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What happened at Ulcaster’s school of magic three hundred years ago?

ulcasterulcaster Member Posts: 1
“History is so important”

Lingering outside a complex of heavily weathered ruins on a hill to the east of Beregost, the ghost of Ulcaster himself, former principal of the local school of magic, may be approached and spoken to during the night. While he won’t be forthcoming initially, if spoken to multiple times, he will eventually request that one of the tomes buried in the dungeon beneath be uncovered. Here’s what he has to say:

...the best of schools......
...a storehouse of arcane knowledge......
...lost, all lost... a common dungeon now...


If pressed further, he will grow more talkative and initiate the side quest “Tomes of Magic”, uttering:

...all for knowledge did we strive... nothing left... Hope would return with the retrieval of the simplest of tomes... beneath the rubble... on the lowest floors... return hope... history is so important...

Once the quest has been obtained, Ulcaster will repeat one phrase over and over until you bring him the book that he desires:

...we all shall live again... someday...

Underneath, in the dungeon below the ruins of his school, a massive pile of dead bodies that is guarded by a vampiric wolf acting as the dungeon’s boss yields treasures for the adventurers that bested its dangers, among it “Ulcaster’s Dusty History Book”. This happens to be a copy of the fairly widespread title “History of the Sisters of Light and Darkness” that can be found on many bookshelves across the Sword Coast, a book about the creation of the universe, of life, magic, and the deities involved, notably the two titular goddesses Shar and Selûne, though also Azuth and Mystra. When bringing Ulcaster the book to complete his quest, he gives a final piece of dialogue:

...knowledge returns with these simple words on parchment... to teach once more... in a celestial class... I will prevent the same from happening... some day...

Alas, with this, Ulcaster’s quest for his lost tome is completed, though there’s one more hidden quest involving two more items that can be handed over to the spectre. These are the “Ancient Armor” looted from the dead body of the Undead Knight inside Firewine Ruins and the “Idol of Kozah” stolen from the archaeological site south of the lighthouse area and defended against the temple’s guardian, a Doomsayer who is summoned upon its removal. Ulcaster will trade these treasures for a magical weapon, the “Vampiric Sword”.

It always intrigued me what might have happened at Ulcaster’s school of magic all this time ago such that it assumed its contemporary ruinous state and I have taken upon me the quest of piecing its story together from information that I found both in the game itself and outside – after all, “history is so important”. Join me on this journey to the deepest level of the catacombs beneath Ulcaster’s school of magic and brace yourself for a tale of present times and yesteryears, reaching back to the very days of creation, a tale of great archwizardly ambition, of demons and the Abyss as well as vampiric conspiracies and evil clergymen…

Ulcaster, the Burning Wizard

Let us begin with Ulcaster himself who in 1368 AD during the campaign’s setting happens to be a ghost roaming the ruins east of Beregost. In the forgotten realms, ghosts are the undead souls of once-living creatures, bound to haunt a location, creature, or object from their life. In the case of Ulcaster it seems that he is bound to the location of his former school of magic, though he might also be haunting any of the objects that are involved in his quests: “Ulcaster’s Dusty History Book”, the “Ancient Armor”, the “Idol of Kozah” or even the “Vampiric Sword”. Curiously, having his quests completed does not release Ulcaster from the material plane. His binding is not undone by “returning hope” to his school through retrieval of “Ulcaster’s Dusty History Book”, through possession of both the “Ancient Armor” and the “Idol of Kozah” or finally by his parting with the “Vampiric Sword”. (Releasing Ulcaster from the material plane apparently involves the patient use of the “Dagger of Venom”, the application of a series of “Contagion” spells or any other such meaner means, netting -10 reputation for killing an innocent, measly 175 EXP and the “Robe of the Neutral Archmagi”…)

