Monday, September 28, 2020

Hand of the Archmages

The great firmament of Wizard City is the five ivory towers at its core. Modeled after a goblet-holding hand rising from the ground, each is home to the offices and personal laboratories of one Archmage - a lifetime appointment bestowed by the secret Board of Regents of the University of Wizard City.

Who Are The Archmages?

The Five Archmages are effectively the beginning and end of government in Wizard City. They are the heads of the University, Regents of Esoteric Power, the Council Which Decides, the Grand Keys. Magocracy personified. They have held power for centuries, dwarfing any other wizards in the city in terms of prowess. Some speculate that they are in fact gods, having long ago found the keys to unlock the immortal dimensions of infinity. Their motivations are indiscernible. Their reasons are secret and strange. They play games of 4th Dimensional Chess with each other and perhaps with things beyond the scope of mortal recognition.

The Council supposedly meets twice a year to resolve matters of State. Decisions are made by vote: one per Archmage, majority wins, no abstentions allowed. Each has under their employ several to dozens of hand-chosen Stewards, loyal to their employing Archmage, who act as their agents in all matters. The Stewards are of the highest political authority and the most-feared of Secret Police.

The Archmages, and by proxy The Stewards, rule with a light but swiftly violent hand. Wizard City is effectively a Night-watchman State, with the Secret Police largely protecting capital and little else. The State, it seems, concerns itself with the conjunction of ethereal matters than the real problems of people living within it. As such, debt-holders, magical industrialists, University Administrators, trust guardians, patent holders, insurance sharks, fraternal organizations, entrepreneurial extradimensionals, and wizard gangsters tend to have bigger sway of the day to day of peoples' lives than The Archmages.

What Is The Hand?

Five towers of five heights at the heart of the city, each assigned to the Archmages on the basis of seniority. The taller the tower, the older the term. Appointments are for life, and some wizards live a very long time.

The administrative park in which the Hand dominates is constantly watched by The Stewards - The Archmages personal Secret Police. Visitors are infrequent and nearly always denied: Archmages have no time to accommodate the affairs of individual citizens. The facade of the orderly park hides a legion of lurking counterintelligence operatives watching and recording every single movement of every visitor, down to the last errant twitch.

Each tower is considered the personal property of the Archmage to whom it is assigned. They are constructed of gleaming polished ivory. Traditionally, the towers are reserved for the Archmages' personal laboratories, though that changed some hundred years ago when becoming an Archmage became synonymous with holding influential patent rights. Nowadays, Archmages hold considerable amounts of private property, and the Towers are more often used exclusively for matters of State than for experimentation.


1. Portrait evidence suggests that the Hand has gotten taller over time. Is it... emerging?

2. The towers that compose The Hand are hollowed out from the bones of some great thing. Nobody knows what this thing was. A cosmic leviathan? A fallen behemoth? An imprisoned titan?

3. The Hand lies at a key geometric conjunction within the city. All city streets and paths emerge out from it, tracing a great interlaced circle. Some, suggest, an abjuration circle.

4. The Council of Five's chambers beneath the Five Towers are the most secure location in the entire city. Probably the whole world.

5. The Hand is biggest on the inside than it appears from without. Does it make use of extradimensional space?

6. The Archmages, with exception of Aelfwine, rarely visit the Hand. Instead, its space is used as offices for their most esteemed Stewards.

The Present Archmages
(From Least to Most Senior)

The two most senior Archmages have held terms for centuries, and life has become impossible to imagine without them. These two have outlived all of their rivals and none would dare challenge their rule. The three least senior Archmages all have held terms for less than 100 years, and their positions are contested by ambitious peers.

They are, in ascending order of seniority: Gnikllib, Radon, Aelfwine, Zul, and Vemminkainen.

Archmage Gnikllib - The Preaxial Tower
Area of Study: Trickster Magic

The youngest Archmage, at a spry 87 years old. Those old bones, though, will probably carry him for another fifty years yet. Gnikllib rose through the ranks of the University from humble undergraduate to prolific professor to Dean of the School of Shapes to Administrator Hidden Consul. He has many allies within the university Administrators, and more than a few enemies gunning for his position.

