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According to most wiki pages surrounding the character,

Mordenkainen was born in 509 CY. The last entry that used the Greyhawk calendar year was when mentioning how he started to shave his head in 591 CY.

With this information in mind, if most adventures in the Forgotten Realms take place during 1491 DR, then how old would this NPC technically be during the Curse of Strahd adventure?

My guess is around 212 years old.

According to the Vistani at Tser Pool (on p. 36-37 of the adventure), he apparently came to Barovia over a year ago. The current year in Barovia is 735 (according to the "Barovian Calendar" sidebar on p. 26 of the adventure), which may just translate to 1491 DR since adventurers start in Daggerford. If we are to use the conversion table provided in "5e official adventure timeline", 587 CY is 1361 DR. CY consists of 364 days in a year while DR consists of 365, so if present campaigns take place in 1491, then that would mean 130 years have passed by (making 717 CY the current year in the world of Greyhawk).

If this is correct, how is it possible for a human to even live this long?

My sources for information:

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    \$\begingroup\$ Do the Greyhawk and Forgotten Realms calendars have a 1-to-1 corelation? \$\endgroup\$ Commented May 29, 2019 at 22:08
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    \$\begingroup\$ Not that I think this is a bad question as-is necessarily, but is there a particular reason why you are trying to figure out his age? \$\endgroup\$ Commented May 29, 2019 at 22:41
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    \$\begingroup\$ One problem: There is no indication that a day in Barovia is the same length as a day in Faerun. The Shadowfell has no day/night cycle so it is conceivable that its demiplanes have a warped time relative to the DR/CY standards. It may not be possible to calculate anything more than an approximate range. \$\endgroup\$
    – Rykara
    Commented May 30, 2019 at 0:23
  • \$\begingroup\$ I haven't played through the Curse of Strahd, but isn't it set in Ravenloft and not the Forgotten Realms? \$\endgroup\$ Commented May 30, 2019 at 0:41
  • \$\begingroup\$ Wait. You seem to have worked out the math yourself and then say "mostly just curious as to how it's possible for him to live this long" Are you asking how it's possible for Mordenkainen to live that long or how old is he? \$\endgroup\$
    – Rykara
    Commented May 30, 2019 at 1:32

3 Answers 3

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He's a wizard

I mean, he's one of the most powerful wizards the multiverse has ever seen. It's not really surprising he hasn't died of old age-- Clone, for example, is only an 8th level spell and Mordenkainen, if we're using multi-edition lore stuff like the question presupposes, has invented 9th level spells (i.e. Mordenkainen's Disjunction).

There are dozens of magic items that prolong longevity, several planes where time may flow slower relative to the material, and many many spell effects that reduce, reverse, eliminate, or temporarily forestall the effects of aging. It's hardly surprising that the multiverse's best wizard has found a solution for his geriatric issues, it's more surprising Ravenloft is a problem for him at all.

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    \$\begingroup\$ For additional comparison, here are the ages of other 'famous' archmages (these are all humans). Elminster: Born in 212 DR, currently ~1,275 years old. Halaster Blackcloak: At least 1,100 years old. Manshoon was 141 when he died...his clones have been around for an additional 117 years. Alrassa Silverhand: Died at 713 years old. Endue Silverhand: 729 years old. Khelben Arunsun: killed at 960 years old. In short...Archmages tend to live until someone manages to kill them--and even then, it's hard to make sure it sticks. \$\endgroup\$ Commented May 30, 2019 at 16:39
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The dark wanderer's answer is of course correct. I'd like to add some supporting Greyhawk lore and potential explanations for Mordenkainen's apparent longevity.

According to the D&D 3e Epic Level Handbook, p. 309, which describes Mordenkainen circa 591 CY:

His apparent age is around 40 (though his true age is twice that).

This places his birth at around 511 CY, and Greyhawk wikis tend to assert an implied date of 509 CY, which is well within that range.

But more importantly, this shows that Mordenkainen has some method, almost certainly magical, of aging at a slower rate or perhaps not at all. His secret is never canonically explained, and we can only speculate.