From Volo’s Guide, we learn that in life, Ulcaster was a wizard of notable power, specializing in conjuration magic. He established a school of conjuration some three hundred years ago in the mid–11th century DR. Throughout various sources, this school is referred to as the “Ulcaster School of Magic”, the “Ulcaster School of Wizardry” or the “Ulcaster Academy”. According to Volo, the history of Beregost itself appears to be intimately tied to the life of the conjurer, as it “begun as a farming village under the protection of a school of wizardry” though “is now dominated by the Song of the Morning, a major temple to Lathander”. Other sources (namely realmshelp.net) tell the story slightly differently, stating that “the town’s founder was … a wizard named Ulcaster (who) established a magic school here that attracted a farming village to support it”. All the sources agree though, that roughly 80 years after the school was founded, Calishite mages came to envy (or fear) the school’s power and popularity. At this time, Ulcaster must have been exceptionally old for human standards; well beyond 100 years of age indeed, assuming that he must have been an adult of middle or even old age when he founded the school. Anyways, the school was destroyed in a massive spell battle between both parties and Ulcaster disappeared, not to be seen until the present day. As this battle must have involved the excessive use of magic, we may more or less safely assume that Ulcaster’s school was burned to ashes. “On a related note”, Volo muses, “Beregost has only one tavern, called the Burning Wizard (of course!).” Among the items scattered across the dungeon, a “Wand of Fire” stands out as some of the most rewarding loot.

Thus far we have learned that Ulcaster’s academy was a school of conjuration established three hundred years ago that rose in popularity as it rose in power and had to be destroyed 80 years after its founding according to the reasoning of Calishite wizards as it started to pose a threat. What business, though, might Calishite wizards have with a school of conjuration magic located so far north of their homelands?

Halaster Blackcloak, the Mad Wizard

When trying to uncover of what exact nature the threatening power of Ulcaster’s school of magic might have been, it turns out that studying the site that Ulcaster founded his academy on reveals some of its darker secrets. The sourcebook Dragons of Fearûn states thereabout:

In the Year of Crimson Magics (1026 DR), the mage Ulcaster, a conjurer of note, established a school of conjuration on the ruins of Hilather’s tower that attracted would-be mages from up and down the Sword Coast. For eight decades, Ulcaster and his senior apprentices secretly attempted to replicate Hilather’s earlier work on the site. Just as they were on the brink of success, the school was destroyed in the Year of the Solemn Halfling (1106 DR) in a spell-battle with Calishite mages who feared the school’s growing power.

Ulcaster’s school, apparently, was founded – and not accidently so – on the ruins of an older estate that originally belonged to someone else: Hilather of Ismakar. “Hilather of Imaskar” is the former name of Halaster Blackcloack, the chaotic evil archmage that presently (presumably) resides beneath Waterdeep in the Underhalls of Undermountain. Probably older than Elminster himself, Hilather rose to become one of the archwizards of the late Imaskari Empire sometime after -3920 DR and was revered as a hero during that time. 4000 years later, in 130 DR, Hilather was hired by the young Aleph yn Jadhar el Shoon, Shoon III, the fourth emperor of the Shoon imerpium of Calimshan. This explains why Calishite wizards took an interest in Ulcaster’s school in 1100 DR: Ulcaster studied magic that dates back to the ancient days of their ancestors. Hilather, as mentioned before, was hired to perform magical research for Shoon III. Namely, he was to be study nothing less than the ensnarement of demons and he chose to experiment with this dark magic at the very site Ulcaster almost 1000 years later founded his school on. The book reads:

In the Year of the Addled Arcanist (128 DR), Hilather established himself in an abandoned tower in the remote emirate of Torsil, which lay along the Sword Coast north of the northwestern foothills of the Cloud Peaks and south of Candlekeep, near the site of present-day Beregost. In the catacombs beneath his newly appropriated tower, the Raurinese wizard either located or created a planar breach between the Material Plane and the Abyss. Drawing on the large body of genie lore that had been developed by Calishite sorcerers over the centuries and the process for creating a mirror of life trapping, he devised a process whereby he could summon all manner of nether beings and permanently bind them into physical objects.

