This is probably way too simple of a question, but I just haven't been able to figure it out.

In D&D 4th edition, there's the concept of a mark on an enemy creature; a player character in combat can mark one of the enemies. This has various sorts of in-game repercussions.

What does it actually mean to mark someone?

Does it have some sort of a look? No one's been able to explain it to me, so when we're playing a game and someone says they mark an orc, I can't imagine what that looks like.

It's very jarring when there's something important happening in an RPG and you can't imagine what you're seeing. (I feel like I'm up against a gazebo, yet I can't quite picture what a gazebo might look like, or how it might threaten the party.)

Follow-up: Most of the answers here have quite a few comments, many disputing the validity of the answer. Many of the comments are actually more explanatory than the answers. I'm hesitant to choose a "correct" answer until I understand what's going on better.


9 Answers 9


You've identified an opponent as your guy: you're paying extra attention to where he is and what he's doing, so that you can mess him up at a critical time.

In melee combat, it's like man-to-man defense in sports. You're always on him, always in the way. You're a major distraction because you're hard to ignore; on top of that, ignoring you usually means giving you huge a huge opening to do something nasty (you know: steal the ball / stab him in the guts).

Outside of melee, imagine a Legolas-caliber archer shooting down orcs left and right, for example, while all the while watching for the fateful moment that a leader (her mark) sticks his head up above the ramparts to have a clear look at the battle. She's doing all this other cool stuff but she's also always ready to make a punishing attack on her intended target.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Isn't it a little more than that? An enemy can be marked by only one source at a time, and a lot of them even describe things like runes floating above their head. It's more than just calling an intended target and inherently much more magical. \$\endgroup\$
    – Jason_c_o
    Oct 21, 2015 at 15:29
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Jason_c_o Whether it's magical or not depends on the flavour of the class, does it not? \$\endgroup\$
    – GMJoe
    Oct 21, 2015 at 23:42
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ @GmJoe Maybe. It's been a long while since I've played 4e, but I remember finding it weird that a foe could only have one mark so I looked into it. They all, afaik, connect you to the foe in some way; they leave a magical mark tying you to your enemy. Even the melee marks give some benefit. You may explain some of them by being "up in their face," but I doubt all of them. But I'unno. It's been a while. \$\endgroup\$
    – Jason_c_o
    Oct 22, 2015 at 2:04
  • \$\begingroup\$ 4e doesn't tend towards a particularly tight mapping of mechanics to story. "A mark" doesn't mean anything consistent in-story, but multiple marks are nevertheless mutually exclusive, for the same reason as e.g. a power to knock someone out (I think Rogues have one?) working even if they only have an edged weapon and can't reach higher than their enemy's foot. The system is just loose for things like that, in the interest of being more of a battlefield-tactics game than a storytelling one. \$\endgroup\$
    – Vivian
    Jul 25, 2017 at 17:22

What it actually means to mark someone is open to player and DM interpretation and can easily vary from character to character and situation to situation.

  • It could be a Swordmage magically distracting his mark target.
  • It could be a Warden banging his shield with his axe and shouting "YOU WILL FIGHT ME"
  • It could be a Fighter keeping her sword pointed at her target's heart while challenging them to single combat.
  • It could be a Paladin calling down the wrath of his god on his challenged foe.
  • It could be getting up close and personal with the target.
  • It could be a well timed insult
  • It could be patiently waiting for the marked target to leave an opening, and so the mark represents only the marking character's behavior.

And many other ideas too.

If you are having trouble envisioning how a specific character expresses their mark, ask them. If they are unsure too, suggest some method that makes sense, and move on. And be sure to ask again next time.


Your question has a few possible answers. I will disregard the mechanical meaning of the term, assuming that you have no problem with that.

  • Physically, a mark usually looks like a token, a plastic ring, a note on paper, that serves to determine that a creature is marked :).
  • In terms of roleplaying, as the Compendium notes,

This condition reflects the ability of some creatures to claim the attention of a chosen target in battle. When a target is marked, it has a hard time ignoring the creature that marked it. Most marking effects have very short durations, or else they require the marking creature to remain a threat to the marked target.

So when you mark a creature, or a creature marks a player, you could roleplay a mark as a taunt that the marker shouts, making the victim furious and "blind" to others, or as a magical power that focuses the attention of the victim on the caster. The interpretations are many, and many powers that mark include some flavor text that describes how the mark could be interpreted.

