Mystery of the Arcane
The Arcane of the Cluster are devoted, like all of their kin, to making the ultimate deal. They have spent their entire existence traveling from one crystal sphere to another, always on the lookout for the perfect bargain.
Which is why they were more than willing to strike a deal with the tanar’ri, a deal to which all others pale in comparison.
Ages past, the tanar’ri had their first contact with the humans of the Astromundi Cluster. The tanar’ri quickly gained control of these humans and used them as slaves. The tanar’ri found these slaves to be quite entertaining, and decided that they could use a few more. They forced the Astromundi natives to lead them back to the Astromundi Cluster, and set about conquering that crystal sphere.
Things went better than the tanar’ri could ever have hoped. The races of the Cluster were relatively weak and torn by civil insurrections and race wars. The tanar’ri descended on the Cluster like a plague of locusts, destroying everything they touched. Thousands of humans were enslaved and shipped back to the Abyss where they would spend their miserable lives as slaves to the tanar’ri.
The tanar’ri were very happy with this new sphere. They could rule here, and no one would challenge them. Far enough away from the other major spheres, they could grow in power and learn to operate more effectively on the Prime Material plane. There was an endless supply of slaves, and plenty of room for individual tanar’ri to build their estates.
And then the illithids came, and with them, their god. At a stroke, the tanar’ri found themselves on the losing end of a terrible war. The god of the illithids was too powerful for even the massed might of the Abyss to overcome, and in the end, the Second Cataclysm banished the tanar’ri from the Astromundi Cluster.
For centuries the tanar’ri fumed over their defeat, vowing to return to the Cluster and claim it as their own. But there was no simple way; the Cluster had been sealed from their predations.
During this time, the tanar’ri stumbled across the Arcane. Quick thinking on the part of the unfortunate
Arcane trade ship managed to save the crew from certain death at the hands of the Abyssal fiends.
In an unprecedented move, the Arcane managed to form a trade alliance with the tanar’ri. The tanar’ri found that the Arcane could enter the Astromundi Cluster at will, and move about there freely. The Arcane discovered how much the tanar’ri coveted this sphere, and managed to construct a deal that would make everyone (except the inhabitants of the Astromundi Cluster) happy.
The Arcane would find a way to deliver the crystal sphere to the tanar’ri, in exchange for “trading concessions to be named later.” The tanar’ri snatched at the deal, not bothering to haggle over the price or to wonder just what it was the Arcane wanted in return.
In order to hold up their end of their bargain, the Arcane set about finding a method by which the tanar’ri could enter the Cluster. Their searches took them far across the phlogiston, to crystal spheres that have likely never been visited by another intelligent race.
Their search took them to other planes as well, and it was on one of these planes that they discovered the secret of the Darkgate.
This device is incredibly powerful, capable of shattering dimensional boundaries at a stroke. But it had been disassembled and its pieces scattered so that it could never be used for evil.
Knowing that they had found the key to their deal, the Arcane immediately began searching for pieces of the Darkgate. Though it was unlikely they would find the original materials used in the construction of the Darkgate, they could very well find reasonable substitutes.
Because the Arcane needed powerful allies to protect them from the other, more violent races of the Astromundi Cluster, they ingratiated themselves to the Antilans. By providing the secrets of spelljamming to this race, they not only gained a lasting partner but insured the supremacy of that partner in the Cluster. The Arcane have since used the Antilans’ vast resources to seek out the ruins of the First and Second Cataclysms, in the hope that they will contain the necessary magical items to create the Darkgate.
Over the centuries, the Arcane have made themselves invaluable to other races in the Cluster as well, primarily by selling spelljamming equipment to these races. The Arcane have done much to advance the state of technology and spelljamming in the Astromundi Cluster. It has also earned them a few choice bits of magical knowledge that they need to operate the Darkgate.
The most important piece of information concerns the enormous amounts of energy that the Darkgate will require. The device is very powerful, but in order to operate at full effectiveness, it must receive massive energy.
It took the Arcane a long time to come up with a way to generate the power necessary for their plan to succeed, but they have at last found the answer.
