This January, Tales of a GM is proud to host the RPG Blog Carnival. In keeping with the season, the theme for this month is Gates and Portals. This essay is my first contribution to the January Carnival
Inter-planar portals play a prominent role in my Sigil PD campaign. Thus, they seem a fitting place to start my contribution to the Gates & Portals Carnival. I envisage a network of portals scattered through the Cosmos. Some portals occur naturally, in areas rich with elemental matter. Thus, a portal to the Plane of Fire may nestle in the heart of a volcano, or one to the Plane of Water in the ocean depths.
Yet, there are also many manufactured portals. The economic benefits of safe inter-planar travel are clear. The portals facilitate trade between the planes and act as a conduit for all manner of exotic goods. Therefore, the manufacture and maintenance of planar portals is a lucrative business.
A Portalwright is a mage who specializes in trans-planar travel, especially the creation and upkeep of portals. Many sages rate portalwrights as specialist enchanters, arguing the operation of a portal focuses upon the physical frame of the doorway.
Any portal, either permanent or transient, is activated by an enchanted object. Permanent portals have physical frames in both locations, which are carefully attuned to one another, to hold open the trans-planar doorway. Conversely, the transient portal needs attuned tethers in both locations, but the physical dimensions of these objects need not align. Either way, there must be two enchanted objects for a portal to operate.
Permanently enchanting a portal requires complex rituals, involving a large expenditure in magical energy. Portalwrights therefore operate best when supported by a large organisation, with the resources to gather the required components.
Collegium of Planar Travel
The largest group of portalwrights is the prestigious Collegium of Planar Travel. There are many arcane collegia in existence, but this one is probably the wealthiest, with political connections throughout the Cosmos.
The Collegium is located on what is known as Dimension One. Portalwrights who will talk about the Collegium claim Dimension One is the nexus of the Cosmos: the first small plane of existence created at the dawn of time. Many sages quietly dispute this claim. Alternate theories argue Dimension One is the remnant of a shattered world, a shard of a pre-Cosmos realm, or simply an ordinary pocket dimension given a pretentious name.
Whatever the truth of the matter, portalwrights admit few visitors to their Collegium. They also claim to channel arcane energies from Dimension One to fuel many of their enchantments. As to be expected of the home of the Collegium of Planar Travel, Dimension One has portals to all the major cities in the Cosmos.
Function of the Collegium
The primary function of the Collegium of Planar Travel is to train portalwrights and maintain the lucrative network of trading portals. The majority of these portals are large, permanent gates connecting planar trade hubs. Many portals are tall enough for trading ships to sail through.
The educational aspect of the Collegium is conducted in the many halls and towers of Dimension One. Studying to become a portalwright takes many years, and few of the apprentices show the necessary understanding of the complex rituals required to graduate. However, the creation of portals is a complex affair, so less-capable apprentices become assistants, runesmiths and lesser enchanters within the Collegium structure.
Yet, the Collegium of Planar Travel has a shadier purpose. Control of the trading portals is essentially control of inter-planar commerce. This is a highly lucrative business. Thus, the Collegium are notoriously bullish when it comes to maintaining their monopoly of portal construction. Rumours abound of assassinations and arcane sabotage whenever an independent mage creates a permanent portal.
Members of the Collegium
At the apex of the Collegium of Planar Travel is the ruling council of master portalwrights. These veteran mages supervise exams, co-ordinate the construction of new portals and engage in the necessary politics to maintain the Collegium’s ascendency.
Next in rank are the adept portalwrights, who conduct the arcane rituals to make portals. The adepts also teach in the Collegium, when they are not travelling the planes maintaining the portal network. Most portalwrights encountered away from Dimension One are adepts.
The largest body within the Collegium are the artisans, former apprentices who failed the rigorous exams to become an adept. Yet, these mages are skilled in their specialist fields. Artisans toil in the many foundries and workshops of Dimension One, manufacturing the huge enchanted doorways which frame the portal itself.
Finally, there are the apprentices who study for years in Dimension One. The most gifted apprentices accompany adept portalwrights in the field, before undertaking the lengthy final examinations. Other apprentices transfer to the artisan track, where they learn a support craft.
Aglaia Iphis is a typical portalwright. A dark-skinned mature human, she is richly dressed in flowing robes. Aglaia will expound for hours on the difficulties of aligning lintels and maintaining the correct flow of mana to a working portal. She is highly capable, fiercely loyal to the Collegium of Planar Travel and considers all other mages to be crude hedge wizards.
Aglaia is accompanied at all times by her senior apprentice, Niruth, a quiet male satyr who is in awe of her. Niruth is obedient and efficient, two traits which appeal highly to Aglaia.
The Collegium of Portalwrights is a powerful and influential body. Therefore, they have no shortage of enemies. At least two Mercantile Guilds are rumoured to want to break the Collegium’s monopoly. Likewise, the ruling councils of several major trading cities desire a reduction in the high operation fees charged by the Collegium.
However, the Collegium claim to be fully aware of these “plots”, with counter operations in hand. The greatest threat is therefore likely to be something else, such as the shadowy cabal of planar princes who want to travel freely about the Cosmos without Collegium “spies” tracking the movements of their armies and fleets. Or is this just another disinformation campaign by the Collegium?
Here are three plots featuring the Collegium to run in your game:
- The trading portal in a large city suddenly collapses, destroying a ship in transit. The arrogant Collegium investigator demands some local Heroes as guides. Will the Heroes side with the portalwright when evidence suggests the local authorities colluded in the sabotage of the gate?
- Portalwright apprentices use the Heroes’ base of operations as the site of their final examination. Strange portals open randomly around the town, unleashing all manner of planar creatures. Can the Heroes catch all the rogue planars, seal the portals and stop the apprentices?
- A prominent merchant captain is killed inside his locked cabin. None of his crew saw anyone enter, or leave, the cabin. The captain was planning a boycott of the portal network, but the former alliance of merchants is now falling apart amidst bitter accusations. Can the Heroes solve the murder? Was it the portalwrights, or have they been framed?
Portals between the planes are a feature of many games, so here is an organization to maintain them in your campaign. So often such vast magicks are presented as products of “the ancients.” Yet, there are more story possibilities when the creators of the portals remain active in the setting.
How would you use the portalwrights in your campaign? What other activities might the Collegium undertake? Share your thoughts with fellow GMs in the comments below.
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