Gnikllib makes no effort to hide his true form: an old man sporting floor-length white beard, wearing the traditional many-colored wizard robes of senior university faculty. On any given day he may or may not be wearing pants.


1. Gnikllib made a spell that summons him, like one would invoke a particular demon. It must be risky to try it, though - few can imagine an Archmage tolerating being summoned by any spectacular nobody.

2. He once fought a wizard duel with the Dean of Deans and won.

3. The Amber Cloak supposedly gets around a lot with the little old wealthy witches. Enough to earn him the nickname: Rains in the Desert.

4. He is the most accessible of the Archmages. Ordinary people can actually get appointments with his staff!

5. Gnikllib has been known to be quite the practical joker. During his fraternity days, it's said he once went into the Steam Tunnels and shut off water to the whole University.

6. The other Archmages don't respect Gnikllib. Is it because he's human, the youngest, or the least senior?

Archmage Radon - The Little Tower
Area of Study: Time and Space

Radon is an enigma wrapped in a puzzle. She has cropped up several times over Wizard City's history in seemingly disconnected events: formations of stock markets, responses to natural disasters, visitations from foreign states, and the turns in the tides of plagues. She never seems to be involved in the same business twice, giving rise to the speculation that she is some sort of time traveler.

This speculation is doubled down by the fact that her age seems to fluctuate. Some decades she appears young, some she becomes venerable and frail. Some events she appears with youthful zeal and blunt magical force and some with wizened patience. 

Those who seem to get too involved in her affairs disappear faster and more frequently than those of other Archmages, giving rise to the alternative hypothesis that she is some type of vampire who drinks the blood of students to remain eternally young. Given what people know about Archmages, neither option seems far from the norm.


1. Radon spends a great deal of time within the Bureau of Spatial and Temporal Matters, and is rarely seen outside of it.

2. She made a Pact with Something. Nobody's sure what. Her Familiar, though, is clearly not of this world.

3. Portraits from three hundred years ago suggest that Radon might be aging in reverse, non-linearly, or perhaps negative logarithmicly.

4. Radon holds head positions within the Keepers of the True Time and the Hypermath Cult.

5. As a graduate student, Radon murdered or disappeared no less than 19 fellow wizards during her Doctorate program, including her mentor.

6. If you run into Radon on the streets during a Candlewake, avert your eyes and toss salt over your shoulder, lest you be eaten by her Vestigial Grues. Also, don't breathe in her presence!

Archmage Aelfwine - The Ring Tower
Area of Study: Enchantment

Aelfwine is a different beast entirely from the typical Archmage stock: charismatic, involved, political, sympathetic, presidential, attractive, controversial, and 100% sociopathic. He is an elf in his prime, accelerated to power by brilliant innovations in enchantment which catapulted his personal wealth and status all the way to the Ivory Towers.

He is a golden-haired, suit-wearing pretty face. He speaks the language of spin like he was breathing air, and holds words on his tongue like dew on morning flowers. Enchantment, he says, is merely a crude tool for lackluster wizards to trick fools. True coercion comes from a reasoned intellect and natural charm. His area of study gives rise to the suspicion, though, that all of that charisma isn't natural (not that many wizards care, really, whether something is 'natural' or not), and that he's hasn't abandoned Enchantment, but merely gotten way ahead of the curve in its practice.


1. Aelfwine has a reserved seat on every corporate board in Wizard City, and many beyond its borders.

2. This Archmage is just a pretty face for a more powerful overlord: perhaps Nystul or Vemminkainen to pull the strings on his votes.

3. Some call him the 'Chancellor of Wizard City', due to his willingness for public engagement and speeches. This makes him by far the most popular of The Five.

4. Aelfwine sometimes visits his Fan Club in person.

5. The very first Secret Chest still exists. Not only does it exist, it holds Aelfwine's greatest treasure within.

6. He sometimes personally partakes in raids against patent violators of his spells, "for the thrill" and to "teach those thugs a lesson".