Shadowstone is a rare element that exists only within the Astromundi Cluster. It possesses the unique property of not only reflecting energy directed at it, but amplifying that energy. The Arcane intend to use reflectors of shadowstone to amplify the energy of the central sun, Firefall, to enormous proportions. As the reflected energy peaks, the sun will begin to collapse. When the process is complete, the energy produced will be more than enough to power the Darkgate. And then the tanar’ri will be free to return to the Astromundi Cluster.
The Arcane Now
It has been nearly a thousand years since the Arcane agreed to sell the Astromundi Cluster to the tanar’ri. Since that time Arcane scientists have worked diligently to find all the pieces of the Darkgate and construct the device.
Meanwhile, the Antilans spend their time hunting down pockets of shadowstone. They believe that the Arcane are increasing the power of the sun for the benefit of the Sun Mages, whose magical power is directly proportional to the light of the sun. The Antilans have devoted a large portion of their resources to aiding the Arcane, unwittingly speeding the end of the Astromundi Cluster.
The Arcane, as a whole, should not be considered evil; they’re simply completing a business deal. They are, after all, truly neutral beings. They will buy and sell anything to anyone, as long as their price is met. It is part of their culture not to question the nature of the sale, or the effect a sale will have on other races. The Arcane aren’t ignorant of the fact that the tanar’ri are going to wreak havoc throughout Clusterspace, but that’s not their concern. Once the sphere is paid for, the tanar’ri can do whatever they want with their property.
Now, the Arcane are anxious to complete their deal with the tanar’ri. The tanar’ri have been very insistent that the Arcane speed up their plans, and the Arcane want to keep these customers happy. Still, they do not want to make a mistake, and are being very careful to make sure that everything goes as they have planned.
The Darkgate is the most powerful artifact in the Astromundi Cluster, and the most dangerous. Fortunately, it is also not yet complete, requiring several more magical items before it will be ready to be put into use.
Over the centuries, the Arcane have put together the main body of the Darkgate, and have made significant progress on the engine that will drive the device and the focusing mechanism which will serve to create the dimensional rift. But a large amount work still needs to be done.
The chief piece missing from the Darkgate is the Egg of Night. This magical device will serve to convert the enhanced energy of Firefall into a form the Darkgate can put to use. It would be possible for the Arcane to create a new power converter for the Darkgate, but that could take centuries and their tanar’ri customers are not known for their patience.
Instead, the Arcane are busily searching for this most vital piece of the puzzle. What they don’t know is that the neogi actually have the Egg of Night in their possession. Even if the Arcane find out that the neogi have the Egg, it is going to be very difficult for them to get the item away from their trading competition. This will call for either very crafty trading on the part of the Arcane, or the use of high-powered agents to wrest the Egg away by force.
The Egg is not the only missing piece. There are fifteen to twenty other items that are needed to complete the Darkgate. The characters may have difficulty getting ahold of these items, but doing so will be a feat worthy of the mightiest champion.
The DM is encouraged to come up with a list of these powerful items and scatter them throughout the Cluster. The characters may have a difficult time coming up with them all, but once they do it will be a feat worth remembering for some time to come. Below are some suggestions:
Amulet of the Planes (DMG): This amulet is commonly able to transport its possessor to or from one of the outer planes. As part of the Darkgate, this item can be used to home in on the Abyss and “shoehorn” a breach through the wards separating that plane from the Astromundi Cluster.
Chime of Opening (DMG): A low-powered item by most standards, the chime can open locked doors or windows, locks, shackles, bars or gates. The Darkgate amplifies this power, allowing the chime to affect the spaces between the planes, easing the breach into the Abyss.
Claw of Magic Stealing (TOM): This device is used to steal the spells from other magicians. When attached to the Darkgate, the stolen spells can be used as a supplemental power source.
Dimensional Mine (TOM): The mine ruptures extra-dimensional spaces. When attached to the Darkgate, this devious device will be used to forge a strong tie to the Astral Plane, which can then be extended out into the Abyss.
Portable Hole (DMG): The portable hole creates an extra-dimensional pocket. The hole will be filled with shadowstone, and then placed in the teleportation chamber, allowing large amounts of the stone to be moved into space. Needless to say, more than one hole will be needed.
