Planescape in 5e: Resonance Keywords


This is an alternate way to capture the idea of magic items changing from plane to plane without simply tracing a path to the home plane and reducing the item’s bonus. I always liked the idea of magic items varying away from home, but the implementation was a lot of math for no real benefit to the player.

Each plane (or distinct realm within a plane) has a collection of up to half a dozen keywords. Magic items created in that location tend to acquire the same set of keywords. Additionally, spells have at least one keyword that is salient to the spell’s effect. Some special abilities may have similar resonance to equivalent spells.

Magic items may have special powers that are only active when in a plane/realm with matching keywords, or may just be more generally effective when more of the keywords match. This might be a specific ability mapped to a given keyword, or may be that certain powers are only active when specific keywords are active.

Spells are generally treated as being cast at +1 slot level if they have at least one matching keyword with the local plane/realm (e.g., fireball is always cast as at least a 4th level spell in a Hot realm).

Some spells or other magical effects may temporarily apply a keyword to a local area (e.g., the darkness spell might create the Dark keyword within its area).


In addition to the keywords below, each plane is its own keyword name.


  • Bright (Radiant, Light, Sun)
  • Cold (Cold, Ice, slowing effects, winter)
  • Corrosive (Acid, disintegration)
  • Cutting (Slashing, effects that cause DoT)
  • Dark (Necrotic, Darkness, Night)
  • Energetic (Lightning, energy buffs)
  • Hot (Fire, heating effects, summer)
  • Invisible (Force, Invisibility)
  • Mental (Psychic, Mind-Affecting, Telepathic)
  • Penetrating (Piercing, effects that bypass defenses)
  • Smashing (Bludgeoning, effects that destroy objects)
  • Sonic (Thunder, sound illusions, silence)
  • Toxic (Poison, physical debuffs)


  • Bestial (Animal effects)
  • Colorful (Color effects, visual illusions)
  • Confining (restrictive/paralyzing effects)
  • Disjointed (teleportation effects)
  • Fluid (Water-related effects)
  • Metallic (Metal conjurations/transmutations)
  • Motive (Imbuing motion to things)
  • Mystic (meta-magical effects like anti-magic, detection, etc.)
  • Prophetic (many divinations)
  • Protective (defensive effects)
  • Restoring (Healing effects, restorations)
  • Stonelike (Stone/earth conjurations/transmutations)
  • Tempestuous (Air and storm-related effects)
  • Transforming (Physical transmutations)
  • Wooden (Wood/plant conjurations/transmutations)


  • Chaotic
  • Evil (includes Evil spells like animating dead)
  • Good
  • Lawful

Known Realms

  • Sigil: Outlands, Confining, Cutting, Dark, Disjointed, Metallic

Example Item Resonance

  • Bag of Holding: If all keywords are matched, the bag only weighs 5 pounds. Each keyword not matched increases the weight by 5 pounds (up to 35 pounds in realms that don’t match at all).
  • Folding Boat: If no keywords are matched, this item cannot change from its current configuration. If two or more keywords are matched, it can become a small boat (or return to its collapsed configuration). Only if four or more keywords are matched can it expand into its vessel configuration.
  • Goggles of Night: The goggles grant Darkvision with a range of 30 feet plus 10 feet per matched keyword (e.g., up to 90 feet when six keywords are matched).
  • Immovable Rod: The rod can hold up to 6000 pounds of weight plus 1000 per matched keyword. The Strength check to move it is DC 26, +2 for each matched keyword.
  • Potion of Climbing (and others with a normal 1 hour duration): The potion lasts for 30 minutes, plus 10 minutes for each matched keyword.
  • Potion of Healing (and improved versions): The flat add of basic points of healing is equal to the number of keywords matched (e.g., heals 2d4+3 with three matched). This is multiplied for the improved potions (x2 for greater, x4 for superior, x10 for supreme).
  • Ring of Swimming: You have a swimming speed equal to 30 feet plus 5 feet per matched keyword (e.g., 60 feet with six matched keywords).
  • Weapon +1: This item retains its +1 bonus no matter how many keywords are matched. However, any special abilities may come and go based on the resonance.

Magic Costs and Exclusivity

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It’s probably just being deep in Harry Potter fanfic for a while, but the other day I had a moment where I yearned for a magic setting/system where magic was truly mysterious, even to the mages. Where magic is not just technology only usable to a select few, who learn the tried-and-true spells for doing most things and refer to them like any tradesman’s jargon. And I think that comes down to a few points:

  • Mages should be able to fairly easily craft their own repertoire of spells. The complexity of spell creation should make a particular spell better for one person than for another.
  • They should want to keep these spells secret from most other mages, either because spells tend to come with easy defenses you could use if you knew the details and/or because the very dissemination of the knowledge weakens the spell.
  • There should be a common framework around learning and creating magic, so you have something to teach at magic schools/apprenticeships, but that should plug into the spell creation system rather than being spells themselves.

I think in the grand scheme of things, for an RPG system, this involves a lot of charts with suggested multipliers and combos, and where powergamers will just be able to go nuts making their perfect overpowered spell. The defense to this getting completely out of hand is that A) the GM is free to slowly add on drawbacks and hidden costs that become apparent as the player uses the spell until it feels powerful but not game-breaking and B) the antagonists also have access to this system. Be polite to your rival mages, because they may have crazy OP spells to use against you if you piss them off. Also, there are probably several dark lords floating around happy to try to bump you off for your grimoire if you show off your brokenly powerful spells too much.

I’m not really ready to do all the math to make that system yet, but here are some charts that are hopefully useful as idea fodder to someone.

Method and Material

One step to making magic feel rare is to make components more than an afterthought. Of course magic is going to just turn into technology when you’re at most consuming a personal, renewable mana pool to make magic. Naturally, a component cost is easier to have in a narrative setting than an RPG: in a realistic simulation, tracking down a particularly hard-to-get commodity is a genuine cost, but in an RPG you often don’t want to play out days of work to interface with suppliers and make purchases. So when you’re like, “Sure, you have Resources 3, you can manage a bag of powdered silver in about a week, moving on…” it ceases to be a real limit. Any system that uses components and wants them to matter has to then have mechanics to make getting them more than an abstracted resources check. Which is why most games don’t bother.

But, I think there’s some there there. In particular, I like the idea that components aren’t just evaporated into magic when you cast a spell. In addition to the material itself, there’s a method of disposal. Do you need to carve the component? Burn it? Dissolve it in the sea? If it’s a tough component, like metal, you may need to have another spell just to make a fire hot enough to burn it or an acid that can dissolve it. The most powerful spells are rituals, and the process of disposing of the components is, itself, very interesting narrative flavor.

In general, harder combos should generate more powerful spells. If you component is “burn old newspaper” or “pour seawater on the ground” those are really easy to do and don’t generate much power for magic. When you’re talking about “burn a handwritten book over a century old” or “spread the powdered rust of a murder weapon that dissolved completely in seawater” then you’re starting to cook with gas. For full on rituals, you can obviously stack the components and tell a whole story about the magic you’re making.

You can also add the idea of non-consumed components by also requiring materials to be used as tools. “Carve runes into your flesh,” is metal, but not that limiting. “Carve runes into your flesh with a knife,” at least requires a particular tool that you will scramble to replace in a pinch. “Carve runes into your flesh with a silver dagger that was used to execute a murderer,” now means you have a particular, vital tool that your opponents can recognize and take from you.


  • Cut/Break/Smash (works for components that are whole items, where they can’t easily be reconstituted)
  • Burn/Evanesce (works for items that are so easy to reconstitute that you really want to render them to constituent molecules to be sure they’re gone)
  • Render/Melt (make a solid thing a liquid, particularly powerful if it doesn’t just go back when it cools; this is also a great way to chain component, using the liquid for the next step)
  • Dissolve into Liquid (like burning or rendering, but the idea being that the atoms of the material become thoroughly mixed with a greater volume of liquid)
  • Donate/Gift (this doesn’t work if you can easily get it back, but there’s a lot of power in relinquishing your ownership of something important to another person/institution)
  • Lose/Dispose (sometimes it’s enough to throw the thing away where you’ll never find it again, or pour it out when it’s not something you can just pick back up)
  • Corrupt/Ruin (particularly for dark magic, it may be enough to take something pristine and make it so gross there’s no way to restore it to its untarnished form)


While there’s obviously a nigh-infinite number of nouns that can be used as component materials, I’ve tried to group them because I think this is one of the major places you can put something on a character sheet as a skill. Skilled Blood mages learn how to do less damage to themselves while fueling a spell. Talented Metal mages can pick particularly resonant materials rather than going for bulk. Essentially, there’s a skill for each category that lowers your materials cost per spell, and/or allows you to sub in easier-to-acquire materials.

  • Blood (or any vital fluid, rarity based on particular qualities and/or amount of damage dealt)
  • Craft (any constructed good where the rarity is not the materials itself so much as the difficulty of creating the thing sacrificed)
  • Fire (any evanescent/energy phenomena, so also electricity, cold, sound, etc.; this is more often a tool than the thing consumed)
  • Flesh (any non-blood animal resource, from carving wounds into your own skin or just using rare leather)
  • Metal (any mineral, with rarer ones having more value, and also value in how hard it is to dispose of)
  • Thought (actually losing memories from your head, to making oaths or revealing secrets, to sacrificing written knowledge)
  • Water (any non-blood liquid; this is as often the tool for disposal as the component sacrificed)
  • Wood (any plant matter, with actual rare and hard woods having value in how limited they are and how hard they are to destroy)


One way to make spells secretive is to literally base part of their power on how many people know them. Suddenly notice a drop in power from one of your favorite spells? Maybe someone’s managed to get a look at your grimoire. Exclusivity refers to how many sapient individuals currently know the spell. If your mentor dies leaving you the only one with the spell, that increases the exclusivity… unless he’s hanging on as a wraith that may still be able to cast magic and/or impart the knowledge of the spell to others. More reason to make sure mages don’t hang on as the undead.

