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Which school of magic is Mordenkainen most closely associated with? In particular, I'm not interested in speculation or opinions, but rather if such a thing has ever been outright stated in any officially released D&D material, or which can at least be objectively inferred from things like the sorts of spells he was most closely associated with.


He has made an appearance in a couple of 5e adventures:

In Curse of Strahd for 5e, he appears under the alias of the Mad Mage of Mount Baratok on p. 39:

The Mad Mage of Mount Baratok (CN male human archmage) came to Barovia more than a year ago to free its people from Strahd's tyranny, but he underestimated Strahd's hold over the land and the creatures in it.

However, his stat block is just that of the generic archmage, with no association with any school in particular, so this doesn't help me. It does show a custom list of spells prepared on that same page, but none of them show a particularly strong bias for any one school of magic (except possibly evocation, but even then, that just means he was kitted out for battle, which makes sense given why he's there).

In Baldur's Gate: Descent into Avernus for 5e, he appears as himself on p. 97:

Mordenkainen, a chaotic neutral human archmage, often sojourns to Avernus to study how the Nine Hells affect the schools of magic. This archmage of Oerth leads a powerful group of adventurers called the Circle of Eight and has authored several planar tomes. He has also c rafted many renowned spells.

Once again, he is simply given the statblock of a generic archmage, and the flavour text around that only mentions that he is interested in "the schools of magic", without singling out any specific one.


Speaking of the spells he has created, in 5e there are four spells that include his name in the title:

The above might imply that conjuration is his "main" school of magic because he made a whole two of those, but I know that there is also a 9th level abjuration spell called Mordenkainen's disjunction from 3.5e, which puts abjuration and conjuration on an even keel (or possible even that abjuration is the "winner" because that's the highest level spell he made), so I'm not sure if this method of inference gives a clear answer after all (since I'm not limiting this to simply what is in 5e).


So, has there ever been any clear mention in any official material regarding which school of magic Mordenkainen is most closely associated with, or can it be inferred from official material if not?

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It's hard to tell

Throughout the editions of D&D, Mordenkainen has been associated with all sorts of schools of magic. Firstly it is important to note that Mordenkainen is an expert at almost all forms of arcane magic. The Epic Level Handbook of D&D 3e says:

Mordenkainen knows hundreds of spells, many of which he researched himself... He knows all the wizard/sorcerer spells in the Player’s Handbook. As new spells are researched by other mages and come into circulation, Mordenkainen is not slow to discover and pen them into his own vast library of spellbooks.

It is clear that Mordenkainen has vast enough knowledge that he could rival any specialist in their field. That being said, we can look at various publications to get an idea of what types of spells Mordenkainen values/focuses on.

1st Edition

In the 1st Edition era, Mordenkainen showed up in many books, but the one I want to focus on is Mordenkainen's Fantastic Adventure, an adventure module where Mordenkainen is presented as a pre-generated character, a level 12 magic-user:

Spells Known All of Levels 1-6

[...]

Spells Carried

Level 1: Charm Person, Jump, Magic Missile, Protection from Evil and Good
Level 2: Continual Light, Locate Object, Ray of Enfeeblement, Web
Level 3: Dispel Magic, Fireball, Haste, Slow
Level 4: Fire Shield, Ice Storm (x2), Wizard Eye
Level 5: Monster Summoning III, Teleport (x2), Wall of Force
Level 6: Globe of Invulnerability

As can be seen, even at Mordenkainen's earliest appearance, he had access to all spells he was capable of casting, but if we break down the spells he had readily available based on this list, we get this breakdown:

\begin{array}{c|c} \text{School} & \text{Count} \\\hline \text{Alteration} & 7.5 \\\hline \text{Evocation} & 5.5 \\\hline \text{Abjuration} & 3 \\\hline \text{Enchantment} & 2 \\\hline \text{Conjuration} & 1 \\\hline \text{Divination} & 1 \\\hline \text{Illusion} & 0 \\\hline \text{Necromantic} & 0 \end{array}

This suggests that even though Mordenkainen could use all spells, his go-to list at the time focused primarily on Alteration (which later became Transmutation) and secondly Evocation.

