkainen came into being about the first month of 1973.""Gary Gygax: Q & A (Part VIII, Page 8)". EN World. 2005-03-01. Archived from the original on 2011-06-14. Retrieved 2009-03-15.
  6. ^ Gygax: "The background I created for Mordenkainen was Finnish-like in nature, and his master was a chap called 'Old Waino'... […] I picked the name because one Vainomoinen was sometimes referred to as "Old Waino." I really was captivated with Finnish myth after seeing a B&W movie done by the Russians, I think, about him, Leminkainen, and Ilmarinen adventuring to Pojola and entering Louhi's fortress, then reading The Green Magician by de Camp and Pratt as well as the Kalevala." "Gary Gygax: Q & A (Part X, Page 17-18)". EN World. 2006-06-13. Archived from the original on 2012-10-04. Retrieved 2009-03-15.
  7. ^ Shannon Appelcline (2014). Designers & Dragons: The '80s. Evil Hat Productions. ISBN 978-1-61317-081-6.
  8. ^ Q: "Of the characters you have played, which is your favorite?" Gygax: "I really must admit Mordenkainen is my favorite. I enjoy playing fighters, rangers, thieves, clerics, and multi-classed sorts in OAD&D, but the magic-user is usually most fun for me."Johnson, Joel (2008-03-04). "Dungeons & Dragons Creator Gary Gygax Passes Away; Interview". Boing Boing Gadgets. Retrieved 2009-05-14.
  9. ^ Gygax: "I do believe that Mordenkainen earned his twenty-something levels through cleverness, daring, a bit of luck, and dint of trying..." "Gary Gygax: Q & A (Part X, Page 13)". EN World. 2006-06-13. Archived from the original on 2011-06-14. Retrieved 2009-03-15.
  10. ^ Gygax: "The original [Circle of Eight] was composed of my PCs – Mordenkainen, Bigby, Yrag, Rigby, Felnorith, Zigby, Vram & Vin. In the novel version the Circle was expanded to encompass other PCs in my campaign such as Tenser. It came into being because Mordenkainen and Associates had a lot of wealth stored up from successful adventuring, located a place for a stronghold deep in enemy territory to assure plenty of action, and then went to work building the citadel. As there was a small army of dwarves associated with the larger, mounted field army, the building project went relatively quickly, about three game years to complete. While it was in progress, the 'boys' were active in raiding the lands around to keep the enemy forces back on their heels." "Gary Gygax: Q & A (Part IV, Page 9)". EN World. 2003-11-01. Archived from the original on 2012-03-19. Retrieved 2009-03-15.
  11. ^ Gygax: "The Obsidian Citadel was indeed my personal creation as a player.... It was an octagonal castle with eight wall towers and a central keep with much space between the outer wall and the inner works because of the number of troops housed in this fortress."Gary Gygax: Q & A (Part VI, Page 9)". EN World. 2004-03-26. Archived from the original on 2012-03-19. Retrieved 2009-03-15.
  12. ^ Gygax: "The Obsidian Citadel and its Circle of Eight was original to my own campaign. When Mordenkainen was at a level I considered too high for normal adventuring, I used the money he and his associates had amassed to construct the said fortress. The members of the 'Circle were Mordenkainen and...others of my PCs: Bigby, Yrag the fighter, Rigby the cleric, Zigby the Dwarf, the Elves Vram and Vin, and Felnorith as principles. A number of lesser PCs were [also] associated.""Gary Gygax: Q & A (Part III, Page 17)". EN World. 2003-07-08. Archived from the original on 2012-10-14. Retrieved 2009-03-15.
  13. ^ Q: "May we see [Mordenkainen's] stats?" Gygax: "Can you see Mordie's stats? No! I won't even show you those for my most recent PC, Louhi Sharpnose, a gnome illusionist and treasure finder who I created only about four years back." Johnson, Joel (2008-03-04). "Dungeons & Dragons Creator Gary Gygax Passes Away; Interview". Boing Boing Gadgets. Retrieved 2009-05-14.
  14. ^ Gygax: "Anagrams of my name are exclusively my property according to my settlement agreement with TSR, so that is how I can use Zagyg, or Zagig, as well as Yrag.""Gary Gygax: Q & A (Part IX, Page 91)". EN World. 2005-10-20. Archived from the original on 2012-03-19. Retrieved 2009-03-15.
  15. ^ Bambra, Jim (March 1989). "Role-playing Reviews". Dragon. Lake Geneva, Wisconsin: TSR (#143): 71–72.
  16. ^ a b Clements, Philip J. (December 2019). Dungeons & Discourse: Intersectional Identities in Dungeons & Dragons (Thesis). p. 78. Retrieved 2020-09-16.
  17. ^ "The information in the Rogue's Gallery was quite fallacious, made up in many cases when we refused to give Brian (Blume) our PCs' stats. Rob respected my wishes and didn't use Mordie's actual stats and information [in Mordenkainen's Fantastic Adventure], and whatever was written thereafter based on those works continues the error. Brian Blume compiled Rogues Gallery, and when persons would not give him information regarding their PCs, as Rob and I did, he simply made up whatever suited him.""Gary Gygax: Q & A (Part VIII, Page 4)". EN World. 2005-02-21. Archived from the original on 2012-03-19. Retrieved 2010-03-20.
  18. ^ Price, Robert (2011). Effective Team Strategies using Dynamic Scripting (Thesis). Retrieved 2020-09-17.
  19. ^ Taguiam, Rhenn (2020-08-15). "10 Must-Have NPCs In Dungeons & Dragons Lore To Make Your Campaigns Awesome". Game Rant. Retrieved 2020-08-25.
  20. ^ Kaneda (May–June 1998). "Wizard's Spell Compendium Vol. III". Backstab (in French). 9: 29.

Further reading[edit]