The Septarch’s Tower, Part 3

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Floor U4 (Air Dorms)

Entry

The fourth floor is another visibility risk. Thick panes of glass or crystal seem to be worked haphazardly into windows on the tower. The panes are very thick and cloudy, making it hard to see anything outside. At night, light inside is visible from outside. The mage lights start to come up in arbitrarily arranged points, in all seven colors such that the total lighting of the room is even and white, but objects cast strange rainbow shadows. It’s not incredibly bright, but probably visible outside.

The floor wraps clockwise around some kind of central area. The shapes are seemingly random, tables that once were piled with scrolls are pushed into the corners with no obvious reason for their orientation, and even a quick glance around the corner is enough to spot a couple of small beds in a bigger nook. There are stains on the tables as if scrolls sat there for ages and then were removed; nothing obviously useful is apparent to a quick glance. It is hardly damp at all up here, so the scrolls might have survived… if they can find where the order mages carted them off to. The walls are painted in flowing, abstract rainbow colors, mostly in curls and more-or-less horizontal lines that look like currents of air.

When people do the rainbow dance from below, climbing the stairs, the tones of their passing are louder up here, though not blastingly loud. Likely, the denizens would get pretty good warning of people approaching this floor from the lower one.

Ducking back down the stairs cuts the lights, and spellcasters wielding a key can try different words for “darkness” in Magespeech, using a sufficiently commanding tone, to get them to turn off.

Inside

The floor continues in a clockwise spiral with furniture in a largely unfathomable arrangement. Though the feather stuffing of the mattresses has long decayed into dust with the periodic preserved stems, the fabrics still retain some shape and color (though one probably wouldn’t want to sleep in them) and the frames are in remarkably good shape. Similarly, all the tables are mostly intact. A good blow could probably shatter the ancient wood, but at least it’s not already rotted into powder. There might be treasure to be found by digging through the furniture (which would probably take about half an hour of careful searching or 15 minutes if the party doesn’t care about destroying these artifacts of an ancient time), but nothing is immediately obvious.

By the inner ring, it’s safe to light candles without fear of the light being visible. The murals of wind continue on the wall’s side that faces outward, but the wall’s side that faces the center of the tower are more pictographic. Done in an archaic style (think Egyptian tomb paintings or Bayeux Tapestry; no perspective), it seems to be pictures of mages performing some kind of ritual, possibly in the light of the oddly shaped windows on the outer wall of this floor.

In the center, a large ritual circle is carved into the floor, with two smaller circles to the north and east. To magic detection, they are inactive, but still potent permanent summoning circles. The easternmost table on the inner ring contains a few hastily hand-bound folios seemingly comprised of pieces of salvaged scrolls, and a note on top in Salome’s handwriting (this one not water damaged to any meaningful extent).

One folio contains a primer that explains the murals on the wall (how to attune to Air), while one contains what seems to be treatises that could be used to learn some air-related spells and rituals (up to 3rd level). Both will take some time to decipher, since they’re in a combination of Ancient Imperial and Magespeech, and would be somewhat alien to modern understanding of magic.

Air Dorms Note

The scrolls here were much better-preserved, but more obviously simply missing. It is likely they were the easiest to flee with. I believe the top floor was what was referred to as the Sky Road. They would use the massive circle to call up air elementals and bind them to service. With the help of the elemental and crude gliding apparati detailed in some of the scrolls, they could safely leap from the bays in the tower and travel great distances by air. I do not believe this was true flight, particularly for the more portly of magi, but they could likely travel miles for every foot they fell, and do so at great speed. A very effective way to get around indeed. This is likely how most of the remaining magi fled.

As with the fire dorms, there were ample primers to assemble a completed copy of instructions of the introductory binding technique to air. Their operative understanding of air was its elasticity, and the cantrip seems to impart a way to draw in the nearby air (possibly depriving those that need it for their breath) and then release it in an explosion of wind. Not as exciting as summoning up fire, but possibly more versatile for everyday uses.

Unlike the fire mages, there seem to be no hidden or locked areas, beyond the annoying puzzle to get to this level. I believe I’ll check below next.