3rd edition

A much older and more powerful Mordenkainen made an appearance in the 3rd edition supplement Epic Level Handbook where he once again knows just about every spell. In this case, however, we don't get a basic list of spells that Mordenkainen typically prepares. That being said, this Mordenkainen has epic spells which have to be chosen rather than prepared, of which he has chosen:

Epic Spells Known: epic mage armor, greater spell resistance, let go of me, ruin.

One of these is a conjuration spell, and three are transmutation spells, once again lending the idea that Mordenkainen favors transmutation spells.

5th edition

By the time 5th edition rolls around, Mordenkainen has lost a bit of power after certain events that I wont spoil since they consider multiple adventure modules. However, Mordenkainen is basically reduced to a generic archmage. The spell list we are given for him in his first appearance in 5e is as follows:

Cantrips (at will): fire bolt, light, mage hand, prestidigitation, shocking grasp
1st level (4 slots): detect magic, mage armor, magic missile, shield
2nd level (3 slots): mirror image, misty step, web
3rd level (3 slots): counterspell, fly, lightning bolt
4th level (3 slots): Mordenkainen’s faithful hound, polymorph, stoneskin
5th level (3 slots): Bigby’s hand, cone of cold, scrying
6th level (1 slot): true seeing
7th level (1 slot): Mordenkainen’s magnificent mansion
8th level (1 slot): mind blank
9th level (1 slot): time stop

Ignoring cantrips (since those can't be prepared), we get:

\begin{array}{c|c} \text{School} & \text{Count} \\\hline \text{Abjuration} & 5 \\\hline \text{Conjuration} & 4 \\\hline \text{Evocation} & 4 \\\hline \text{Divination} & 3 \\\hline \text{Transmutation} & 3 \\\hline \text{Illusion} & 1 \\\hline \text{Enchantment} & 0 \\\hline \text{Necromancy} & 0 \end{array}

This distribution is quite a bit more evenly spread than the 1st edition list, but with a favor for Abjuration spells. Granted, the events that led to this weaker version of Mordenkainen also had dramatic effects on his memory and personality, so it is possible that his focus may have changed as a result.

Invented Spells

Another way to think about Mordenkainen's specialization is to look at the spells he has invented. These spells include (I've excluded the prefix "Mordenkainen's" for brevity):

\begin{array}{c|c} \text{Spell} & \text{School} \\\hline \it{buzzing} \text{ } \it{bee} & \text{Conjuration} \\\hline \it{capable} \text{ } \it{caravel} & \text{Conjuration} \\\hline \it{celerity} & \text{Alteration} \\\hline \it{defense} \text{ } \it{against} \text{ } \it{lycanthropes} & \text{Abjuration} \\\hline \it{defense}\text{ } \it{against}\text{ } \it{nonmagical}\text{ } \it{reptiles}\text{ } \it{and}\text{ } \it{amphibians} & \text{Abjuration} \\\hline \it{disjunction} & \text{Abjuration} \\\hline \it{electric}\text{ } \it{arc} & \text{Evocation} \\\hline \it{encompassing}\text{ } \it{vision} & \text{Alteration}\\\hline \it{faithful}\text{ } \it{hound} & \text{Conjuration} \\\hline \it{faithful}\text{ } \it{phantom}\text{ } \it{defenders} & \text{Summoning}\\\hline \it{faithful}\text{ } \it{phantom}\text{ } \it{guardian}& \text{Summoning}\\\hline \it{faithful}\text{ } \it{phantom}\text{ } \it{shield} \text{-} \it{maidens} & \text{Summoning}\\\hline \it{force}\text{ } \it{missiles} & \text{Evocation} \\\hline \it{involuntary}\text{ } \it{wizardry} & \text{Enchantment/Necromancy}\\\hline \it{lucubration} & \text{Alteration} \\\hline \it{magnificent}\text{ } \it{mansion} & \text{Conjuration} \\\hline \it{penultimate}\text{ } \it{cognition} & \text{Alteration} \\\hline \it{private}\text{ } \it{sanctum} & \text{Abjuration} \\\hline \it{protection}\text{ } \it{from}\text{ } \it{avians} & \text{Abjuration} \\\hline \it{protection}\text{ } \it{from}\text{ } \it{insects}\text{ } \it{and}\text{ } \it{arachnids} & \text{Abjuration} \\\hline \it{protection}\text{ } \it{from}\text{ } \it{slime} & \text{Abjuration} \\\hline \it{sword} & \text{Evocation} \\\hline \it{trusted}\text{ } \it{bloodhound} & \text{Conjuration} \\\hline \end{array}