Archmage Zul - The Index Tower
Area of Study: Illusion & Reality

Source: D&D 5e Player's Handbook
The most senior of the archmages, next to Vemminkainen. With the Many-Faced-Mage's disassociation from political life, Zul has become de facto the most powerful known wizard in existence. It is said that she comes and goes as a beautiful elf woman in a gown of the twilight sky, though she could appear as many things.

Zul's Estate is a sprawling campus located approximately five miles outside of the city. It is, down to the very last potted plant and sycophantic attendant, a sophisticated illusion. In order to notice or interact with it at all, one must unintentionally or voluntarily fail their Saves. Otherwise, the entire campus is merely an open field with the occasional visitors talking to nobodies.

She is a creature of agenda, though few have any idea what that might be. People who are invited to her Estate tend to receive the experience as 'enlightening' and 'life-changing', in a way that draws concern from conspiracy theorists and those insecure in their own existence. While the schools of Enchantment and Necromancy often occupy a most fear-inspiring position in the minds of the public, the school of Illusion occupies a place of sheer terror for those who entertain existential thoughts. What is real? What is reality? What is an illusion, really? Zul probably knows. She knows, and doesn't share...


1. There is no way to tell that the reality that you're experiencing is "real", or merely a brain-prison set up by Zul. There are entire cults devoted to trying to ascertain whether their reality was made by Zul or not.

2. She wasn't always an elf. Five hundred years ago she was an old human woman, then by some magic remade herself into her present form.

3. You will never encounter the original Zul. Every public and private face of the archmage is a carefully-crafted programmed illusion. Such is her power.

4. Zul is very much into plays and musicals.

5. She and Vemminkainen had an intense rivalry over the centuries. Some theorize she secretly killed Vemminkainen and usurped his entire entourage so that she could permanently have two votes in The Hand.

6. Every shadow acts as a spy for Zul - that's why she seems to know everything.

Archmage Vemminkainen - The Middle Tower
Area of Study: Divination

One hundred years ago Vemminkainen withdrew from political life. He entrusted the management of his estates within The Hand to his stewards, gave a rather strange speech from the top of his tower, and promptly disappeared. In the history of high elven wizards, this happens from time to time, to nobody's surprise. Everyone assumes that one day he'll make a sudden return with little to no consequence. We're still waiting.

He is known as the Many-Faced-Mage. But unlike many who receive that moniker, he is not a specialist of transmutation. He is simply very, very good at mundane disguise... and method acting. Too good. Far, far too good. He speaks a thousand languages and knows every local culture down to the last mole on an elder's great-grandfather's face. He has friends from the highest tower to the lowest sewer, from the last plane of existence to the gates of Hell. He has sex with your wife while you're at work and he's best friends with your dog. He's Zeus and Hamlet and Rick and Rosecrans and all of the minor characters, all simultaneously. He is the Director and the entire Cast, the Producer and the Audience, the People walking around outside the theater and the Bum-Too-Blitzed to know what an opera even is.

You will never find him... 
Though, maybe you already have...

(Assume, at all times, that at least one of the Player-Characters is Vemminkainen, or one of his many forms. That PC probably doesn't even know it themselves. The Player won't ever know this, unless they demand to know, in which case you must always avoid or refuse to answer the question.)


1. The Archmage engaged in forbidden magics that resulted in his personality being torn apart into hundreds of fragments. This is why he is now known as the Many-Faced-Mage, because of his severely split personality.

2. Vemminkainen acts through a series of information brokers and intermediaries to let his will be known. In this way, his motives are indiscernible, and he is virtually impossible to spy on.

3. The Eldest Archmage's true power comes not from Divination, but from the knowledge of Naming. It's theorized that Naming has epistemic roots within all forms of magic, which explains Vemminkainen's seeming omniscience.

4. Vemminkainen was behind the construction of the Pyramid of Providence.

5. Realizing some great future doom is the reason behind his disappearance. He is has withdrawn for a hundred years in order to prepare for it.

6. Every living person in Wizard City was at some point killed and replaced by the Many-Faced-Mage himself. The entire city is his - he merely keeps it alive and going in the simulacrum of life as a front to interact with the more powerful alien forces of the universe.

No comments:

Post a Comment