Salome

Of all the cantrips, this one sounds the most useful. I believe I will learn it, and ideally pass it on to others in the Order. It could be incredibly useful for certain problems of mechanical optimization.

As with the previous floor, I will store the more advanced texts in the library room I have cleared below. I don’t know what Salome was thinking, simply leaving such things lying around.

Hieronymus

Air Bonding Cantrip (Int)

Air is elastic and compressible. This cantrip allows the caster to attract nearby air and compress it into a small orb, then release it slowly or explosively. This can starve air from a sealed room, save air for a trip underwater, knock back a target, or propel a projectile.

The caster can only maintain a single orb of air at a time, and doing so makes it impossible to cast new cantrips, spells, or rituals, or maintain any existing effects that require major concentration. The normal application saves enough air to empty a cube five feet on a side, provide eight hours of breathing, force a target to save or be knocked down or back, or provide standard damage to a projectile. The cantrip can be cast and thrown at a target as a single action, but all other actions require the cantrip to be cast on one round and then used for other purposes on the next (e.g., one round to cast and load a firearm, then the next to fire it).

By taking a penalty to the casting roll, the caster may compress more air. For each -3 penalty, the caster empties an additional five-foot cube, which provides an extra eight hours of breath, or +1d6 damage (either from a projectile or if the target of a knockback impacts a wall).

(This cantrip is my answer to not wanting to allow gunpowder in my game, but to allow those that want guns to have a magic-powered equivalent.)

Search

A thorough search of the beds and tables turns up:

  • 39 cp, 173 sp, and 2 gp all of ancient minting, heavily tarnished, mostly crammed into corners under mattresses, but some fallen behind tables
  • A few objects of art carved of stone, mostly white stone and in shapes like birds and butterflies (possibly up to 200 sp for the lot if one could convince a collector of the provenance)
  • A thin, rune-carved stick of approximately a forearm-length in a delicate and slightly spiraling white wood that senses of magic (hidden deep in a mattress that had been cut open to hide it)
  • A castable scroll that had fallen behind a table where the order mages missed it, which seems to be a scroll of the Summoning ritual

Floor U5 (Air Summoning)

Entry

The top floor is completely open, with just corner pillars to hold up the roof. At nighttime, the party might have to shout down the mage lights again, because there aren’t really even walls: there’s a faint distortion in the air that seems to be the tower’s defensive field (and which had let neither bugs nor climbers in for a thousand years), but air flows freely and one can easily see city below.

A massive summoning circle is set into the middle of the floor, and ancient empty tables are haphazardly spread out and empty, save for scraps of leather, softwood, and fabric that might have once been gliders. The mage lights, if not shut off, are on the ceiling, mimicking stars.

This ritual circle makes it very easy to call up air elementals. The walls are permeable walls of force, which permit air to flow both ways and allow people to leave and attack from inside, but block travel from outside.

There is no roof access, though an enterprising climber or flyer could leave and climb to its flat top. There is nothing of note up there (save perhaps some nesting birds), and leaving makes it impossible to get back in without going back down to the bottom of the tower (hopefully there are still friends inside who can lower a rope).

Floor B1 (Cafeteria)

Entry

The first basement is even more humid than the entry floor. It appears to be the dining hall and kitchens. Everything organic and steel has turned to damp dust, and the party can make out the shadows of once-giant tables in the detritus on the floor. It may not have been large enough for everyone from the tower to eat here at once, but certainly in shifts. Side rooms were likely staff dining or meeting rooms, or maybe they had preferred seating for top students? The southeast room has some plumbing and holes in the floor, so may have been a large bathroom (which is convenient to meals but maybe not the most convenient for students on other floors).

Of the large kitchen, all that remains is a stone hearth and island with inset basins for cleaning, as well as shattered shards of pottery plates, mugs, and bowls in the dust off what must have once been cabinets. Searching through the remains, the party can find 75 sp worth of miscellaneous silverware, bent and tarnished. They don’t add up to sets and there’s not a lot of them, so likely someone looted the silver already (either during the flight, or one of the order mages) and this is all that went undiscovered.