Rod of Passage (DMG): The rod will normally only perform each of its functions a single time. When worked into the Darkgate mechanism, though, its various powers of transport will be constantly recharged and amplified by to help in the opening of a permanent portal to the Abyss.
Sphere of Annihilation, Talisman of the Sphere (DMG): This powerfully destructive item and its control are important parts of the Darkgate. The sphere will be used to affect the sun, Firefall, draining off some of the residual energy that will be left when the sun collapses. This will keep fire and heat from rushing into the breach when it is created.
Teleportation Chamber (TOM): The chamber is used to move matter from one place to another. As part of the Darkgate, this item will be used to send shadowstones to precise locations around Firefall, increasing that sun’s power.
Trimia’s Catalogue of Outer Plane Artifacts (TOM): The catalogue lists many devices for traveling to other planes, but the Arcane are interested specifically in the devices used to travel to the Abyss. Should they find the catalogue, the Arcane will be that much closer to finding the magical items needed to fine-tune the Darkgate to the Abyss.
Many other items can, of course, be added to this list making the players’ task that much more difficult. Alternately, fewer items might be needed to complete the Darkgate. While this makes it that much easier for characters to accumulate all of the remaining pieces, it also adds some time pressure. With less pieces to retrieve, the Arcane may be able to finish their project much sooner than the timeline below may show.
Defeating the Arcane
The only sure way to defeat the Arcane is to turn the Darkgate against them. In order to do this, the characters must first get to the Darkgate. This is no easy feat, as it is being constructed deep within Antilan space and will be heavily guarded by the finest Antilan troops, a number of warlocks with soulblades and many, many dwarven mercenaries.
If characters manage to get to the Darkgate, the final piece (the Egg of Night) must be placed in the Darkgate by a cleric of a god violently opposed to the tanar’ri. Virtually any god of good alignment, and most of neutral alignment, will fit the bill. However, the cleric that wishes to destroy the Darkgate must first seek the blessing of his or her god, or the effort will not be successful.
This, of course, means a trip out to the constellations (see Chapter 3 of the Celestial Almanac) to confer with the contemplators.
If a cleric receives the blessing of his god and installs the Egg of Night in the Darkgate, the end will be most impressive.
The Darkgate will activate, but will begin a slow process of self destruction. As minutes pass, the device will begin to dissipate the energies contained within its magical components. Ten minutes are required for the de-energizing of the entire device, save for the Egg of Night.
This most powerful of the devices will take another ten minutes before becoming useless. While all of this is taking place, Antilan troops and dwarven mercenaries will be trying to get to the Darkgate and remove the Egg of Night.
If the characters can pull all of this off, they must still escape with their lives. They will be hunted for the rest of their days by assassins hired by the Arcane and the few tanar’ri that have managed to get past the magical barriers and into Clusterspace.
The up-side of all of this is that the Arcane’s business deal with the tanar’ri will no doubt be rendered null and void. The tanar’ri are not a patient race, and will not wait around for the Arcane to spend another few millennia trying to find another way to get them into the Cluster. Instead, they will probably seek out the dowhar, and give them a chance at getting tanar’ri armies into the Cluster.
By destroying the Darkgate, the characters will also have caused a major setback to the Antilans. The Arcane used shadowstone to amplify the power of Firefall, which the Antilans used to drive their magic. With the Arcanes’ plan defeated, they will not be able to continue to amplify the sun’s power.
Gradually, Firefall will return to normal. This will reduce the Antilan’s magical abilities, making it impossible for them to use their sunmagic. This will lead to a power imbalance between the Sun Mages and the illithids, bringing on all sorts of other problems for the characters to deal with.
Why do the tanar’ri want the Astromundi Cluster?
First, because of its isolated position, it is doubtful that the races within the Cluster will be able to receive aid from other crystal spheres.
Second, there are only two major military powers in the sphere, and neither of them is any real threat to the tanar’ri. The Antilans will be magically neutered when the sun collapses, and the illithids are relatively few in number when compared to the raging hordes of the tanar’ri.
