In the first post about gods and the Cypher Gate in my upcoming Riddleport campaign several readers supplied great ideas. Thanks to that feedback, I have a better picture of how things are in the pirate city. The secrets of the Cypher Gate as it is in my game, with reader feedback interwoven, are now revealed.
If you are a player in my campaign, please stop reading, as spoilers await thee.
A massive stone arch that spans Riddleport’s harbour. It seems to be indestructible, though it is a bit weathered, revealing unfathomable lengths of time or other forces could wear the gate down.
Three wagons can travel abreast over the arch, and locals say it is 3000 paces long. Measurements reveal the arch is twelve cubits tall at both ends, which appear to be buried miles deep into the bedrock of the world itself, and 8 cubits tall at the peak.
It does not radiate magic, though true relics never do.
Strange glyphs, the height of a man in his prime, span the arch on both sides. The glyphs seemingly have been carved out of the arch. They are interspersed unevenly, with gaps of varying distances between them, making some think runes exist out there that will fit into the spaces, while others think the arch awaits new carvings.
The brightest and wisest and most knowledgeable of Golarion have studied the arch over the centuries without the slightest idea of why it exists.
A guild of mages dedicated to unraveling the Cypher Gate’s secrets has formed in the city that lies in the arch’s shadow. Known as the Order of Cyphers, it welcomes new members who seek to study the phenomenon for themselves. A huge bounty is offered to anyone who can glean any insight into the gate’s existence or purpose. The guild jealously guards access to the gate, however, and all who might take a close examination must be granted the privilege by the guild’s strange leader, Syzzinar.
The Cypher Gate is actually constructed of the immortal remains of the Primals, explaining its near invulnerability, and its weathering, as the Primals are imperfect beings.
The arch is a member of a series of arches that litter the planes of existence. It and its brethren were crafted by the Primals as a mechanism for elevating mortals to divinity. The arches form a primordial switchboard, allowing Ascended to draw power from their plane to maintain their exalted status and powers.
Each Ascended is attuned to the arch of their home plane. And each plane has its own gate, often buried and lost in time and memory, though the Divine and Ascended never forget the gate they are attuned to.
The glyphs are created at the time a mortal Ascends. A rune is carved out of the archway through the blind power of the Primals, and this becomes the attuned shard of the Ascended. With a small expense of power, an Ascended can change the physical properties of their shard to better hide, carry or wield it. As the shard is part of the arch relic, it does not radiate magic either.
The glyphs are free morphemes of the Divine language. This language is power unto itself and drives the structure and state of the universe. Mortals can never understand this language, and to just glimpse the partial meaning of a single character is enough to drive a mortal insane.
The Ascended draw power from the shards, which are safely regulated and downgraded to a controllable level by their associated arch. Distance does not diminish the link between shard and Ascended, though a shard cannot leave the plane of its gate, with one notable exception.
An Ascended can transport their shard to their Divine patron’s plane by expending ongoing power. As divine power is costly to recoup, few do this, and when they do it is only for an hour, day or week at most.
The Cypher Gate is aligned to the cardinal points, though not the cardinals of its plane but to the universe itself. A rune’s location on the gate signifies an Ascended’s immutable orientation:
Law – East
Chaos – West
Good – North
Evil – South
As the arch has finite dimensions, which implies limitations on the number of Ascended a plane can support, and the portfolio mix of alignments is fixed.
The Ascended know they must protect the gate at all costs (even though it is seemingly invulnerable) because if it goes, they all go. Divine or Primal power could be spent to damage or destroy a gate, but that has never been successfully accomplished.
If an Ascended is slain, their shard returns to the arch and the glyph disappears, ready for another similarly-aligned mortal to Ascend. For the arch on Golarion, this has not happened in centuries, though it was witnessed by a few whose journals (in various forms) have been lost through the ages.
The Divine connection
Embedded in each glyph is a representation of the affiliated Divine. This connects the Divine with his agents. For mortals it facilitates direct communication, domains and spell imbuements. For Ascended it allows at-will travel between their home plane and the plane of their Divine, bequeathment of Divine power points, and telepathic communication between Ascended servant and Divine master.
Any Divine can attune themselves to any Cypher Gate and use it as a portal to enter the plane. Divine also draw Primal granted powers, power points and other boons via any gate except those that are diametrically opposed to their alignment.
Few know that Ascended can be killed by mortals. Fewer know that each Divine has a unique weakness that can be exploited by mortals (such knowledge is usually accompanied by a Divine hunt, some sport and then a long and painful death).
And even fewer throughout the planes know that, with proper ceremony, a glyph on a gate can be turned into a scrying portal using its associated shard. A mortal must hold the shard of an Ascended to its glyph on the arch. This will reveal the true name of its linked Divine (the meaning of the glyph). Speaking the true name will gain the mortal speaker instant knowledge of the Divine’s Achilles heel. Unfortunately, the Divine is instantly alerted to this and can use the arch to determine the identity of the blasphemer.
Finally, the descendants of the Servants of the Primal are still around as aberrations and the like. Some work (ala the Serpent Priests in Raymond E Feist’s novels) to release their masters from their confinement, while others work to maintain their current state of independence. This puts the Cypher Gates in jeopardy from time to time as a cult successfully learns how to tap into the power of an arch and turn it back on itself, usually through imprisonment and abuse of an Ascended as the key.
My Riddleport campaign does not yet have a plot. I’m still crafting the major pieces, such as figuring out the Cypher Gates and defining a few factions. However, here is a list of potential gate-related plots I could draw from, either as epic campaign threads or short term developments. If you have any ideas, please leave a comment and I’ll add to this list.
- As Mike pointed out, there is irony that arcane casters control and study a divine relic. Should the divine nature of the arch be gleaned, the temples and mage’s guild would conflict. The Order of Cyphers depends on the gate, as discussed, [http://www.campaignmastery.com/blog/mage-guild-mastermind-survives-pirate-haven/]. Plus, it’s unlikely the arcanists would allow the balance of power to shift to the current balkanized temple factions.
- False shards. Information about a false shard could pop up at anytime. It could just be another relic, a magic item or a piece of junk. Either way, it will be wrestled over, experimented with, studied. Rumours will abound and a spotlight will be cast upon the gate in the game.
- Someone has a glimpse of understanding of what a rune means and goes insane. Can the PCs help decipher the madman’s ramblings/drawings/prophecies? Perhaps the NPC leads them to several adventure sites or encounters of conflict within the city.
- A journal of someone who spotted a glyph being created or destroyed is recovered but it’s cryptic. Another fight over an item and information, drawing the PCs into conflict. Likely they are the ones who discover the journal, but they might be hired to steal it or examine it as well, regardless of the owner’s intentions.
- An NPC in Riddleport is coming close to becoming an Ascended. While they consolidate their power, other Ascended are concerned such an event would remind Golarion what the Cypher Gate does, and jeopardize the balance of power they currently hold on the plane. Meantime, the would-be Ascended has yet to choose a patron diety, and several Ascended have been instructed to convince the NPC using any methods possible.
- A mad god and his Ascended seek to destroy the gate. An aberrant cult comes to town and stirs up all sorts of crazy.
Thanks to C. Rader, Robert and Mike for the ideas and feedback.