Level 0 exclusivity is when the spell gets so widely disseminated that it can be found in new age bookstores or the internet, easily available even to non-mages.

  1. Any mage can easily find it (it is often taught as an example of the form to students)
  2. Perhaps a third of mages may access the spell (it’s still something of a secret, kept for a few groups or older students)
  3. A secretive guild of perhaps 100 mages, 3 smaller groups of less than a dozen each
  4. An entire order of a few dozen mages, 7 rivals, or 3 unrelated mages
  5. An extended family, a coven of up to 7, 3 rivals, or 2 unrelated mages
  6. An immediate family, a coven of up to 3, or 2 rivals
  7. Only one mage knows it


Do you need a time chart? Everyone needs a time chart. This can be used for both casting time and durations. All times should assume a ~ in front of them, because there’s a lot of fudge in a doubling system. It’s not that it took exactly 2 seconds, it’s that it was slower than instant but faster than a whole action.

Past around a minute on the time chart, the spell becomes a ritual, and possession of the Ritual skill allows the caster to move steps down the time chart by doing it faster.

As another thought I want to investigate at some point, I think the current vogue of 6-second rounds may be way too short. LARPing, I’ve noticed that there’s a lot more jockeying for position in any kind of large fight than RPGs can model these days. Actually swinging doesn’t take long, but that’s usually after several seconds of trying to outflank your opponent: most people don’t seem to just want to run in and trade blows to see in a few seconds who is best and fastest, they want to hit people from the sides while they’re distracted and it seems likely they’ll be able to hit without getting hit back. And that takes time. Anyway, this chart does assume the standard 6-second rounds, but I think that longer rounds might be due a comeback.

  1. Instant (Free Action)
  2. 2 seconds (Swift/Bonus Action)
  3. 4 seconds (Standard Action)
  4. 8 seconds (Full Round Action)
  5. 15 seconds (Two Rounds)
  6. 30 seconds (Multiple Rounds)
  7. 1 minute
  8. 2 minutes
  9. 4 minutes
  10. 8 minutes
  11. 15 minutes
  12. 30 minutes
  13. 1 hour
  14. 2 hours
  15. 4 hours
  16. 8 hours
  17. 12 hours
  18. 1 day
  19. 2 days
  20. 4 days
  21. 1 week
  22. 2 weeks
  23. 1 month
  24. 1 season
  25. 1/2 a year
  26. 1 year
  27. 2 years
  28. 4 years
  29. 7 years
  30. 12 years
  31. 25 years
  32. 1/2 century
  33. 1 century
  34. 2 centuries
  35. 5 centuries
  36. 1 millennium
  37. an aeon
  38. forever

Dresden’s Hogwarts: Politics

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(Another bit of worldbuilding to go with last week. If I’ve done the math right on my blog vs. story scheduling, everyone’s finally at Hogwarts and starting school after an eventful summer. What a great time for you to start reading.)

Imagine that soccer is the best-kept secret in the world. Some children display an inexplicable facility kicking balls, and then, by their 11th birthday, they’re tracked down and informed by FIFA that they are soccer players. They can either train in the sport, or forget that it even exists. FIFA runs elite training schools for those truly serious about it, but it’s also possible to go to smaller camps, or simply apprentice to an adult soccer player. When you become an adult yourself, you may do whatever you want with your life, but, when you’re playing soccer, you’re beholden to FIFA’s rules. Rules made by administrators in the organization, who almost entirely came from the elite schools. Most soccer players have day jobs, and use their athletic prowess to give them a bit of a leg up in life. The truly professional players and administrators exist in their own high-stakes world.

Okay, sue me, it’s a tortured metaphor because the world only has one thing that’s like magic, and that’s magic.

The best estimates I can find suggest there are 60 thousand magically talented folks in Britain, or around one for every 1,000 muggles. This isn’t a hard rule or anything, just the current demographics. Before modern medicine, the ratio was probably significantly higher for wizards, who’ve long had the magical health care necessary to live well into their second century. It probably also helps to be able to use magic to get access to food and shelter and to avoid having to die in international wars. Though wizards often had violent, secret wars of their own.

Hogwarts takes 40 students a year. Fewer than one in ten British wizards attended the school. But if you look at Ministry bureaucrats, aurors, healers at St. Mungos, and the wealthiest individuals, it seems like everyone you meet has been there. And that’s after you realize the muggleborns that make up a small but meaningful fraction of Hogwarts students aren’t represented. What I’m saying is that the core of British wizarding society is an old-wizard’s club far worse than even America’s obsession with an ivy-league education. Virtually every position of power is held in the vice grip of a conspiracy of purebloods who went to Hogwarts.

What about the other fifty-something-thousand magical individuals in the country? If you work in a big enough muggle company, you probably have at least one in your office. Does it seem like Renaissance festival folks take it way too seriously? They’re over-represented there. Carnies, artists, musicians, psychics, and other jobs where you can get away with being eccentric also feature far more magicals than one in a thousand.

Most of them aren’t very well-trained. For the vast majority, the Ministry’s satisfied if you can do enough basic spells to convince them you’re not going to do accidental magic in an emotional moment, and that you understand the world of consequences they’ll bring down on you if you break the Statute of Secrecy.

But keep in mind that well-trained is relative. Hogwarts teaches students to levitate things, start fires, make precise cuts and repairs, unlock doors, and transfigure inanimate objects in their first year. Even figuring out a handful of minor spells is a huge advantage in the muggle world. The honest go into crafting or service professions where they can do way more work than a muggle can (because muggle tools have to follow the laws of physics). The dishonest can easily become master criminals. And the Ministry doesn’t pay too much attention to crime against muggles if it wasn’t obviously caused by magic.

Ironically, the wizards that are struggling the most financially are often the purebloods raised so completely in the Hogwarts pipeline that they can’t figure out how to make a go of it in the muggle world, but who are also near the bottom of the hierarchy when it comes to cushy Ministry jobs. I love the Weasleys to death, but they baffle me.

The other irony of wizarding life is, the more powerful your magic, the harder it is to truly fit into the muggle world. Magic violates all the laws of science, and that also means that strongly magical objects, areas, and individuals cause problems with technology. Physics and chemistry develop inconsistencies in a strong magical field.

At Hogwarts and other sites of power, this field is so strong that even synthetic materials break down. Part of the reason they’ve stuck with quills is that plastic pens slowly melt into goo (though that’s no excuse to not at least use fountain pens). The process is slow enough that the muggle kids outgrowing their tennis shoes and elastic underwear probably don’t notice that much how they start to sag, but don’t bring your beloved polyester-blend t-shirts and expect them to be more than rags in a year or two.

I’ve also heard that, near the strongest fields, items that rely on precision machining start to have problems. Magic makes materials flex very slightly on a molecular level, and the more precise your machine, even if it doesn’t use electricity, the more likely it is to have problems. For example, modern guns don’t work consistently at Hogwarts, because the barrels and mechanisms are so precise, any flex at all can cause them to jam. Wizards, who still exist in a primarily hand-made materials economy, never even notice.

Electricity is a bigger problem. Changes to chemistry are slow, but changes to physics are fast. Casting a spell causes havoc in nearby sensitive electronics, and powerful enough wizards can interfere with delicate electronics simply by standing near them. Most of my pop culture knowledge of films comes from sitting safely in a theater where the projection equipment is far away, because I’ve killed every TV I’ve ever tried to watch for longer than an hour or two. That’s another reason for magicals to go into non-office jobs, particularly as they become more reliant on technology: even a weak wizard will quickly kill any computer by sitting at a desk right in front of it for eight hours a day.

What you’re left with is a three-layered society.

In the center is a strange core of pureblood-centric elites who almost entirely eschew muggle society for various reasons, not least of which is that their eccentricities and effect on technology make them inherently dangerous to the Statue of Secrecy. They “govern” the other layers insofar as they have a chokehold on power and are generally better educated in magic, so can win in a conflict even against superior numbers.

The next layer are strong but were either not trained to the same level or were, but were muggleborns who couldn’t fit into the core society. They are smeared in a gradient between non-elite jobs in wizarding society and jobs in muggle society where one can avoid technology and get away with being unusual.

Finally, the weakest and worst-trained almost entirely live in the muggle world, indistinguishable from muggles with an obscure hobby or religion. With even a few magical talents, they tend to be successful beyond what their station in life would otherwise suggest, and mostly just ignore the magical government until they can’t avoid it.

Honestly, when there’s not a dark wizard throwing around spells that only the best-trained have any hope of protecting themselves against, the current standard of living in muggle society means that the people that purebloods most look down on probably have it way better than those with superior magic.

Dresden’s Hogwarts: Magic


Part of the reason for my months-long hiatus from blogging was that I finally read enough Harry Potter fanfic that I went from “I could do this” to “I have to do this.” If you’d like to see more of my writing, on a more regular basis, the first book of a Dresden Files/Harry Potter crossover is now getting posted twice a week on Dresden winds up going to Hogwarts after his mentor’s death, instead of a farm in the Ozarks. Shenanigans ensue.