Third, the Cluster is ripe with wealth waiting to be discovered. The tanar’ri will be able to enslave the majority of races within the Cluster, using them to seek out this wealth.
But the most important reason, from the tanar’ri standpoint, is the fact that this will give them a major foothold on the Prime Material plane. The chance to remake an entire sphere in the image of the Abyss is worth nearly any price. And as the baatezu do not have such a position, it will aid the tanar’ri in the Blood War with this hated race.
An Arcane Timeline
The Arcane are further from victory than the illithids, but are in no way far from achieving their ends. The following is a brief timeline of just how the Arcane will progress toward their goal in the coming months. All time is measured from the point at which the plot of the Arcane begins as a feature in the campaign. The timeline is intentionally sketchy, and though it provides some major events, the exact details of those events are left up to the DM to adapt to his or her campaign.
Months 1 – 3
During the first few months, the Arcane accomplish very little. Their Antilan agents begin stalking several knowledgeable sages within the Cluster, including a few powerful mages who may take offense at such close scrutiny. The characters may fall under surveillance, especially if they have come into contact with any piece of the Darkgate. A mage may hire the characters for protection, fearing attack or capture by Antilan forces.
Months 4 – 6
This period of time brings rumors of Arcane traveling throughout the Cluster, accompanied by powerful contingents of Antilan mages and warriors, as well as elite dwarven mercenary units.
These rumors are true, and reflect the mobilization of Arcane forces to capture the mages. The Arcane want the knowledge that these mages possess, and the easiest way to gain that knowledge is to capture the mages and interrogate them at leisure. The Arcane also know that most of them will not go without a fight, and have prepared accordingly.
Characters who have come found a piece of the Darkgate may very well be targeted by such retrieval groups. They may have to defend a mage who hired them earlier. Either way, it is doubtful they will be able to defeat the powerful Antilan forces.
The Antilans are offering huge amounts of gold for the delivery of any shadowstones found. Groups of adventurers take to the stars in search of the stuff, which has suddenly become the most valuable commodity in the sphere.
Months 7 – 12
The Arcane are furiously searching out the pieces of the Darkgate at this point, and will put up with no interference. It will be almost impossible for characters who are doing likewise to avoid the Antilan forces, but space is a very big place. Canny adventurers should be able to hide out in Fringe or the Great Belt, but may have to deal with goblinoids or other forces that have already taken up residence in the remote places.
If characters have not become involved in the plot by this time, DMs should get them into the swing of things with all due haste. After all, the Arcane are nearing completion of the Darkgate.
Characters can get involved through contact with an escaped prisoner (likely an enslaved mage) of the Antilans. This prisoner will know enough of the plot to get the characters involved, but not enough to answer all their questions.
DMs may also create a prophecy similar to the Prophecy of the Darkmind found in Chapter Four, and have the manuscript fall into the characters hands. The prophecy could act as a sort of shopping list for the characters, pointing them in the direction of the items the Arcane seek.
Months 13 – 18
During this period the Arcane will manage to accumulate all of the pieces the characters don’t have. They will then begin working to eliminate the characters.
It is crucial that characters somehow discover the means by which to destroy the Arcane now, if not sooner. This will give them a definite goal and keep them from wandering aimlessly about wildspace with Arcane assassins at their backs.
If the Egg of Night has not yet been discovered by the Arcane, and the illithids are still searching for it, the characters may be chased by both parties at once. This should be a very exciting time for the characters, as they race around trying to avoid illithids and Arcane and use the Egg to destroy both. Truly an adventure to be remembered!
Months 19 – 24
This is the endgame, the point at which the Arcane make their final bid for power. They will intensify their search for the last of the pieces, and once they are found will begin stockpiling shadowstone.
Characters in the know will begin to see signs that the Arcane are nearing the end of their plotting and are nearly ready to put it into action. It is at the end of two years that the characters must make their move, or the Arcane will be victorious.
If the Arcane complete their tasks and the Darkgate is constructed and used, things will get very grim indeed.