In the Northeast dining room, someone managed to assemble a table from scraps and close the doors against the damp. A few decade+ old bags contain food that has long deteriorated and camping supplies that aren’t particular upgrades to the party’s own (and are also beginning to succumb to the damp). This seems to be where one of the order mages set up a command center. A couple of letters in a pack look to have been unsealed, read, and then refolded sufficiently to survive without significant water damage.

(Zacharias is the name of the former court mage of the PCs’ local Baron, who trained one of the wizard PCs and went missing recently. Lazarus and Judith were not previously known to the party, and are a quest hook. These letters likely need to be heavily edited to fit the context/hooks of any given campaign.)

Letters

Salome,

I appreciate the research you sent along regarding the water magics you’ve uncovered in the tower. It does sound like their conception of the uses of water are much closer to what we’d consider the more active uses of abjuration magic. It’s interesting that they saw it as a cleansing, scouring force rather than a source of sustenance. Perhaps they assigned the source of healing and life to the earth, which would track given their rather nonchalant use of necromancy: if you’re used to covering people with earth to heal them, it’s probably less inherently offputting to summon the dead forth from their graves.

Unfortunately, even though I’m now safely ensconced in nearby Heimbach, I do not believe that I can spare the time to help you research physically at the tower. I see a lot of potential in the baron’s second son, and hope to confirm that he has the gift and ease him into training early. As you well know, the children of the nobility can be difficult students if taken after they have a sense of their own importance. In fact, the town itself seems to be a confluence almost as interesting as the tower. We have fae foundlings taken in by the locals, motherless babes delivered to town by close-lipped warriors from the north, a golden-haired child that seems destined for greatness, twin scamps fostered from a storied line of nobles, and whatever secretive plans the old witch in the town has cooked up. I suspect in a decade or two, you may start hearing interesting things from this town.

Feel free to continue to send me correspondence as needed, and you’re, of course, welcome to stop by Heimbach if you’d like in-person counsel. If you have a current address for Lazarus, he could likely assist with the earth magics. I believe Judith retains her long practice of wintering in Grebenau, and her divinations would likely be of great use to you. The next time Magdalena passes through for a… visit… I’ll see if she has any insights. You would also do well to correspond with Hieronymus. He can receive mail via the Zedlitz, from whom he rents a tower. His research into transmutation may be relevant to correspondences between elements, and he’s a shrewd organizer of research.

Yours,

Zacharias

Salome,

Regardless of the fact that you have not yet encountered anything more than passive security in the tower, I must caution you in the strongest of terms not to enter the earth mages’ basement without significant assistance. From what you sent me, their conception of earth is not just a healing, nourishing force, but one of containment. I suspect it’s very likely that if there are any active threats remaining in that building, they will be locked away beneath the earth.

Not once in our association have you ever listened to my advice, but please listen now. I have set up a place in Overath, and am even now assembling a party to investigate the cursed city to the north. Come. Lend your evocations to our mission, and I will then lend you my own expertise and the might of my allies to investigate the tower.

With hopes,

Lazarus

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The Septarch’s Tower, Part 2

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Floor U2 (Fire Dorms)

Second FloorEntry

The second floor is pitch black, with no mage lights turning on on entry save for very dim crystals around the walls, enough to see where to walk. This may be a safety precaution to prevent giving away one’s position from outside, as each wall section has four arrow loops to the outside, likely for defense of the tower. The loops seem to admit air but they haven’t been an entry for bugs. Those that detect magic can see the protective magic surrounding the tower also shielding the windows, which may account for that.

The rooms appear to be contained within a C walkway around the shell of the tower. There are six doors, three of which feature a keyhole (The door to the blue summoning circle and the doors to the eastmost room).

If there was any adornment of the walls accessible from here, it was all in paint rather than relief, and has long since faded to nothing. It is noticeably less humid here.

A party can split up to body-block the four loops closest to whatever they’re looking at and still use a candlelight, but they will need improvised curtains for all 28 loops. If the loops are not blocked, any light sources on this level at night will be visible lighting up the tower to those outside.