The interesting thing about crossover fanfic is using one work’s worldbuilding to shore up the other’s, and this is potentially useful for designing games as well. My goal for the series was to make as much of the magic style from Dresden Files be true as possible without explicitly contradicting the worldbuilding in Harry Potter. Since the worldbuilding in Harry Potter is diaphanous enough to ride an elephant through in a lot of places, this had the interesting result of shoring up the whole into what feels to me like a much more reasonable structure. So this could probably be a good way to round out a setting you’re running a game in, if the supporting fiction is too thin: find a somewhat compatible property and use it for inspiration to round out your world.

Interestingly, in creating a hybrid magic system, I also came across a potential way to wrap my head around how the traditions work together with incompatible paradigms in Mage: the Ascension.

Without further ado…

This is the summary of how magic works as Justin taught it to me and I explained it to the kids who came to my enchanting tutorials. Hogwarts doesn’t explain most of this unless you take arithmancy, and even then, some of the theory is lost in the practice.

Magic is, quite simply, imposing your wishes on reality. Those with access to the gift can want something impossible to happen badly enough that it happens. When a wizard is young, this “accidental magic” is the only way he knows to enact his gift. When a wizard is old and powerful, he can, likewise, merely think magic into being. In the middle, wizards are taught complicated practices to organize this into spells that they’ll eventually try to abandon. The difference between the untrained child and the ancient master is control over these wishes. Accidental magic doesn’t do exactly what you expect to happen when you want it, but a master can create magic, when needed, every single time.

The first question you need to ask to understand how the process of magical training works is: why are most spells in Latin?

The reason is because it keeps the magic separated from your speech. If magic spells were in English (or whatever modern language you speak), you’d risk accidentally casting them in normal conversation. The pathways of your brain that control the instinct to create the magic get trained by the wording of the spell. Hogwarts professors probably don’t work hard enough to get kids out of the habit of referring to spells by their incantation rather than their English name. One day, some kid is going to talk about the fire-making charm as “incendio” and accidentally set a friend of fire.

As I understand it, every culture with magic similarly uses a language that’s not frequently used for conversation as their language of incantations. The Romans used ancient Greek, Aramaic, or Etruscan. Non-Western wizards use outdated forms of their own local languages.

Of course, you can’t just say the Latin word for something and consider that a spell. The use of a meaningful word in Latin is useful, but that’s because even if you don’t really speak it, it does have a meaning that you can latch onto. “Incendio” is a word that more or less means “I set on fire.” You could probably make the magic work with a different series of sounds, but it would be harder to remember.

The most important thing is that “incendio” is four syllables, and arithmantically adds up to a 5-4-4-6 structure (i is the 9th letter plus n is the 14th, which adds up to 23 which combines down to 5). There’s no way I could effectively summarize the exact practicals of how that number adding works or why 5-4-4-6 is a similar numerical array to related spells. You’re either just going to have to take my word for it or commit to five years of arithmancy class. Essentially, any word that was close enough to a 5-4-4-6 cadence could be used as the incantation for the fire-making spell. Why are some incantations really bad Latin? Because the more correct Latin didn’t fit the arithmancy.

There’s a ton of math in figuring out an incantation, and that’s just half of a spell. The other half comes in using your focus.

At the simplest level, the foci that I use for my magic (staff, blasting rod, etc.) are limited to particular types of spell. Spells that create or change motion are fundamentally similar in their arithmancy, so I was able to fit a bunch of them into my staff, and I have to differentiate between them by the different incantations. Also, turning the staff into different types of gestures improves the spell (but I can get a weaker version by just holding it and yelling). I’ve embedded a spell matrix into the staff, which is a three-dimensional (some say a four-dimensional) shape that also defines its parameters. The arithmancy of the incantation hooks into the arithmancy of the matrix to basically create a momentary bubble of possibility for the wizard’s thoughts to fill with the magic.

It’s all extremely technical, which is why any Hogwarts student that skips arithmancy and ancient runes has pretty much no idea how it works. They’re training engineers, not scientists. Most wizards never need to know how their tools work.

A wand is the most complicated piece of technology that wizards have come up with. If my staff is an abacus, a wand is a mainframe computer. Both can help you add numbers, but the computer can do so much more but is so much harder to understand. In a tiny, concealable form factor, wandmakers create a focus that can allow you to perform any spell, theoretically up to the maximum possible power possible.

The first drawback is the finesse issue. For whatever reason, I and a lot of other wizards have a really hard time using wands. It’s some combination of conceptual and down to sheer manual dexterity (I have really long arms and that messes up the precise spell gestures). There are probably a ton of great wizards who leave wand-focused schools thinking they’re bad at it, because they just can’t figure out the only technology those schools teach.

The second drawback is compatibility. While every focus has some degree of resonance with the aura of its user, wands are 100% locked into it. I picked the materials for my staff because they worked for me, but it’s still extremely effective in any wizard’s hands. A wand that’s a poor match, however, may barely work at all.

It comes down to the secret technology of how they fit all those spell matrices into one focus. My suspicion is that the wand bonds to the wizard to basically turn his whole body into a completion of the matrix. A poorly-matched wand means all your matrices are malformed before you even start casting.

The third drawback is the gestures. Most of the matrix for a spell is in my staff so I can get away with just pointing. But a wand has to fit every possible spell in, which means it can only carry the most common arithmantic elements of all spells, and algorithms for transforming wand motion into the rest of the spell matrix. Why do you have to swish-and-flick to levitate something with a wand when I just have to gesture with my staff? That precise motion is finishing the matrix for the spell, which I’ve already fully encoded into my staff. Wand users have to get very good at training their muscle memory.

Ultimately, advanced users tend to start getting into magic without words or foci. Without the words, you have to create the spell in your head without the mnemonic aid triggering your brain. Without the focus, you have to fully visualize the matrix. Without either, you’re basically relying on your imagination to fully generate an extremely complex mental construct with no aids other than your own brainpower. You quickly find that using words and tools to train your unconscious mind to do the heavy lifting makes a big difference.

And, when it comes down to it, all of this is training your brain. Arithmantic correspondences and spell matrixes aren’t real. Non-Western traditions use completely different methods of structuring their magic. Western wizards use the structures they do because they’ve been codified and imbued with meaning, so it’s something your brain can latch onto. I’ve heard some people suggest that part of it is also a “universal unconscious” thing: if enough people with the power to make their wishes reality think that the letter A is equal to 1, then that becomes true. I’ll leave that up to the Department of Mysteries to weigh in on. All I know is that every bit of it is a mental construct.

You are a wizard. Your thoughts and desires can make impossible things happen. Every bit of magical praxis you’ve been taught is simply about making it easier to do what you want and harder to have accidents. It all comes down to: if you wish hard enough, you can change the world. Magic is just a set of tools to help you make the best wishes you can.

Beyond the Wall, Converted Elemental Spells

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Back in my Separch’s Tower series, I included elemental-themed spellbooks, and found out that the existing spells and rituals in Beyond the Wall didn’t have enough appropriate magic to cover an equivalent range of options for each of the four elemental schools, so I grabbed some placeholders from the 5e spell list. Last night, my players actually started learning those spells, so I had to finally convert them to Beyond the Wall‘s style. It’s interesting to convert the standard D&D magic mindset (everything is leveled and usually pretty instantaneous to cast) to the BtW mindset (quick-cast magics aren’t leveled, while leveled magics take hours to cast so need to make sense in that context).


Acid Arrow

Range: Near
Duration: 1 round/level
Save: Yes

The caster produces a bolt of glowing green acid and flings it at a target, who must attempt a saving throw to dodge the caustic missile. If the save is failed, the target takes 2d4 acid damage, plus an additional 2d4 damage at the end of each of its turns while the duration lasts.

Misty Step

Range: Near
Duration: Instant
Save: No

With but a word, the mage teleports to a location she can see within range, leaving behind a burst of silvery mist in the location she vacated. This spell may be cast on a turn in which the mage has takes another action (except casting another spell).

Scorching Ray

Range: Near
Duration: Instant
Save: No

The mage creates a ray of flames that streaks between her outstretched hand and a target within range, against whom the caster must make a ranged attack (which ignores physical armor). If the attack hits, the ray deals 2d6 fire damage to the target. The caster produces one additional ray per 3 levels, and may direct these additional rays at the same or different targets (each ray is its own attack roll).


Range: Near
Duration: Instant
Save: Yes

The caster causes an intense and painful ringing noise to erupt from a point she designates, causing damage to targets within 10 feet of the point (and making noise that can be heard for quite some distance further). All creatures and inflexible objects close enough to take damage must make a saving throw to steel themselves against the sound, and creatures and items made from brittle materials automatically fail the save. The spell deals 2d4 sonic damage, increasing by a die size for each additional level of the caster up to 2d12 for level 5 casters, and then adding +2 damage for each additional level of the caster past 5th. Targets that successfully save take half damage.


Level 1

Produce Flame (Wisdom)

Range: Self
Duration: 1 hour/level
Save: No

This ritual allows the caster to summon a palm full of elemental flame. It casts light as a torch, and can ignite touched objects like a torch when the caster desires (but does not otherwise harm touched or held items). While the ritual persists, the caster may make unarmed attacks that do an additional 1d4 fire damage, or make a ranged attack up to Near range that does 1d4 fire damage (and does not add or subtract damage from Strength). The flame is not consumed by making such a ranged attack.