Clusterspace holds many planar nexuses, areas where the fabric between the planes has grown thin and weak. The Darkgate will use the power of Firefall’s collapse to open a major portal at the site of the dead sun, but will also tear through the many planar nexuses. A thousand openings to the Abyss will come into being, and the massed might of the tanar’ri will come roaring through.
Within days the tanar’ri will explode across the face of Clusterspace, dealing death and destruction as they go. No race will be able to stand against them for long, and in the end the only defense will be to run.
The Antilans will be the first destroyed as the tanar’ri armies march forth from the corpse of Firefall. The illithids remaining in the Cluster (those not “dealt with” by the characters) will be the next to be taken down; tanar’ri have long memories and end grudges only in blood.
The neogi will most likely make no attempt to stop the tanar’ri, preferring to run instead. Thoric and Calidians will do the same, preferring to hide from the rampaging armies of outer planar denizens. The Calidian Hidden will not take the easy way out, however, preferring to fight this oppressor as they have fought others in the past: from the shadows. Player characters may find themselves inducted into the Hidden (if they haven’t been already) and given a chance to strike back at the Arcane and tanar’ri.
The dwarves will fight with the zeal of their kind, but in the end, they too will fall. The elves will help where they can by ferrying people out of the Cluster as quickly as possible, but this will be of little help.
In the end, the tanar’ri will dominate the Cluster, using their fierce might and magical ability to bind the other races as slaves. For the tanar’ri, the chance to capture and twist an entire crystal sphere to the cause of chaos and evil is well worth any price the Arcane may later demand.
There are still several possible ways for characters to turn back the tide of evil:
- The Enemy of My Enemy Is My Friend: The tanar’ri are blood foes of the baatezu, the primary denizens of the Nine Hells. Characters can attempt to bring the baatezu into the Cluster, opening their own rifts into the Nine Hells.
This isn’t an ideal method by any means, but it is the simplest way to contain the influence of the tanar’ri. By bringing the Blood War to the Prime Material plane, the characters can force both sides of the War to waste their energy fighting one another rather than rampaging into the phlogiston and beyond. The problem with this line of attack is the chance that one of the two powers might gain a significant edge over the others, which would result in the winning race turning on the other denizens of the Cluster.
- The Sunslayer: By some quirk of fate, it may be possible to activate the Sunslayer and use its contained power to battle the tanar’ri. Of course, the illithids are going to have other ideas and using the Sunslayer at all may result in a furthering of the illithids’ plans for conquest.
- Appeal to Higher Powers: There are some good denizens of the Outer Planes, a few of whom may be convinced to lend a hand in the conflict in the Astromundi Cluster. Of course, such powers aren’t known for dealing straight with mortals, and the price may be a little higher than most characters are willing to pay…
- Artifacts: There’s no telling what sort of magic is lying about in the various planes beyond the Prime Material. Various mages have found their way out into the other planes, and may live there even now. It is possible that they know some sort of artifacts that could be used to turn back the rampaging tanar’ri. Such artifacts won’t be just lying about, though, and characters may have to make some unpleasant deals with some very unsavory beings to get them.
- Taking the Bull by the Horns: Characters are known for attempting seemingly impossible feats and pulling them off. One such feat would be charging into the Abyss and taking out the leaders of the tanar’ri, crippling their military conquests within the Cluster. Naturally, this will involve a very complicated quest across several of the outer planes, as characters search for the weapons and allies needed to pull of such a feat.
- The Big Lie: Tanar’ri are smart, but they’re also greedy and mindlessly violent. Quick-thinking characters may be able to convince them that somewhere else would be a better place to start their conquest of the Prime Material plane. Characters would have to sweeten the pot, obviously, most likely by guiding a tanar’ri scout force into another crystal sphere. This won’t endear the characters to anyone who knows what they’ve done, but it could save the Cluster.
- Kill the Arcane: The Arcane are a pivotal force in tanar’ri plans. If something should happen to all of them, the tanar’ri would most likely have to abandon their designs on the Cluster until they could find new servitors to help them across.
These are just a few of the ways that characters can try to defeat the tanar’ri, but others are certainly possible. DMs are urged to make the doing quite difficult, a thing that legends are made of!
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