Each of the door plates is engraved with a five-by-five grid of the letters of Magespeech (i.e., whatever language your game uses for magic; mine uses a Greek alphabet but Latin-sounding words). The three doors without keyholes look like they once had some of the letters indicated in chalk, but Salome or Hieronymus’ writing has worn away in the damp over the years. Likewise, there’s some mild discoloration in the indicated letters such that they might have been frequently touched by the original inhabitants. There’s enough overlap in the remnants that a quick search can make the party pretty sure the same letters were marked on each door, but it’s possible some of the markings have faded completely (and it’s not certain what the circles were meant to indicate).

Door Plates

This puzzle is to press the letters of the password all at one time. Pressing single letters (once or trying to spell out a password) does nothing. Pressing the wrong combination heats up the plate enough to deal 1 fire damage to the person touching.

A        B        C        D        E

F        G        H         I        K

L        M       N        O        P

Q        R       S         T        U

X        Y        Z         |         –

The commonly-used password for the dorms is IGNIS (which Salome worked out and tried to mark). The other passwords on this and the next floor may have to be brute-forced by the players, unless you want to include clues in the students’ notes. Suggested passwords for other doors are:

  • incendium
  • incensio
  • incensor
  • ardor
  • flamma
  • flammula
  • flagrantia
  • inflammatio
  • lux
  • lumen
  • iubar

IGNIS

The door leads to a carefully regimented dorm room, that all three of the unkeyed doors seemed to enter from different directions. If the party pulls the door closed behind them, the mage lights come on inside (staying dark outside). The lights are in a regular grid about head height around the walls of the room.

This room looks very regimented, with the remains of the student beds each lofted above a chair and table for study beneath (and high enough up that they’re shaded from the mage lights for easier sleeping). Only a few of them have crashed down from their lofts over time: the closed exterior doors seem to have cut down on the humidity significantly, so the beds and furniture are in reasonable condition for furniture that’s been in a dry environment for centuries. These beds seem to have been stuffed with a fairly course padding that’s decayed mostly to powder.

Emptied scrollshelves line the walls, and above them the murals in here demonstrate students doing rituals around glowing orange-yellow orbs (the flame orbs upstairs). Two additional closed and key-locked doors (with uncircled rune panels) are across from each other to the north of the room (making a total of five doors in this floor that are locked in a different style than the one opened). Owing to the density of furniture in this room, it likely takes a full party up to an hour to ransack this room for treasure.

Flame Dorms Note

On the bookshelf next to the west door, a stack of folios and a note from Salome sit (they are pages Salome assembled into some semblance of order from what hadn’t decayed on the level). The folios include a primer on how to attune to fire, and some lower-level fire-based spells and rituals (see the suggested spell list, later, using the level 1-3 ones). They must be deciphered from the Ancient Imperial and Magespeech.

This tower was sadly not archived properly. It’s hard for me to tell which scrolls were taken as the wolf mages abandoned the tower, and which simply decayed into nothing. I have not yet found any logs of the final days here, and I am merely assuming that the tower was abandoned with some haste but never actually conquered. Perhaps the mages were given an ultimatum to leave quickly, or perhaps they simply evacuated as the city was falling rather than trying to weather a siege. From what I have seen of the kitchens, they likely relied on the city for supply, so could not have been trapped long, even with their power. It is likely there were few of them left here, anyway: while there are many beds, I cannot imagine that dozens of magi would have been left in school as the war was going against the Northern Empire.

What I have found on this level, I have collected here for the Order’s later use. It is not much, and much of what remained was too ruined to read. I have tried to bind what was meaningful into codexes, and am beginning to draw some interesting conclusions.

While the Order’s classification places the arts of evocation and conjuration as neighbors, the magi of old seem to have seen no practical difference between them. Particularly as the wolves of this tower seem focused on the summoning of elementals rather than beings of the fae realms, they saw the arts as merely steps in the manipulation of greater and greater energy. In particular, the first codex I’ve assembled was made from surviving text from several identical books for the apprentices. It is likely close to a complete copy of the introductory text of the fire mages, used to explain the art on the walls. It details a method to attune oneself to fire, which they conceived of as the mechanism of causing objects to release their energy to the world.