A mage wanting to cast this ritual must begin with a handful of ashes made from exotic wood that was burned by a fire elemental (which may be found for an average of 10 silver pieces from a merchant).

Level 2

Hellish Rebuke (Intelligence)

Range: Self
Duration: 1 day/level (Instant after trigger)
Save: Yes

Inscribing her flesh with runes of retribution and fire, a mage uses this ritual to prepare punishment for any that assault her. Upon taking damage from an attack made by a target within Near range that the mage can see, she may instantly speak a command to end the ritual and rebuke the attacker, the runes upon her skin immediately burning away. The attacker must make a saving throw to dodge the burst of flames at his location, or suffer 2d10 fire damage.

The runes scribed during this ritual require the blood (or equivalent essence) of a creature that is immune to fire (which may be found for an average of 50 silver pieces from a merchant). The caster may only have one instance of this ritual active at any given time.

Level 3

Purify Food and Drink

(So, of course BtW HAS this and just totally renamed it so I wouldn’t notice it. Replace this in the Water book with the Feast’s Blessing level 2 ritual and the Nepenthean Drink level 3 ritual.)

Wind Wall (Intelligence)

Range: Near
Duration: 1 day/level (Concentration after trigger)
Save: Yes

The mage walks a straight line, chanting and casting ritual materials upon the ground, preparing the site for defense. Once the ritual is complete, the caster has prepared a line (both ends of which must be within Near range of one another) to rise up upon her command. Upon uttering this command from within Near range of the line, a furious torrent of wind spews vertically from the ground along the length of the line and up to sixty feet in the air, for as long as the caster maintains concentration.

Anyone caught in the line or attempting to cross it must make a saving throw to fling themselves through without being caught in the wind. Those that fail are flung high into the air, likely taking damage from falling back on the side from which they started (medium-sized creatures are flung around 30 feet into the air, and comparatively lighter or heavier creatures may be flung more or less distance).

Flying creatures of smaller than medium-sized and projectiles lighter than from a siege engine are automatically deflected harmlessly when attempting to pass through the wall, and gasses or gaseous creatures cannot pass through. Boulders and similar siege projectiles may pass through, but are likely to have reduced accuracy.

The ritual materials include various easily-found objects ground into powder, but they must be mixed with the physical remains of creatures or items strongly tied to elemental air (which may be found for an average of 100 sp from a merchant).

Level 4

Enhance Ability

(I forgot that BtW still had the individual ability-boosters as rituals, which 5e had combined into Enhance Ability. Replace this in the Earth book with the Heart of the Ox level 4 ritual.)

Flaming Sphere (Wisdom)

Range: Near
Duration: 1 hour/level
Save: Yes

Through long casting and chants, the mage uses this ritual to create a small but stable hole deep into a realm of elemental fire, resulting in a self-renewing bonfire as heat and flame erupt forth in all directions. As part of her own movement, the caster may mentally direct this hole (and thus the flaming sphere) to move at up to walking pace, but the ritual ends if the mage exceeds Near range to the effect, and it must remain within five feet of the ground (and ends instantly if directed to try to cross water that it cannot boil away).

The sphere easily ignites touched or nearby flammable objects as if a five-foot diameter bonfire had rolled over them, and is otherwise treated as a hot bonfire (e.g., for cooking). If the fire is directed onto a target, that individual may make a saving throw to dodge out of the way and takes 2d6 fire damage on a failure. Any creature that ends a turn touching the flame similarly takes 2d6 fire damage.

This ritual is surprisingly easy to cast, requiring only a ritual space and a very hot bonfire made of normal materials to “prime” the connection to the plane of fire.

Water Breathing (Wisdom)

Range: Touch
Duration: 1 hour/level
Save: No

Blessing each of her companions in turn, the mage imbues them with the ability to breathe water as easily as air. The caster may affect all of her companions, including herself, that she can touch upon completing the ritual (up to a dozen individuals). Each affected character may breathe water for the duration of the ritual.

In the casting of the ritual, the mage must sacrifice a healthy wild animal for each target to be affected by drowning it in the body of water that is to be breathed.

Level 5

Heat Metal (Intelligence)

Range: Touch
Duration: Instant
Save: No

Upon completing this ritual, the mage touches an object made of metal. This object and any attached metal objects (up to a ton of contiguous metal) instantly heats to the temperature needed to forge steel (over 2000 degrees Fahrenheit). Most metals bend easily at this temperature, though it may not be safe to get close to a sufficiently large volume of metal (such as a gate or door).

Any creature in contact or extremely close proximity with the metal takes fire damage at the end of each of its turns based on the degree of exposure (1d6 for a single hand, arm, or leg, up to 4d6 if encased in heated plate armor). There is no saving throw to avoid the damage, though it may require an attack roll to touch a mobile target (in addition to the target waiting for the casting of the ritual), and depending on the type of exposure the target may be allowed an ability check to escape the metal quickly. Constructs made of metal may not take damage from the effect, depending on their normal reaction to fire, but will certainly lose all armor class gained from rigid skin until they cool off.

This ritual requires the caster to undergo an ordeal of burning for the duration of the casting, taking 1d6 fire damage per hour of the casting.

The Septarch’s Tower, Part 5

1 Comment

Floor B4


A fantastic battle ranged throughout this level. Charred and smashed bodies lie in the main hallway and throughout the rooms. Most of them show some strange accumulation of earth: crystal growths, stone nodules, and the like. All the beds and tables have been smashed throughout. Pictograph carvings lined with crystal in the walls give instructions for bonding to earth at one of the summoning circles.

The door to the southeast bedroom has been magically sealed. Only an order key will open it. Within is Hieronymus’ library collection from the rest of the tower.

Earth Dorms Note

Well f*** me with a Hedge thorn! They just kept coming but I think I got them all. I think the earth mages never fled, but somehow bonded themselves to the earth to stay behind as guardians. They… weren’t rational about it. I’m not sure they could even still speak. This is insane. I’m moving on.


You didn’t get all of them. I got the rest. They were like zombies that used earth magic. I found and destroyed the ritual that did this to them. It was supposed to grant them agelessness and imperviousness to harm, perhaps as one last risky attempt to win the war. It worked, to a point, but I suspect they didn’t expect it to destroy their intellect. I can’t abide the idea of anyone else doing this to themselves or someone else. I’ve put the rest of the secrets of this tower in the southeast. Use your key.


Earth Bonding Cantrip (Wis)

Earth supports and nourishes. This cantrip allows the caster to fortify loose earth, hardening it or increasing its nourishing capabilities to life.

The hardening application causes a cube of earth up to five feet on a side to calcify, gaining the strength of sandstone. This can be used to slowly mold loose earth or sand into a freestanding sculpture, make mud easy to walk upon, hold back floodwater, or shore up a tunnel or sapping. The caster may take a -3 penalty for each additional cube to be affected per round. The effect lasts until the affected earth takes a meaningful impact, change in pressure, or change in humidity (i.e., it can last indefinitely if nothing would upset the chemicals bonds created in the soil).

The nourishing application draws lifegiving nutrients to the top of soil. This application is maintained, and can be sustained even while sleeping (but precludes other magic that requires concentration). A single living individual heals at double the normal rate while sleeping partially buried in this soil (and this can also repair damage to plants). The caster may take a -3 penalty for each additional target to affect.

Library Room

This contains the compiled higher level spells that Hieronymus took from Salome’s folios. The lower-level spells may still be available in the upper levels.

Air Spells and Rituals

Feather Fall, Whispering Wind; Misty Step*

  1. Unseen Servant
  2. Call Storm, Summoning
  3. Wind Wall*
  4. Invisibility
  5. Storm’s Wrath
  6. Wizard’s Flight

Fire Spells and Rituals

Burning Hands, Flame Charm; Scorching Ray*

  1. Produce Flame*
  2. Hellish Rebuke*, Summoning
  3. Continual Light
  4. Flaming Sphere*
  5. Heat Metal*
  6. Fireball

Earth Spells and Rituals

Pass without Trace, Petrifying Gaze; Shatter*

  1. Goodberry
  2. Endure the Elements, Summoning
  3. Skin of the Treant
  4. Enhance Ability*
  5. Ritual of Healing
  6. Shape of Stone

Water Spells and Rituals

Abjuration, Obscurement; Acid Arrow*

  1. Gather Mists
  2. Cleansing Ritual, Summoning
  3. Purify Food and Drink*
  4. Water Breathing*
  5. Dispel Magic
  6. Full Restoration

* Not a normal part of Beyond the Wall (converted from 5e version)

Floor B5


The deepest floor of the tower is heavily warded and organically carved from earth and stone. Unless otherwise noted, all walls, ceilings, and floors are smooth granite traced with endless glyphs of quartz that glimmer enough to produce low light throughout each room of the complex. The ceiling of each room is at least 20 feet high, leaving room to maneuver for even the tallest of prisoners.

The sphinx, Taheret, is responsible for guarding this floor. However, based upon her contract, she’s pretty sure that simply destroying most or all of the inhabitants is enough for her to get out of her contract. While she’s not allowed to attack them herself unless they try to escape, she is simply tasked with keeping them from escaping and doesn’t have to prevent invaders from killing them or stealing. She knows what’s in every room, and might help by giving answers and bargaining for additional assistance. However, she can’t help but talk in riddles, because she’s very, very bored.