Finally, as everyone knows, you should approach gazebos with great care, offering a sacrifice of lubricant for their hungry maws if possible.


Terms, first. I'm going to refer to the character that places a mark as the Marker and the target of the mark as the Marked. This might get a little confusing/redundant because they're so similar, but bear with me.

Second, mechanical considerations aren't the focus of this. It doesn't sound like you're having trouble with the mechanics of a mark, just what they represent in roleplay.

Placing a mark is the representation of the Marker focusing their attention on the Marked character. Regardless of how they do it, the Marker puts themselves in a position to "punish" the Marked if they are ignored and exploit even the smallest distraction to interfere with the Marked's attacks. It's kind of like Aid Another, except you're interfering with the target to aid anyone they attack.

Being marked is rather distracting. This is where the Marked's attack penalty comes from. A combination of threat of harm and actual interference causes the Marked to either pay all due attention to the Marker or suffer the consequences. If the Marked decides to take their medicine and violate the mark anyways, the Marker is able to interfere with that attack because the Marked isn't paying full attention. If the Marked turns on the Marker and gives them full attention, then there aren't any openings to exploit.

The punishment mechanic (usually an Immediate attack) represents the Marker carrying through on the primary threat represented by the mark.

Some examples: Non-Magical - Martial marks are the threat of physical attack. The marking character physically interfere with their target with feints, quick jab-like attacks and parries meant to foul the violating attack. If the target focuses on the Marker, he doesn't have the opportunity to make those distracting actions because the target isn't giving him openings.

Divine - Divine marks are the will of the gods. Paladins invoke their god's power to compel their target to honor their challenge and threaten them with smiting if they disobey. "You will fight me or taste the holy fire of Pelor!" The challenge itself is distracting and requires an act of will to disobey, which is represented by the attack penalty. If the target obeys the mark and takes the challenge, then the compulsion doesn't interfere and the gods trust their champion and the gifts they've already given them.

Arcane - Arcane marks are a diverse sort. They're cantrips of distraction and interference that the Arcane Defender can cast on a target they've prepped with a mark if given the slightest opening. They might be distracting illusions, prestidigitation, manipulation of time or shielding forces. They could be actively cast in combat or triggered contingencies keyed off of the marking effect. Arcane magic is wide open, so the exact form these marks take is limited only by your imagination and your character concept. The big gun (the punishment mechanic) is a more powerful spell effect.

Primal - I don't know what Primal marks would be like, I've never much been interested in that part of the game. Probably a combination of Divine and Arcane effects. Basically the same idea, though: the Marker threatens and interferes with the Marked if the Marked doesn't devote full attention to the Marker.

Regardless of the form the mark takes, the Marked is aware of what is going on and the choice it has to make. In the case of purely physical marks, this is pretty obvious: the fighter in your face with an axe is not a threat to be ignored lightly. Divine marks compel with divine power and must be actively resisted. Arcane marks are a little trickier, but probably rely on built-up magical power and overt spellcasting. Primal marks... I don't know, swarm the target with butterflies.

It might help to think of marking in terms of Opportunity Attacks. You get an opportunity attack if the target does something complex in your threat range, giving you an opening to sneak in a quick stab. A mark formalizes this and gives the Marked a choice: attack the Marker and prove you're focusing on them or declare that you're not focusing on them and give them an opening to do whatever they want to you. Violating the mark is the equivalent of saying "I'm not paying attention to you, I'm doing this other thing".


You can think of marking a foe as paying special attention to that foe and using a fighting style that allows the fighter capitalize on any openings in their defenses. Presumably this combination of attention & stance is sufficiently threatening that most intelligent creatures, and many animals, can recognize the threat it entails (i.e. recognize that taking their attention off the fighter is a good way to get smacked).

Mindless creatures (oozes, plants, some undead, etc.) are incapable of noticing the fighters actions; this doesn't mean that they don't take the attack penalty (the fighter interferes with their attacks) or that they don't trigger combat challenge attacks by attacking the fighter's allies or shifting (the fighter can capitalize on those openings even if the foe doesn't realize the fighter is ready to do so). It may (depending on your DM) mean that those sorts of enemies don't take being marked into account when deciding what to do during combat however (so they might choose to attack the fighter's ally instead of the fighter, even though it's a tactically inferior choice).