Potential solutions with some precedent in Greyhawk or generic D&D lore include:

  • He could be of the Children of Johydee: A few people of Aerdi descent possess exceptional magical talent and natural longevity, protected by the goddess Johydee. Gwydiesen of the Cranes is one such individual, who is over 700 years old, yet appears only 60.
  • Wish: Garaeth Heldenster used a wish spell to age at one-fifth the normal rate. (The Marklands, p.39) Mordenkainen may have made a similar wish, and is certainly powerful enough to cast that spell.
  • Pact with an extraplanar being: Karoolck, court mage of Overking Ivid V, made a pact with Baalzephon, guaranteeing him a lifespan of 333 years, during which he will not age, and will return to life up to 9 times if slain. (Ivid the Undying, p.38)
  • He steals the life from others: General Reynard possesses a magical homunculus created by the archmage Reydrich, which must drain the life from one victim per year. As a result, Reynard is physically in his mid-30s despite actually being 78 years old. Reydrich is unlikely to offer the same deal to Mordenkainen, who rejected his entry to the Circle of Eight c. 570 CY. (Ivid the Undying, p. 113-114)
  • Various magic items:
    • Amulet of Perpetual Youth: This amulet absorbs up to 5d6 years of aging. (Encyclopedia Magica I, p.38)
    • Amulet of the Papyrus Scepter: Reduces a character's age by one year every year for 1d6+4 years. (Encyclopedia Magica I, p.38)
    • Elixir of Youth: Reduces the user's age by 1d4+1 years. (Encyclopedia Magica II, p.446)
    • Timeglass of the Wizard: Reduces the user's age by 2 years. (Encyclopedia Magica II, p.602)
    • Potion of Longevity: Reduces the user's age by 1d12 years. (Encyclopedia Magica III, p. 877)
  • Undead animus: Drax the Invulnerable is immune to aging due to being an animus, a type of undead in the service of Overking Ivid V. Prince Hastern of Naelax, another animus, managed to become an animus while retaining his appearance. Mordenkainen is unlikely to be an animus, since they are practically always evil, and his statblock shows him to be a living human. (Ivid the Undying, p.102)
  • He may look younger than his age: A few Greyhawk characters are simply much older or younger than they appear. Jaryn Lejenaus is 31 years old, but appears to be only 15. (From the Ashes, p.81) This wouldn't explain Mordenkainen's superhuman longevity, however.
  • Epic spell: Mordenkainen may have invented some secret unknown magic. (Epic Level Handbook)
  • Divinity: Mordenkainen may have achieved at least divine rank 0, becoming a quasi-deity or hero-deity, granting effective immortality. Several Greyhawk heroes have achieved this status, including Heward, Keoghtom, Murlynd, Daern, Johydee, Nolzur, Quaal, Tuerny, and Kelanen.
  • Mordenkainen has visited other worlds and is a good friend of Elminster of the Forgotten Realms; he may share whichever secret of longevity is used by the Sage of Shadowdale.
  • Clone: He may create a clone, get killed a decade later, and find himself in a younger clone.
  • Raise dead: Mordenkainen may spend much time dead, which would not count toward his effective age, but would give the illusion that he is much older than he really is.
  • Non-linear time: Time travels at a different rate on some planes. Mordenkainen may have been in one such plane for some time, perhaps even a pocket dimension of his own creation. He may age only one year while ten or a hundred years pass. There are even in theory planes where time flows backward.
  • Astral travel: One does not age on the Astral Plane.
  • Hanging out in England: In Dragon #100's The City Beyond the Gate, a portal exists between the AD&D world (Greyhawk being one such world) and London, England, through which time passes non-linearly at a rate of one day to one month (28 days in Greyhawk). Mordenkainen could spend 5 years in London, only for 140 years to pass back home.
  • It's possible that the flow of time is convoluted in Greyhawk. No official products have advanced the World of Greyhawk timeline past the D&D 3e era (590s CY), meaning that, for all we know, the timeline of other worlds may not match up with the Greyhawk timeline in the expected manner. Mordenkainen's travel to Barovia may, from his perspective, still have occurred during the 590s CY.