  1. Entryway: Taheret the Sphinx
  2. Brass Golem
  3. Hellhound x5
  4. Salome’s body and possessions
  5. Room is covered in polished mirrors to disorient the Aatheriexa
  6. Aatheriexa
  7. Room is heavily warded against abominations
  8. Room is covered in strange glyphs that make this a dead magic area
  9. Hellhound x6
  10. Belker x3
  11. Mihstu
  12. The room has powerful winds set up to blow into the northwest corner. Non-flying creatures must succeed at a Strength (Athletics) check each round at +5 to avoid being moved into the corner; flying creatures must make the check at -5. At the end of the round, any creature within 10 feet of the northwest corner takes 1d6 cold damage.
  13. Animated Armor x8
  14. Magically-powered Forge (Lair Treasure 1)
  15. Troll anteroom: Proto-Troll outcast (who will nonetheless fall back quickly upon being hurt)
  16. Troll bathroom (very gross)
  17. Troll Living Room: Proto-Troll x4
  18. Troll Sleeping Room: Proto-Troll x3 (will reinforce 17 after 2d4 rounds)
  19. Troll Kitchen: Troll Cow
  20. Room is heavily warded against abominations
  21. Dead beholder (killed by Salome years ago)
  22. Byakhee
  23. Ancient storage room (everything here is long-ruined or taken by Salome)
  24. Locked door (Succeed on 2 out of 3 lockpicking at -10): Lair Treasure 2
  25. Sand Golem
  26. Magically Shaking Room: Reflex save each round in room or take 1d4 bludgeoning damage by slamming into pillars in the room
  27. Crysmal x10
  28. Efreeti (trapped in heavily-glyphed room with one wish left to grant before being freed)


Salome’s Body (4)

Mummified in the dry air, Salome was clearly a dark-haired woman of early middle age, slight, agile build, and nondescript appearance. She carries:

  • Another teleport key
  • 66 cp
  • 120 sp
  • 6 gp
  • 150 sp of ritual components
  • Infiltrator’s Athame: Functional (easily hidden in knife form, useful as a ritual tool), Life-Drinking; Contingent Situational (Deals damage): Increases to Longsword until Life-Drinking triggers; Contingent Code (Sworn to Service of the Order): Magic, Spell Storing
  • Bracelet of Biting (3 charges)
  • Gloves of Thievery (2 charges)
  • Amulet of Deception (3 charges)
  • Spellbook (Order):
    • Spells: Burning Hands, False Friend, Flame Charm, Feather Fall, Healing Touch, Magic Missile, Masked Image, Misty Step*, Mystical Shield, Obscurement, Pass without Trace, Spider Climb, Whispering Wind
    • Rituals: (1) Arcane Experiment, Circle of Protection, Mage Armor, Steed of the Sorcerer, Wizard’s Mark; (2) Endure the Elements, Summoning; (3) Continual Light, Friends; (4) Alter Self, Invisibility; (5) Arcane Sight, Dispel Magic, Heat Metal*, True Identification; (6) Fireball; (7) Wall of Flame; (8) Storm of Ice

Forge: Lair Treasure 1 (14)

This forge produces a never-ending flame whose heat can be adjusted by dials on the wall. A complete set of anvils, quenching pots, and forging tools are neatly arranged. The valuable ingots are hidden deep in a cabinet where they were missed by mages clearing the tower (or too heavy to fly away with)

  • 2 ingots of Adamantine
  • 4 ingots of Mithril
  • 10 ingots of silver (50 sp value each)
  • 40 ingots of steel (8 sp value each)
  • Masterwork Longsword x5
  • Masterwork Spear x10
  • Reinforced Shield with Volkov heraldry x20
  • 3,000 sp of miscellaneous plates that could be assembled into a suit of plate armor (or used to repair other armor)

Lair Treasure 2 (24)

This room was used to hide any treasures that couldn’t be taken away. It contains miscellaneous ancient art furnishings (too bulky to move easily) worth 2,000 sp for pure material value, and potentially worth up to three times that to collectors of ancient Imperial art.

Troll Cow (19)

A cow bound to an earth spirit in the same way as the proto-trolls, this poor beast has suffered for over a thousand years as the trolls used it as their primary source of food: ripping off hunks of beef and letting the cow regenerate. The cow wears a Nosering of Sustenance (4 charges) which is sufficient for the cow to be fed and continue serving as a food source for others, and seems to have been designed for this purpose. It’s unclear what kind of effect eating the cow’s meat would have on humans. The cow is long-adjusted to its lot in life, and quite docile. It suffers the same difficulties moving through dead magic and sunlight as the trolls (it has 20 HP).


(Additional stats for Beyond the Wall. Most of these are based on creatures from Pathfinder.)


Summoned from a foreign star, this immortal tangle of thin, tentacle-like eyestalks travels by floating in the air, but must remain within a few feet of a solid surface or water. It is slightly larger than a man, and it can reform its mass to attack or manipulate items. Though indefinitely cruel, its intelligence is inscrutable to humans; it cannot be commanded nor does it try to communicate.

Hit Dice:    10d4 (25 HP)                            AC:    12    XP:    2,350

Attack:        +10 to hit, 3d4 damage (tentacle)

Notes:        Grab (a target hit by an aatheriexa’s tentacle attack must make a Reflex save or be grabbed and pinned; if pinned, the target must use its action to make a Strength check to escape on its next turn; on the aatheriexa’s next turn, it can engulf the target, dealing damage automatically while still being able to attack another target), Withering Aura (any living creatures within 15 feet of an aatheriexa must make a Fortitude save each round; failure deals 1d4 damage), Gaze of Many Eyes (any creature that looks at an aatheriexa must succeed at a Will save to be able to attack it; critical failure on this save results in the attack instead being directed at an ally)

Animated Armor

Formed of cast-off plates of armor in various ancient styles, these creatures are created from fallen warriors. Not exactly a ghost, the spirit that animates it is much closer to an elemental of the astral plane: the idea of armored combat itself. They proved difficult to command on the battlefield in the best of times, and especially hard to keep idle while waiting for battle. When used, they were typically stored apart from others and deployed as close to the enemy line as possible.

Hit Dice:    3d10 (16 HP)                            AC:    18    XP:    150

Attack:        +5 to hit, 1d10+2 damage (greatsword)

Notes:        Armor (animated armor can absorb armor from fallen other animated armors by passing over them, healing 1d10 hp; defeated animated armors count as suits of double-broken plate armor)


Hybrid elementals of air and fire, the process that created these creatures accidentally tapped the demonic realms: in addition to looking very demonic, the creatures proved malicious and impossible to trust to not attack their own allies. They appear as man-sized demonic figures made of smoke and shadow. Defeated belkers congeal into fist-sized smoky gems useful in rituals related to air and fire, and worth 50 sp each.

Hit Dice:    5d8 (22 HP)                            AC:    14    XP:    150

Attack:        +5 to hit, 1d8 damage (claws)

Notes:        Smoke Form (belkers can enter smoke form at will at the beginning of their turns; they become incorporeal so they can only be affected by magic and iron weapons, but cannot make physical attacks), Smoke Claws (while in physical form, a belker can make two claw attacks and a bite attack; while in smoke form, it can attack by engulfing a character and that character must succeed at a Fortitude save or take 2d8 damage from internal attacks)

Brass Golem

Forged of brass and nearly twenty feet tall, this warrior sculpture has been bound with a fire elemental and ancient arts of golem making to be a powerful protector. Due to the fire of their construction, the scroll that animates a brass golem will often become singed through use, causing the creature’s behavior to become erratic an no longer useful in war. When defeated, much of the brass can be salvaged, producing at least 1000 pounds of scrap brass (easily worth 3 sp per pound).

Hit Dice:    8d6 (30 HP)                            AC:    15    XP:    1,300

Attack:        +11 to hit, 2d6 damage (falchion)

Notes:        Regeneration (golems regenerate 3 hp per round, even after being reduced to 0 or fewer HP, unless their animating scroll is removed; for brass golems, this regeneration is paused for a round after taking cold damage), Cinder Breath (brass golems fill the area around them with smoke and cinders from their breath, causing everyone within 15 feet or an entire enclosed room, to make a Fortitude save each round on their turn or take 1d6 fire damage), Brass Body (brass golems are healed by fire damage and immune to electricity)


Evil spacefaring creatures from a distant star, these man-shaped insectoid creatures are so wrong that most thinking people have trouble looking at one directly or comprehending what they are seeing (making them very difficult to hit). While seldom summoned directly, they may simply appear, inscrutibly, on worlds that have contacted foreign stars. Immortal and ineffable, they are content to wait for the stars to be right.

Hit Dice:    5d4 (12 HP)                            AC:    17    XP:    550

Attack:        +5 to hit, 1d8 damage (claw)

Notes:        Shriek (As its action, a byakhee can shriek to take 1d4 damage and then summon 2d4 additional byakhee that each have only 1 HP; these duplicates cannot themselves summon others unless they are healed enough to survive the self-damage)


Small, scorpion-shaped arrangements of crystal, these earth elementals aggressively seek out gems to form into new crysmals. Annoyingly aggressive, the ancients kept them essentially as truffle pigs for valuable stones. They can normally burrow easily through earth and stone, but cannot easily penetrate metal. Immortal, they do not need to eat, and will wait endlessly for an opportunity to continue their burrowing.