I believe following these steps would instill one with a cantrip of Fire, which could be used as a bridge to understanding of the more complex texts in these books. However, the writings imply that elemental specialization was very important to their understanding of the praxis. Likely, attempting to attune to a second element would fail, or might even make it harder to use all attuned elements. I intend to look into the arts of the other floors before choosing a focus.

I have not yet been able to open the other doors. The others on this floor have keys, and may have different code phrases than the dorm doors, as must the doors in the floor above. It took me some burnings to puzzle out that IGNIS must be the code for this door. Mentions in what scraps I’ve found lead me to believe that the others are likely commands in Magespeech, but I do not have the fortitude to try too many at this time.

I believe that the other rooms on this floor are practice summoning chambers and possibly the Magister’s room. Those above likely lead to the fabled Flumes: legend says that this tower could blast attackers with torrents of flame from above.

Even such magics could not save them against the greater physical and mystical might of the Southern Empire, it seems.

Salome

I have taken some of the more advanced texts Salome left and stored them below for the time being. I would take them with me when I leave, but I must travel light and may find other treasures to walk away with. Besides… I am not sure Leberecht, my apprentice, is ready for the temptation they might provide him.

Hieronymus

Fire Bonding Cantrip (Int)

Fire releases Energy. This cantrip allows the caster to cause a flammable object to burst into flame.

The normal application causes heat to burst from an object that the caster touches, sufficient to instantly ignite cloth, paper, kindling, extremely dry wood, or the like. An unwilling, animate target may make a saving throw to dodge out of the way or otherwise spoil the casting. Against such a target, the effect immediately deals 1d4 fire damage, and burns for an additional 1d4 on your action every round until the target takes an action to douse the flame (or all clothing is burned away). A target can only suffer from one casting of this cantrip at a time.

By taking a penalty to the casting roll, the caster may increase the intensity and/or range of the flame. For each -1 penalty, the caster may affect a subject five feet further away, simply gesturing at the intended target. For each -2 penalty, the effect can ignite more difficult materials, and the damage increases by a dice size (to a maximum penalty of -8, which deals 1d12 and can ignite green wood).

This effect cannot be maintained to generate heat or melt a target over subsequent rounds: it simply sets a fire or does not, based on the flammability of the target, and subsequent burning is based on the available fuel.

Search

Performing a thorough tossing of the dorm, the party can find:

  • 65 cp, 28 sp, and 3 gp in ancient vintage
  • Seven small ceramic pots that are full of dust but still have a faint whiff of aloe vera
  • Three non-magical white pearls of sufficient size to use for spell components
  • A small, non-magical decorative dragon made of red gold, probably worth 50 sp just from metal value alone; it’s designed to hug onto a rod or staff
  • A steel key with a red gem embedded in the head that detects faintly of magic and looks like it would fit the locks on this floor (deeply buried in someone’s mattress)

(The other doors need the key and a different password to open.)

Teacher’s Room

This larger private room contains a bed and shelves. In addition to 400 sp worth of miscellaneous art furnishings too heavy to move (worth up to three times that to a collector of ancient Imperial art), a two-gallon covered steel pot contains a flame-retardant dust that can be applied as a body-covering to provide the wearer Fire Resistance 2 for eight hours, or used to extinguish a fire it’s thrown at (up to a 5 foot square; deals 2d6 damage to a creature made of fire). Each such use requires approximately a double-handful of dust, so there are approximately 30 uses within the pot.

Summoning Rooms

These ornate summoning circles are embedded in the floor, and provide a bonus to attempting to summon beings from the plane of Fire.

Floor U3 (Fire Orbs)

Entry

The third floor is dryer than the lower floors, and has no immediate exterior windows. The mage lights are almost blindingly bright after leaving the dimness of the previous floor. Some of the paint on the walls has survived, and they seem to be abstract murals of warm colors in shapes reminiscent of flames.