In general, it means that the PC is focusing on the creature that has been marked, to prevent it from attacking anyone else. Some marks (such as those by the fighter) are martial, in that they are simply a matter of concentration and skill. (The fighter is so good at controlling the space around him that if the monster attacks someone else, the fighter gets a free attack.) In other cases, like the paladin, the mark is a magical force.

Marks, in 4E, are a tabletop representation of "aggro" from computer RPGs, especially MMORPGs. It allows for the players (and certain monsters) to have some sort of control over what will be attacked, and for their to be consequences when you disregard the mark. Otherwise, there would be no consequences for a monster to rush through the front line of defenders to get at the soft squishy folk in the back.

Aggro, in MMOs, is represented by (when you boil it down to the very basics), a measure of how much damage is done to the target by the PC. It being a computer, it is the easiest way for it to properly represent the realistic threat that a fighter wearing platemail and carrying a flaming flail of flumph-smacking would represent. Marking is simply the same thing, but as there is a human being playing the monsters, they can do something that is less mathematical and more hazy...more vague.

In both cases, the end result is the same: It is a way for the threat that a monster faces to be represented. In MMOs, it is done by forcing the monster to attack the PC with the highest threat rating. In 4E, it is done by making there be a consequence to not attacking the PC that has placed the mark.

They (marks) can be defined as a look, angry gesture or other such concept. It is really left up to the player to decide how the mark expresses itself. However, a creature that has been so marked knows that it has been marked and who did it.


Every mark will look different depending on the nature of character which made the mark, I would say taking into account at least his Power Source is necessary.

If the marker (as in person who laid down the mark) uses the X Power Source:

  • Martial :: it probably looks like he's getting in his face constantly or always at his back ready to strike if the marked one's eyes dart to anybody else.Somebody gave a sport example which I feel it works.
  • Arcane :: It probably involves glowing runes, tendrils of energy circling the marked one only one look away and the tendrils will lash at your undefended skin, or a magical fist hovering just at the limits of your vision ready to strike.
  • Divine :: Luminous energy from above, a sign from the gods that they are interested in seeing a duel between you and their champion right now.
  • Primal :: Numerous small sprites teleport in, demanding that you pay attention to them lest you be burned by fairy fire.

Honestly tough I don't get your question, "what is a mark?" makes as much sense as "what is a hit?".

In order to describe a hit you need to know, the attacker his fighting style, weapon or spell, which weapon/which spell the defender's armour or lack there off...

To demand one visualization for the mark when the mark is a mechanic covering a huge range of options, is like asking for one visualization of the hit again a mechanic covering a huge range.

You should at least include data about the marker and the one which was marked and what power, weapon/implement was used then I think it becomes a very easy question.


The term "a mark" is used by people who wish to target someone for their attention. Con-artists, thieves, even market traders looking to sell something, use the term to specify a person or a type of person.

http://www.thefreedictionary.com/mark look at noun definitions numbers 8 and 11 and verb definitions 2, 4 and 6.

To make the application to 4th edition D&D a character who marks another is targeting them for their own brand of special attention. What that looks like depends a) on the type of "power" being used and b) how the group decides to role play it (as always). Suggestions:

A fighter's mark (or any other non-magical character) will not be magically showy, it will be a matter of skill and panache. Perhaps the target will find itself corralled into behaving a certain way, with the fighter's sword always threatening or parrying if they try and hit someone else or move away. Look at any martial arts film etc. where a character is making it difficult for their enemy to hit anyone else.

A paladin's mark may be much more showy, with some divine flair thrown in. Perhaps there is a faint luminous halo around the mark. Perhaps the mark just finds it difficult to focus on anyone else, with a flash of the deity's holy symbol before their eyes should they look away. Similar effects for other magical based characters.

It is true that when role-playing a mark having agreed with the group what actually happens may well effect the story even if it does not effect the practical effects of a mark.

One last thing, I would say that the marked should always implicitly know who has marked them as part of the effect.

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Can you please edit this answer to use your RPG expertise in clearly drawing the line between generic dictionary definitions (which the querent could have found on their own) and the translation of the 4e system mechanic into game narrative? "What does it look like?" \$\endgroup\$
    – BESW
    Oct 22, 2015 at 1:35

If you're familiar with Animaniacs, you can think of the 'mark' as the target being made a character's "special friend" (a condition which almost immediately makes the target regret whatever action they took to gain that title).


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