Hit Dice:    2d8 (16 HP)                            AC:    15    XP:    95

Attack:        +2 to hit, 1d8 damage (tail spike)

Notes:        Brittle (crysmals take double damage from bludgeoning and sonic attacks), Tail Spike (crysmals can launch their tails as a ranged attack that does 2d8 damage if it hits, but they subsequently only do 1d6 damage on regular attacks)


Complete jerks from the plane of Fire, Efreeti can grant wishes, delight in perverting the wish as much as possible. If thwarted, they are quick to attack, but also willing to accept surrender and continue negotiations. There is no greater threat than a twelve-foot tall genie on its last wish.

Hit Dice:    10d8 (45 HP)                            AC:    16    XP:    625

Attack:        +10 to hit, 3d8 damage

Notes:        Creature of Fire (efreeti are immune to fire, can create fire at will as an action (dealing 1d8 damage to everyone in the area), and can create illusions at will), Spellcaster (efreeti may cast spells (up to 10 per day) and ritual magic)


Perhaps the most tameable of demons, these big fiery dogs are sometimes kept for their uses in detecting spirits. Immortal and cruel like their progenitors, they can be an unfortunate surprise in ancient buildings in which they were previously penned.

Hit Dice:    2d8 (9 HP)                            AC:    14    XP:    70

Attack:        +2 to hit, 1d8 damage (bite)

Notes:        Demonic Sight (hellhounds may see spirits and invisible things), Immune to Fire (hellhounds may not be harmed by fire of any kind), Demonic Skin (hellhounds ignore the first five points of damage from sources that are not magic or cold iron)


Bizarre air elementals, mihstu appear as clouds of mist that, upon closer inspection, is made up of razor-sharp shards of glass. Not filling much more space than a human, they can contort into many different shapes, easily escaping non-warded confinement. When they can be commanded, they make excellent strikers, as they can fly to wherever they want in a battlefield, with little worry about ranged attacks. Their targets are only fortunate that they do not have ranged attacks of their own. When killed, the dust wrapped up in a mihstu falls into a powder useful in rituals and worth 100 sp.

Hit Dice:    6d8 (27 HP)                            AC:    14    XP:    425

Attack:        +6 to hit, 1d8 damage (tentacles)

Notes:        Swift (a mihstu can make four tentacle attacks, but cannot attack the same opponent with more than two), Draining Pin (if a mihstu hits the same opponent with two tentacle attacks, that target is pinned; the mihstu can automatically hit that target with one or both attacks on subsequent rounds; the target may use her action to try a Strength check to escape), Wind Defense (a mihstu is immune to physical ranged attacks), Incorporeal (a mihstu has no physical form and is only affected by magic and iron weapons), Susceptible to Cold (a mihstu loses its next turn upon taking magical cold damage)


Formed by binding an earth elemental to a volunteering warrior, the hybrid creature so created was not what anyone expected. Mutated and distended by the process, they proved to be ageless and immortal as long as they remained fed. However, they also proved irrational, vicious, and no longer capable of voluntarily following the orders of their previous commanders. Even more of a problem, the binding left them strangely vulnerable to disruption: fire, acid, lack of magic, and even sunlight could upset their regenerative abilities and cause them to calcify. The most docile of them were bred, eventually losing some of their greater weaknesses and making the modern troll, but pockets of the proto-trolls still live as long as they have access to food.

Hit Dice:    5d10 (27 HP)                            AC:    15    XP:    300

Attack:        +6 to hit, 1d10 damage (bite), 1d6 (claws)

Notes:        Regeneration (trolls regenerate 3 hit points per round unless they have been wounded with fire, and may even come back from death in this manner), Swift (trolls may attack once with their bite and twice with their claws), Unstable Magic (proto-trolls have their regeneration reversed while exposed to sunlight or non-magical areas, taking 3 damage per round and turning to stone upon reaching 0 HP)

Sand Golem

Originally a stone or clay golem that was repaired too many times, this golem has reached a failure state where it is simply a vaguely man-shaped, ten-foot-tall pile of sand held together only by magic. This has some interesting effects on its fighting ability, as it is already shattered and can simply grab onto melee weapons. Unfortunately, it also loses a lot of its programming, and most of these eventually become as much a danger to their creators as to their intended targets. When defeated, the golem collapses into around 2,000 pounds of magically-infused sand, which might go for as much as 1 sp per pound to the right mage.

Hit Dice:    7d6 (30 HP)                            AC:    11    XP:    300

Attack:        +9 to hit, 2d6 damage (slam)

Notes:        Regeneration (golems regenerate 3 hp per round, even after being reduced to 0 or fewer HP, unless their animating scroll is removed; for sand golems, this regeneration is paused for a round after taking electric damage), Clutching Sands (hits against a sand golem with a melee weapon require the attacker to make a Reflex save or be disarmed, or pinned until succeeding at a Strength check for unarmed attackers), Sand Body (sand golems take double damage from water-based attacks, and are slowed to a crawl for one round by electricity or fire attacks)


Denizens of a distant faerie dimension, sphinxes are often summoned to the earth for use as immortal guardians. While they enjoy eating, they do not need to do so to maintain their lives as long as they continue to fulfill their contracted role. Their intellect is capacious, they can easily learn any language, and they often entertain themselves through the long interludes in their guardianships by planning riddles for the next people they meet. While their catlike natures make them seem somewhat cruel, they are able to be negotiated with, particularly by adventurers that might be able to end their contract and free them.

Hit Dice:    8d8 (36 HP)                            AC:    15    XP:    1100

Attack:        +8 to hit, 1d8 damage (claws)

Notes:        Swift (a sphinx may make two claw attacks, and follows up with a rake for an additional automatic 1d8 damage if it hits the same target with both), Spellcaster (a sphinx may cast spells (up to 8 per day) and ritual magic)

The Septarch’s Tower, Part 4

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Floor B2

(This and subsequent floors are getting wider, as they spread to fill the hill. All external walls are slightly sloped so they narrow inwards toward the ceiling.)


This floor is even more humid, and has a damp chill as the party descends deeper into the earth. The mage lights are simple, regular affairs set at head height along the walls every few feet. Each of the doors on the floor is held open with a stone or metal spike wedged into the bottom of the door, and the ones further back into the area are blasted open, with scars of the magical blasts still upon them. (Salome got impatient with solving whatever water puzzle was on these doors, particularly since each and every room is empty.)

Each wall is almost as smooth as glass, and the floors not much more textured such that walking is slightly dangerous (it’s unclear whether this was from a thousand years of erosion, or an intentional polish). Any art on the walls has long since eroded to nothing. Explorers do not get the sense that there was much furniture here to begin with, and any there was has long melted into a faint organic film in the corners of the rooms. Perhaps the only other thing of interest is the room with two doors immediately east of the stairs: some ancient mechanism still causes cold water to shower from several holes in the ceiling (and into drains in the floor). It’s easy to come to the conclusion that these were a spartan people, concerned with cleanliness and purification. Various toiletries, some monogrammed with an S are piled up in the southwest corner and suffering over a decade of water damage (Salome set up here for her own hygiene).

An odd sense of being watched dogs the party as they inspect the floor for several minutes, and anyone staying near the stairs notices a haze of water slowly accumulating into what seems like a cloud, and then like a humanoid form. By the time they’re done looking around and probably forming up in case of a threat, the still foggy being speaks in a wet voice, asking in Ancient Imperial:

“Are you students of water, or interlopers like the last invader? Please, demonstrate the magics of water so that I know you are friend, not foe.”

(The bound mist elemental is looking for a demonstration of what they’d consider water magic: either explicit manipulation of water or cold, or magic that purifies and cleans. Without any surviving materials, he is the primary way of accessing the wisdom of the water mages, specifically how to attune to water. Salome blasted him as a threat before having a conversation. He’s not very intelligent, more of a simple artificial intelligence than a thinking being, and upon convincing him that at least one of the PCs is a disciple of water:)

It has been some time since a new class of students entered these halls, and I’m afraid the accommodations are more sparse than usual. You may take your pick of the smaller, central rooms, as they are all unclaimed at present. You should check on the other floors to see if there is any bedding in the stores. Once you are settled in, I can guide you through the rites of binding to water.

With that, he steps back, taking up a position immediately east of the stairs up, out of the way of traffic. He seems perfectly relaxed to stand like a statue forever.

The elemental servant can walk them through water bonding. Any other information he can provide is up to the GM’s discretion.

Water Bonding Cantrip (Wis)

Water dissolves and cleanses. This cantrip allows the caster to cleanse a surface as if by clean water.

The normal application causes a touched surface of up to approximately a square five feet on a side (or the skin of a grown human) to be cleansed as if run under swiftly flowing clean water. The cantrip can be sustained (doing so makes it impossible to cast new cantrips, spells, or rituals, or maintain any existing effects that require major concentration), and every round the apparent time submerged is equal to a minute. This process quickly cleans wounds and grime away from a surface, and eventually begins to break down a surface that’s vulnerable to exposure.

By taking a penalty to the casting roll, the caster may increase the effective “speed” of the flow. With a -3 penalty, even round is an hour, with -6, each is a day, and with -9, each is a year: at the maximum power, iron can be ruined in minutes and hard stone scoured away in hours. The caster may intuitively shape the affected area to deliberately sculpt it through erosion.

Floor B3

Well, this is certainly the source of all the humidity. (In the Fallcrest map, the tower sits upon a high hill, the base of which is next to a river passing north of the hill. This level is, thus, intended to be basically level with the water table. Adjust as needed if yours isn’t set on a big hill.)

