How does a mere mage survive in the world’s most infamous pirate’s den? And how does a leader of mages protect himself from the incredible powers his followers might weild against him?
Here are a few of my thought processes behind a faction in my new D&D campaign. I thought you might be interested in some of the ideas. Comments and ideas of your own are welcome in the comments section.
A note to my players: spoilers follow, please stop reading.
My group soon begins playing the Pathfinder RPG in a new campaign with first level characters. The campaign is still in the early stages of planning – it doesn’t even have a name yet – but a few things are developing.
Order of Cyphers
One such thing is the local mage’s guild, The Order of Cyphers. I’m using Riddleport as the primary setting: a pirate town being slowly gentrified by an influx of scholars and merchants. I’m changing a lot of Paizo’s Riddleport, and that includes the mage’s guild.
The Order of Cyphers is named after a massive stone arch that spans the entrance to the city’s harbour. The arch is covered in ancient glyphs that no one can decode. Many think great and possibly terrible knowledge lies behind the glyphs, thus attracting magi from around the world to study and try to understand the tantalizing runes.
Syzzinar the Schemer
The enigmatic Syzzinar leads the guild and he is the most powerful of the eight crime lords who rule Riddleport, under the Overlord. None of the other faction bosses realize Syzzinar’s power, which is the way the near-epic magus wants it.
Syzzinar came to Riddleport as a prisoner nearly 100 years ago. His useful magic skills kept him in chains for a decade. Finally he gained the acumen necessary to slay his captain and sink his boat. He did this just as the ship was out of the harbour and out of sight of Riddleport. He flew back to the town under disguise and started a new life.
He began by studying the runes on the arch, certain some magical revelation lay behind the strange shapes. After 20 years he gave up and developed a new strategy. 100 heads are better than one, right?
Syzzinar started spreading rumours of wild and incredible knowledge that lay encoded in the runes. Riddleport at that time was infamous for being purely a pirate haven and a deadly place if you did not follow the way of the sea. Woven into his rumours was news of a new scholar’s guild that offered food, lodging, and most important, protection to all who came to study the arch. Even the name of the guild was designed to lure mages – the Order of Cyphers.
As magi warily trickled in from nearby cities, Syzzinar met each visitor with an invitation to join the Order, the only safe place in the city for the learned. The annual dues were steep, but magi come by coin easily.
Handling the Overlord like a frog in hot water
The crafty mage guild leader approached the Overlord in those long-gone days with hefty portions of guild fees collected to keep the guild safe from powerful pirate captains and their crews. Syzzinar knew the guild’s power would grow over time, and indeed it did, which allowed him to slowly cut back payments and keep more for himself. Overlords over the years were hesitant to anger a guild of wizards and settled for a slight reduction every couple of years. Just as a frog in slowly heated water will not hop out and will boil to death, so too did Overlords back away from confrontation and let Syzzinar gain ever increasing power and boons.
Keeping the mages distracted and under his control
With the problem of protection from pirates dealt with, Syzzinar set about tackling another tricky issue. How does one keep control of a group of mages, who if they joined together could easily wrest control from him at any time? Even in those early days, the leader recognized this grave threat to his position.
His solution was the Cypher Gate – the stone arch with the glyphs. By attracting only those magi interested in peaceful study and investigation he could keep them protected – and distracted. Alpha types were rooted out and their bodies thrown into the harbour. Syzzinar successfully deflected blame of these murders to one pirate captain or another, and in more recent years, to one crime lord or another. This further kept his flock docile and appreciative of The Order’s protection.
A quiet life of crime and politics
During the past eighty years, Syzzinar has followed all research very carefully. Spies make certain members do not keep secrets for long. He sits back and lets his members do all the pondering, reading, experimentation, and theorizing. He knows his unwitting 100+ member research group will soon unlock the riddle of the Cyphergate, and he’ll be there to seize the answer and get all its power for himself.
Meantime, he leads a quiet life of crime, leveraging the magic abiliites of guild members to offer services to Riddleport’s citizens as well as extort information and wealth from the minions of the other seven crime lords.
The Overlord bides and plots
The Overlord is scared of The Order, but he does not have enough power to intervene directly, nor can he coerce any of the other crime lords to act against the smug magi leader. Something must be done though, and soon, before Syzzinar is in such a position to sieze the title of Overlord for himself.
Thoughts? Comments? One thing I’m noodling on is that aside from his troublesome start, Syzzinar has not had much conflict in the past 80 years. His story needs some setbacks, and perhaps an arch nemesis.