This is, however, still speculative. Ultimately, we don't know which method he used, and Mordenkainen may possess some magic not listed here, so it all really boils down to he's a wizard.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Clone doesn't need to wait the intervening time - you cna make a clone that's younger from the get-go. Also, using Magic Jar to take control of the body of another while you Imprison your original body in a way that prevents aging. Also, Reincarnate will do the job. The body it generates is adult, rather than aged, but all experience and class levels are retained... as long as you don't mind the race roulette. \$\endgroup\$
    – Ben Barden
    Commented May 30, 2019 at 20:46
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    \$\begingroup\$ While it's true that one does not age in the astral plane, the time one spends there catches up with one when one leaves it. Which is presumably a cool special effect to witness, but not super useful for someone who wants to live longer without remaining on the astral plane for the remainder of their existence. \$\endgroup\$
    – GMJoe
    Commented Sep 4, 2022 at 22:39
  • \$\begingroup\$ @GMJoe The Forgotten Realms Wiki article says the same thing, but I can't find a source for it. The 3.5 DMG p.154 only says aging resumes when one leaves the Astral, not that it retroactively occurs. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Sep 5, 2022 at 9:58
  • \$\begingroup\$ @QuadraticWizard Flip back to page 148, where you'll see the text "The danger of a timeless plane is that once one leaves such a plane for one where time flows normally, conditions such as hunger and aging do occur retroactively." Similar text can be found in AD&D first and second editions' descriptions of the plane, as well. \$\endgroup\$
    – GMJoe
    Commented Sep 5, 2022 at 23:18
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    \$\begingroup\$ @QuadraticWizard You might want to add that he may know a friendly sphinx, and spent time in their lair. In 5e, Sphinxes have this abilty as a lair action: " The effects of time are altered such that every creature in the lair must succeed on a DC 15 Constitution saving throw or become 1d20 years older or younger (the sphinx's choice), but never any younger than 1 year old. A greater restoration spell can restore a creature's age to normal." \$\endgroup\$ Commented Sep 6, 2022 at 20:34
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According to Gary Gygax, he used Potions of Longevity

The actual Mordenkainen was played as a player character by Gary using OD&D/AD&D 1e rules, to somewhere in the mid 20th levels (in this edition there was no level cap for humans). When he was ousted from TSR, Gary lost the intellectual property rights to the character, so from that point on, official canon was up to TSR and later WotC, and this answer hence does not represent canon for 5e. However, it tells you what the method originally was, in reality.

Gary shared which method he used to extend Mordenkainen's lifespan, in a Forum post on Dragonsfoot:

I envisaged Mordenkainen as around 30 year of age when he began adventuring, so that would make him around 80 years of age now (considering campaign time)--although he has quaffed a number of potions of longevity preiodically [sic], always when a wish was cast, so likely he appears more like a vigorous 50.

He does not plan to remain as a lich, not at all his style.

Potions of longevity are a risky method, as eventually they will fail and undo all the effect they had. At least, the 1e version Gary used had a much lower risk than the 5e version (1e DMG p 126):

Longevity: The longevity potion reduces the character’s game age by from 1-12 years when it is imbibed, but each time one is drunk there is a 1% cumulative chance that it will have the effect of reversing all age removal from previously consumed longevity potions. The potion otherwise restores youth and vigor.

So on average, you will get back 6-7 years whenever you drink one, meaning to appear 50 when you are 80 you would have had to drink about 5 of them - a 14% chance overall for it to fail at some point, which apparently did not happen.

Clearly, this method would be a bad gamble to get you to an age of 212 years, even using the old potion rules. With a life expectancy of about 100 years for a normal human, you would need about 17 potions, and would have only about 2% chance to survive it. So the Mordenkainen in CoS must have added one of the other methods mentioned to his arsenal.

From his comment, methods to turn him undead would be unlikely. His stats in Curse of Strahd use the normal CN male human archmage stat block with a slightly altered spell list, and the added power to grant charm of heroism. That means according to the official rules, he is not undead, he is not divine, and he does not have access to epic level spells.

The historical Mordenkainen had a variety of magic items, standouts among them were a Staff of Power, a Ring of X-Ray Vision, an Onyx Dog (which lead to the spell Mordenkainen's Faithful Hound), Bracers of Armor, the Iron Bands of Bilaro and a set of 12 different Ioun Stones. None of them would explain his unusual longevity.

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