The third basement is far down enough that it’s probably level with the lower city that surrounds the hill, and thus the small lake inside is probably an offshoot of the nearby river. Rivulets of water stream down the back wall, glistening in the mage lights arranged around the walls in flowing geometric patterns, and likely running from the drains in the showers above. The lake itself has mage lights along the bottom, and is crystal clear (and about ten feet deep). Some fish swim in the water, but there are also other strange ripples and those with supernatural senses detect a presence in the water (it’s a water elemental, if they’ve encountered similar before). Something is keeping the lake clean and preventing bugs from entering the tower from here. They can see a tunnel set into the northern wall, with a gridded gate set into it, that might be another way to access the tower if they wanted to swim underwater for a decent distance (and brave the possible elemental guardian).

A large summoning circle is set in an island. It’s unlikely that the mages jumped a dozen feet to get there and unclear what the elemental would do if someone jumped over there. (The elemental will attempt to defend the large summoning platform from interlopers unattuned to water, but will not deliberately molest travelers that don’t touch or cross the water. If someone is attuned to water, the elemental braces their feet to allow them to walk across the pool to the summoning circle, and won’t interfere with attempts to use the escape grate.)

The walls to the south are set with mosaics that haven’t deteriorated significantly, showing individuals in various poses that look like they’re dancing?

The one door out of the room to the south opens easily, and mostly seems to be designed to cut some of the moisture. Inside, the walls are made of silver-backed glass, and may be the best mirror any of the PCs have seen (depending on campaign technology level), creating a seemingly infinite space (lit by magelights on the ceiling). Various blue gems are mounted at seemingly random places around the room (in the mirrors) at anywhere from waist to shoulder height. The door to the southwest is locked with no obvious method to open it.

Any monks or other martial artists in the party can recognize the dance on the wall and the position of the gems as a martial kata. They are capable of learning and performing it, different parts of the kata taking hands and feet past specific gems in the room, triggered in sequence as a combination lock for the inner door. Less martial but more intellectual characters can probably eventually figure it out, and open it like a traditional combination lock without actually doing a kata.

The Trials

The rooms of this level are an ongoing purification ritual, becoming progressively harder and netting greater rewards. After steps 4 and 6 there are water orbs to touch to end the ritual and take the bonuses already accumulated. The rites must be started again to proceed further after using one of these orbs (the orb returns the user to the main room). The final room is an orb that triggers completion of the ritual.

Touching a water orb after doing some basic rites is also key to attuning to water, so anyone that wants this attunement must make it through at least the first four rooms of this challenge.

Room 1: Clementia et Humanitas

This room contains several of the greatest enemies of those in the room, bound, gagged, and kneeling. The targets are helpless, and damage dealt to them is taken by the attacker after a two round delay. You can simply proceed through the next door at any time.

Passing this challenge purifies any mental effects upon triggering a water orb.

Room 2: Comitas et Gravitas

This room contains a mask of comedy and a mask of tragedy at the end of the room. Those in the room experience a series of emotions (sadness, joy, anger, hilarity, shame, pride) and one mask lights up (the emotion is always wrong for the mask). The challenge is to put on the proper face for the lit mask, rather than what is being felt. Characters with an acting or deception skill can make a Charisma check with that skill to demonstrate the correct face, and any character can make a Will save to resist the false emotion and put on the correct face. Every failure deals the character’s level/hit dice in damage. Once all six emotions have been passed, the supplicant can move through the next door.

Passing this challenge purifies any ability damage or level drain upon triggering a water orb.

Room 3: Salubritas et Veritas

A stern matronly face at the end of this room asks a series of questions about the speaker’s healthy practices, and everyone is compelled to answer truthfully (Will save at -10 to resist the compulsion):

  • Do you wake with the dawn each day?
  • Do you cleanse yourself in cold water each week?
  • Do you keep your hands free of your private parts except when bathing?
  • Have you lain with anyone but your current bonded lover?
  • Have you ever failed to wear veil and gloves when touching the dead?
  • Do you consume organ meats whenever they are offered?

Every answer of No causes the face to wail and blast a line of ice at the speaker that deals the target’s level/hit dice in damage (Reflex save to avoid). The door opens once all questions have been answered either way.

Passing this challenge purifies any disease or poison upon triggering a water orb.

Room 4: Dignitas et Honestas

A statue in this room stands in a classic orator’s pose, straight-backed, feet planted, and hands raised. Upon mimicking the pose, the character is subjected to a barrage of uncomfortable effects designed to make it impossible to maintain the pose. The character must make six Fortitude saves. Each failed save either restarts the challenge or forces the character to take a point of damage to a random ability score (to power through the pain). Once all challenges have been passed, the door opens.

Passing this challenge heals all hit point damage (including permanent damage) upon triggering a water orb.

Room 5: Virtus et Firmitas

The door to the water orb starts open. Characters may use it without taking this challenge.

A statue appears in this room for each individual, bent in a wrestling pose, which moves to intercept if they try to move past. Each character must succeed in two out of three Strength tests at -5 to wrestle the statue to the other end of the room and exit through the door.

Passing this challenge purifies the character of fear and doubt upon triggering a water orb: for an entire turning of the moon, the character gains +5 on Will saves.

Room 6: Constantia et Disciplina

A constant, cutting icy wind blows across this room, making crossing it an endurance challenge. (If the character is protected against cold, the wind adapts to a temperature or even energy type that no one is protected against.) Each character must succeed in two out of three Constitution tests at -5 to cross the room (and either touch the water orb or move on to the next room).

Passing this challenge purifies the character of physical weakness upon triggering a water orb: for an entire turning of the moon, the character gains +5 on Fortitude saves.

Room 7: Frugalitas et Industria

This room is full of simple puzzles games, which award tokens upon successful completion. Some cost tokens to play, risking the tokens. A sandglass begins counting down upon entering the room, providing about 20 minutes, and the door to the next room has a clear number of slots for tokens. If the glass runs out, all tokens evaporate and the glass begins the count again. Each character must succeed in two out of three Intelligence tests at -5 to work out a way to earn enough tokens to proceed. Succeeding at all three provides enough tokens to erase an ally’s failure. Upon putting tokens in the door, the character is teleported to the next room (i.e., not all have to win to proceed); the character can still go back through the door once to return to the previous water orb.

Passing this challenge purifies the character of flaws in the reflexes upon triggering a water orb: for an entire turning of the moon, the character gains +5 on Reflex saves.

Room 8: Iustitia et Prudentia

Each character in this room receives a private vision of a mystery play, each of four individuals recounting their own version of a murder that occurred as if the character is the judge. There are a surprising variety of different stories, though repeated viewings sometimes repeat actors in different roles and situations. Each character must make three Wisdom tests at -5 to eliminate a suspect: passing all three leaves only one suspect, while each failure leaves another possible murderer. The character may then pass declare a murderer to be put to death (choosing randomly if more than one suspect hasn’t been eliminated). Choosing incorrectly results in the character taking 1d10 damage per level and restarting the challenge. Passing allows the character to move though the next door (it becomes immaterial only for the character).

Passing this challenge purifies the character of ignorance upon triggering a water orb: the character can learn an additional language within a few days if study begins within the next turning of the moon.

Room 9: Pietas et Severitas

This is just a crazy room full of magical traps (choosing energy types that the targets are vulnerable to) that strike either across the midsection or in two vertical lines to narrowly miss only someone standing ramrod straight. Light-up faces on opposing walls give a clue as to whether the solution is to genuflect or stand at attention. Each character must make six Dexterity checks at -5. Each failed check results in the character taking 1d4 damage per level.

Passing this challenge purifies the character of hesitation upon triggering a water orb: the character grants a permanent +1 to initiative (that stacks with previous bonuses).

Room 10: Auctoritas

Each character in this room faces a gauntlet of elemental figures (the number of figures is equal to the character’s level/hit dice). The character must command them to move aside, making a Charisma check at -5 for each. On a success the figure stands aside. On a failure, it deals 2d6 damage and disappears. Bypassing each figure through success or failure without being defeated passes the challenge.

Passing this challenge purifies the character of self doubt upon triggering a water orb: the character gains experience as if defeating a creature with hit dice equal to the character’s level/hit dice:

  1. 15
  2. 40
  3. 75
  4. 125
  5. 200
  6. 325
  7. 475
  8. 700
  9. 1100
  10. 1300

Conversion Notes

This is intended to be both an insight into the strange values of the ancient empire, as well as a repeatable resource for the players to remove status effects. If I had the map to do over again, I’d probably arrange it in such a way that the PCs have a little more control over which challenges they do in which order, to focus on traits they’re good at.

The difficulties and damage numbers are designed for Beyond the Wall. For other systems, the idea is basically that getting past the first four rooms should be tough but reasonable for anyone, and the subsequent rooms should be almost impossible for low-level characters but still very difficult for high-level characters. Thus, most things scale based on level (and the ability checks are based on Beyond the Wall not really increasing ability scores drastically: in other systems you may need to scale these in a different way).

I had one PC make it through to the last room with only one HP remaining, after a series of extremely lucky rolls (and using up all her rerolls). She grudgingly left rather than risking getting killed in the Charisma room and cashed out her prizes, but plans to go back later. None of the other PCs even made it past the fifth room.

The Septarch’s Tower, Part 3

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Floor U4 (Air Dorms)


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.


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.


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.


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.)


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)


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)


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.)



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.




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,


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


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.


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.


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.


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)


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.