This gives us the following distribution:

\begin{array}{c|c} \text{School} & \text{Count} \\\hline \text{Conjuration/Summoning} & 8 \\\hline \text{Abjuration} & 7 \\\hline \text{Alteration} & 4 \\\hline \text{Evocation} & 3 \\\hline \text{Enchantment} & 0.5 \\\hline \text{Necromancy} & 0.5 \\\hline \text{Divination} & 0 \\\hline \text{Illusion} & 0 \end{array}

As you can see, among the spells Mordenkainen invented, he definitely showed favor towards conjuration, but I'd say more so abjuration. I say this because many of the conjuration spells are abjuration-like in function, and the most powerful spell Mordenkainen invented, Mordenkainen's disjunction, is an abjuration spell.

Conclusion

Overall, it is clear that, over the years, Mordenkainen has primarily focused on the Schools of Transmutation and Abjuration when it comes to spells prepared and invented. I would wager that these two schools are the ones Mordenkainen is most familiar with and has the deepest aptitude for.

All that being said, because Mordenkainen has been such a wide-ranging spellcaster in the past, it is unclear whether this favoritism is actually a demonstration of higher skill, or just a manifestation of spells he prefers. After all, someone as wizened as he (having known just about every spell a wizard can), isn't really lacking in any school.

Another thing of note is that Mordenkainen seems to disfavor necromancy and illusion magic across just about all of his appearances. This doesn't necessarily mean he is unskilled with this type of magic (as we know he has many spells of this ilk in his repertoire even if unprepared). I just found it interesting to see.

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All of them: Mordenkainen was and remains a Magic User

The use of schools of magic as a categorization or limitation for spell casters has an uneven history in D&D – Mordenkainen predates all of them. He was created as a 1st level Magic User in 1973 – before the game was first published. (Rob Kuntz, DM).

He was thus created well before AD&D 1e formally included schools of magic in spell descriptions, and also before the Illusionist sub class of wizard (as Paladin was a sub class of Fighting Man) was published in the Strategic Review number 4. His rise to power (eventually becoming a Wizard) was as a Magic User who survived long enough to become a Wizard – 11th level magic user – and then a Wizard of higher level than that. (OD&D original terms used here).

This question is more or less a non sequitur.

The analysis done on how much or how many of his spells affiliate him with one school or another is interesting (tip of the cap to @DavidCoffron) but mostly irrelevant – he became a Wizard (11th level or higher Magic User) long before the "specialization" fad began in AD&D 2e. (It has since shown up in the WoTC editions).

Wizards (more accurately Magic Users) are and were hungry for learning, and adding to their books, any and all spells. That's as old a piece of the Magic-User (now Wizard) class as a generalist as there is in the game.

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As far as I know, he is not related to any specific school as deep as to say he had any focus on one or the other (thus the title archmage, implying that he is proficent at every school in some way)

Mordenkainen was created and played by Gary Gigax, one of the original creators of Dungeons & Dragons as you can see in Wikipedia, so considering him one of the most prominent author of spells might not be too far fetched. In his entry in the Forgotten Realms wiki you can see a full list of spells with his name, which contains both original and empowered versions of other spells.

On other note, there aren't lots of characters with their own manual, and I've found this post with a full collection of mordenkainen refferences across the 5 editions of DnD, which roughly tells you that he treated magic as a whole and was awesome at every hocus pocus he would like.

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