The floor at the landing of the stairs has a couple large burlap sacks of years-old straw laid out in front of them. The straw has rotted down to almost nothing, but there’s faint evidence of a human-shaped imprint in the bags, as if someone used them to sleep, feet pointing towards the upstairs. (Salome filled them with straw and was using them as cushions to land on while trying to figure out the puzzle stairs. The straw is now over a decade old and largely rotted.)

The immediate door has an identical brass plate with no obvious markings as to which letters to touch, but it has been spiked open by an iron nail that shows only faint signs of rust. The entry room and hallway both feature sagging scroll shelves that appear to have been emptied rather than just deteriorating. The wear pattern indicates that some were vacant for centuries, while others might have been emptied relatively recently.

The two doors at the end of the hall feature brass letter plates with no obvious clues, and no spikes. Perhaps the previous order mages never got them open.

The next flight of stairs has the first seven steps divided into three sections each of alternating colored stone, with the eighth step a whiter stone than the normal steps, all in one piece. (See Trick Stairs, below.)

Flame Orb Rooms

Each wall of the tower has a small room that is large enough to contain an enormous orange glass orb before an open archway. The archway is protected by a plane of force, but this does not protect against fire- or heat-based attacks. Anyone that knows the Fire Bonding Cantrip can use it to activate an orb and use it to blast a line of fire up to 300 yards away from the tower (or far enough outside the city walls to give a very bad day to a besieging army). This ray can be tuned to do 3d6 fire damage per round to a single target (Reflex save to dodge out of the way) or 1d6 fire damage per round to a 20-foot radius (Reflex half). This takes some experimentation to get right and is very visible from the ground. The orbs can also be tuned to just produce a focused beam of light that can be used to communicate visually with targets far in the distance, particularly at night.

North Rooms

These rooms were used for communication with the rest of the Empire, and contain shelves of observations and communications that have mostly faded to illegibility. Weeks of study by someone who speaks Ancient Imperial and has a good sense of geography could uncover some details about troop movements and strongholds in the ancient Northern Empire that might give clues as to ruins and battlefields to the north.

Statue Room

This statue appears to be a very tall wicker man, and the room is full of strange thorny growths. The statue is very dry and easily ignited by magical fire damage of at least 1d4, at which point it begins roaring from within with flame that deals 2 fire damage per round to everyone in the room. If not on fire, at the end of each round everyone within the room is attacked by the thorny growths: +5 to hit, 1d6 damage, and the attacks are Magical and Puncturing.

Those meant to be in here would light the statue rather than suffer the thorns.

East Rooms

These rooms seem little used, as there weren’t many threats from or allies to the east. The table contains a few old faded texts describing interesting celestial phenomena and cool sunrises.

South Passage

These rooms seem to be the focus of the defense of the kingdom, and include a mostly-preserved war room and many shelves for documentation. As with the north rooms, weeks of study with Ancient Imperial and a good map or knowledge of geography could turn up some interesting information about the final days of the war with the old Southern Empire and potential locations of battlefields and ruins.

Trick Stairs

Detecting traps reveals no explicit traps. The stairs are the same stone as the tower, but painted with some kind of pigment that’s proven much more durable than whatever was on the walls.

There is a faint musical note when someone steps on any stair segment. It sounds trumpety, and comes from above. (If any of the PCs have musical training, they can identify that colors closer to red are deeper notes and those closer to violet are higher, essentially playing a musical scale from red to violet.) The sound doesn’t appear loud enough to be heard outside the tower, even in the dead of night.

If anyone steps on the white stair (or tries to jump over it) without hitting the notes in the correct order, a discordant note sounds accompanied by a strong (but not especially loud) rush of air, shoving them back (i.e., why Salome had the cushions; with them decayed, the falling character takes 10 feet of falling damage without some kind of check to land softly or allies checking to catch the falling PC).

To get up the stairs successfully, a climber must step on, in order, Red -> Orange -> Yellow -> Green -> Blue -> Indigo -> Violet -> White (this requires some backtracking). The rest of the stairs up don’t play notes.