The Septarch’s Tower, Part 1

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For my Beyond the Wall game, I may have gone a little overboard in designing an encounter location. Because I produced well over 10k words, I figured I might as well serialize it here so others might find use of my over-writing. I’m including conversion suggestions for people running standard D&D or Pathfinder (as well as how to hack the story to better fit as a standalone).


This started out because I grabbed and E/W flipped the map for Fallcrest because I needed a city on a river that the players would investigate for what I thought would be a session or two and I didn’t want to put much work into the map. Turned out there was a lot gameable there, and it became 5+ sessions of content (as well as a lengthy play-by-email in the upper tower). One of the things on the map that didn’t make a lot of sense was the Septarch’s Tower. The city was standing in for a town in my campaign’s northern empire, which isn’t too fond of any magic beyond their own pseudo-clerical type. However, the location could easily be built on the ruins of the former empire that fell over 1,000 years ago, and they definitely had mages. So it made sense to set up the place as an ancient holdover that the locals didn’t like but couldn’t get rid of.

Meanwhile, I had previously repurposed Baltron’s Beacon for an adventure in a swamp. Since that adventure features a teleportation artifact, and I was looking for a way to give my player characters an equivalent of a hearthstone ability (so they could swap out PCs between sessions without going home), I’d elaborated on the backstory. The mage that previously held the tower (renamed to Balduin to fit my campaign’s naming practices) had invented a teleportation device that worked off of large, enspelled keys. He then sent these keys to his closest wizard-type mage friends in the Order, before blowing himself up trying to finish the teleporter. At the time, this was a way to give the PCs quests to find some additional bind points: they started with two keys, which allowed them to leave one at their home base and take one with them on adventures. Having more keys would allow them to set up additional bases they could teleport to.

I decided the Septarch’s Tower would be an old, Hogwarts-style mage academy for training elemental war mages for the ancient empire (it was located near their border with their rival empire). It was heavily warded, so nobody had been able to make it in for 1,000 years, including the old enemies that sacked the town. Since Balduin had been studying the magic of that empire to get his teleporter working, the keys would also work to bypass the wards on the building. And, over a decade past, a couple of his wizard friends had taken advantage of that to slip in and try to loot this ancient stronghold of knowledge.

The two NPCs that made it into the tower are:

  • Salome was an evoker-style mage with a specialty in subterfuge and guile. She’d happened upon the tower as part of infiltrating the northern empire, and took advantage of her key letting her in. She was a bit too headstrong, and… well… her body is still in the tower from when she didn’t acknowledge she needed backup.
  • Hieronymus was a transmuter-style mage who happened upon the location after getting Salome’s letters and checking on her some time after her correspondence stopped. He started piecing together more of what happened in the tower, hid some of the better spells lower in the dungeon, and left to go get some help clearing it out (not making Salome’s mistake). Unfortunately, his apprentice, Leberecht, was a big jerk, who murdered Hieronymus before he could make it back. (The apprentice wound up as the evil mage who’s the main antagonist in the first part of Baltron’s Beacon: he was way more into the idea of a teleporter, and had taken the key there to try to get it working.)

I initially ran this as a between-sessions play-by-email game for the upper parts of the tower, so I kept most of the challenges fairly simple (even simple puzzles can take forever in PbEM) and didn’t have any combat to try to get as much as possible accomplished in the month before the next live session. The lower levels were then run live, so could have more involved rolling and combat. Also note that this means that most of the text below is in a more descriptive style, as it’s only lightly edited from what I sent to my players as they entered various areas.

Conversion Suggestions

If you’re running this live, I would add more creatures to the upper rooms (which are currently entirely safe except for some puzzles that deliver shocks for getting the wrong answers). Particularly as a standalone, it would be very easy to have Leberecht (Hieronymus’ apprentice) and his running crew here instead, spread out researching various parts of the tower and eager to attack anyone else after their prize. In that case, most obvious treasure has probably been consolidated in wherever they’ve set up shop (likely an upper level), and some of the dorm rooms have probably been slightly repaired to serve as camps for various research teams. Obviously, replace the verbiage and history to something that makes sense for an ancient sealed elementalist’s tower in your campaign.

Beyond the Wall uses a silver piece standard, rather than a gold piece. You may want to update the treasure to match (and, honestly, to fit whatever the recommended treasure is for your game and party level).


The entire tower is in the same meticulous stonework as other ruins of the old Northern Empire. This has held up much better than many of the other Northern ruins the party is likely to have encountered, and particularly well for the town. Those with the ability to detect magic sense that this is because of protective magics worked into the stone that are still holding strong. It’s around 100 feet tall, and the walls are a regular septagon with perhaps only a slight taper going up.

Around 25 feet up, each wall face has a set of four evenly-spaced arrow loops. At about 50 feet up, each face has a large, ornate arch (the titular seven arches) that seem to lead into a small room and shimmer as if glassed in. Near the top of the tower, one level has irregularly-placed glass windows, and the level above that seems to be completely open to the air, the roof of the tower supported on pillars in the corners (though, again, a shimmer indicates that perhaps it is covered with windows larger than seems possible).

Floor U1 (Entry Level)

First Floor


Once you enter, mage lights begin to appear from crystals embedded in the walls, casting the area into a faint blue glow (dim lighting). It’s likely that whatever powers them is beginning to weaken.

The crystals are embedded in carvings along the walls, which seem to have once been colored with paint that has long-since decayed into the occasional spot of color and strange, brown rivulets down the walls. Even without the paint, you can make out a common wolf motif, similar to that of the eastern side of the ravine dungeon. (The ancient summoners used a wolf theme in other dungeons.)

Though the stones appear to have been protected by magics, little else has. The air is damp, and that moisture seems to have ruined most organic and ferrous things within the tower. Even from the entryway, it looks like there might have been shelves and cloakracks that are now little more than piles of detritus where they once stood.

The ceiling is high (and will continue to be high on other floors, unless otherwise noted): perhaps as tall as 20 feet. Which makes the narrow spiral stairway to your left upon entry an imposing climb. It curves up clockwise and down counterclockwise. It, fortunately, seems to be part of the stonework and still in good repair.

The hallway ahead of you seems to dead end, but it does not take long to realize that several of the vertical reliefs within the murals are poor concealment for arrow (magic?) loops that widen on the other side (perhaps, when painted, they were better hidden). The rooms beyond are not lit, but anyone with low-light vision or who lights a torch or lamp can get close and scan through, seeing two small guardrooms where defenders could likely hold out against invaders. Each has a door to the north.

From the hallway, other than the stairs there is a door north and a door south. These doors (and, indeed, most doors in the complex) appear to be steel-banded thick wood, that no doubt is spelled along with the tower (or it would have long rotted away). They have no handles, but do feature brass touch plates where a handle would otherwise be.

Stairs Note

A parchment letter sits upon the stairs up, weighted down by a rock. It appears old, and has suffered extensive water damage. There are two sets of handwriting, the the lower set appears slightly less damaged.

Balduin, I don’t know if your key will ever work to teleport, but you indeed managed to attune it correctly to the old imperial magics. Which I suppose you know if you’re reading this. I’m investigating the tower, and have left notes as I go in case I’m out when you arrive. Be careful in town: the new empire is only getting more bold, and the city is already unsafe for mages of the Order.


I believe Balduin is dead, and I fear Salome might be as well. I’ve heard from neither in years. Anyone else that follows, be careful. I’m investigating the tower as well.



The doors in the level don’t appear to be mystically sealed. They’re on a vertical pivot opposite the push plate, and seem to be designed to swing in either direction. This is a style that isn’t much used, possibly because of the difficulty of preventing a draft, which may explain why there’s so much moisture damage in the tower. Perhaps long ago some magic actually sealed the airflow through doors. The doors are only slightly swollen, so it takes a little work to shove the doors open. It’s likely Salome and/or Hieronymus did some work to unseal them whenever they were here, and they’ve swollen less in decades than in centuries.

To the north, the door has triple brackets to bar the door from within, which gives credence to perhaps these never being mystically sealed, or at least the mystical seals weren’t strong enough to rely upon. The room appears to have been, indeed, a guardroom. Corroded ruins of weapon racks slump against the walls, and the lights in here cluster around the door, perhaps to give defenders some advantage of being in shadow. A couple of what might have once been spears seem to have had silvered heads (might be able to salvage 20 sp worth of value from the tarnished material).

East of the guardroom appears to have been the guards’ office. There are stains on the floor that indicate chairs, desks, or perhaps even cots were once in the room for guards on duty, but there’s only a few bits of organic goo left. Likely, Salome or Hieronymus cleaned it up out of disgust. The doors in here lead to the chambers with the arrow loops. Within those rooms, which are extremely dark, the party can eventually find 10 sp worth of silver arrowheads that have outlived their steel and cold iron brethren. On a more careful search, they also find two arrowheads of a strange, dark steel (Adamantine) that have held up very well, even still holding an edge. They were placed somewhere that was likely easy to reach in the easternmost room.

The room to the south was likely once a conference room, and the thick oaken table and bookshelves were sufficiently treated and varnished that they’re very rotted but still obvious in their use. The table has pitched over to the east and the side touching the floor is decaying into a wet, soft earth while the western end stays relatively free of the damp. Strangely, the “bookshelves” appear to have been designed more like honeycombs, with fist-sized tubes alternating up the length. In a few, a metal post* lies amidst decayed pulp, but if the rest of them held scrolls, their organic components have long since deteriorated beyond recognition. If there was anything else of value in this room, the previous visitors have claimed it.

* The posts are just brass dowels, likely someone making a fancy scroll core instead of using a wooden dowel.

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