The dungeon beneath the ruins of Ulcaster’s school turns out to be what remains of Hilather’s tower, that is, the former abode of one of the most powerful wizards on the face of Faerûn. The tower must have been in ruins those 1000 years later when Ulcaster arrived at the site, and it certainly suffered further decay (and burn) during the 300 years that went by since to resemble what we can visit today. It turns out that in these very catacombs, Hilather summoned otherworldly beings, among them demons whom he indeed manged to ensnare – practicing the very magic, by the way, that eventually drove him as insane as he is nowadays. The only chronicle of Hilather’s work on the ensnarement of demons, a book entitled “Hilather’s Workbook”, seems to have been lost soon after Hilather emerged from his scholarly seclusion in 132 DR “with thirteen Demonshields” (Dragons of Fearûn) which he handed over to the imperial court of Ismakar. These "Demonshields" are the physical objects that Hilather permanently bound whatever he summoned from the Abyss to. The “earlier work” by Hilather that Ulcaster and his students wanted to replicate might well have been the art of ensnaring demons.

But why was the book that the ghost of Ulcaster wanted uncovered a copy of the “History of the Sisters of Light and Darkness” and not rather “Hilather’s Workbook”? When “Ulcaster’s Dusty History Book” is delivered to the ghost, he regretfully moans:

...knowledge returns with these simple words on parchment... to teach once more... in a celestial class... I will prevent the same from happening... some day...

What is it that Ulcaster wants to prevent from happening again? A spell battle such as the one that burned his school to the ground? Or is there something more sinister at play, something such as abysall classes in foul summoning magic taught by Ulcaster himself, something that must be countered with a “celestial class”? Something such as the ensnarement of demons and the dangers involved in the process? It might be a coincidence, but the circumstance that Hilather wrested the exact number of 13 “Demonshields” from the Abyss is mirrored in the “History of the Sisters of Light and Darkness” by a number of 13 “lords of shadow”, the Shadevari, that originally stalked the dim chaos of the Realmspace upon creation and who were imprisoned beyond the edges of the world… One way or another, the “Demonshields” are magical artifacts sought after by conjurers all across the realms. Dragons of Fearûn states that one Thalantyr of Beregost, “perhaps the greatest living scholar of Ulcaster’s work” seeks to acquire one of them “as the cornerstone on which to refound the Ulcasterian school”, though his is a story for another time. (A story, perhaps, that sheds some light on Thalantyr’s charmed dialogue about his suffering in an adventure that he won’t even tell his closest friend about but which Volo knows to link to meeting “some sort of horrible monster” and having been ”enslaved for a time”…)

With the information gathered above in mind, it seems appropriate to conclude that Ulcaster’s school of magic was in fact a site of studies in the ensnarement of demons after the example of Hilather of Imaskar, the mad wizard Halaster Blackcloack himself, and for that very reason it was burned down by Calishite wizards in 1106 DR when it came close to mastering this terrifying art. As straightforward as it may seem and providing a satisfactory answer to the question what happened 300 years ago at Ulcaster’s school of magic and how it went to ruin, too, it nonetheless leaves a few loose threads hanging. For one thing, the persistent presence of the undead in the ruins of Ulcaster’s school is hardly explained by conjuration shenanigans even of the most demonic kind but rather reeks of necromancy – after all, the dead rarely rise on their own accord, as it were.

LIFE AND DEATH ETERNAL – NECROMANCY

In Icewind Dale’s “Heart of Winter” expansion, adventures may unearth a magical artifact known as the “Ulcaster Academy Ring” which grants improved saving throws against spells as well as something else: The “Ulcaster Academy Ring” bestows upon its wearer the power to cast several bonus spells, though curiously these are not conjurations but necromantic weaves. The description of the ring when identified reads as follows:

A stout gold ring set with a black opal, this Ulcaster Academy ring bears the Netherese phrase “GOTHA E ETAN MEDR - ETACC,” or “LIFE AND DEATH ETERNAL - NECROMANCY.” A date on the side of the ring reads “1072 DR.” The Ulcaster Academy was a school of wizards who practiced, learned, and taught magic near the town of Beregost on the Sword Coast. Ulcaster's school eventually became frighteningly powerful. A group of wizards descended on the academy and reduced it to ruin. Most of the students and teachers were killed. Ulcaster's fate is unknown. Those few Ulcaster residents who escaped are known to pass on their class rings to private students, continuing their particular brand of education with pride.

Apparently, among the residents of Ulcaster’s school, there were both teachers and students who taught and studied necromancy sometime around 1070 DR, that is, somewhat halfway through the school’s existence. We must assume that this group of necromancers was established, so much so anyways, that they would have a lineage of students whom they passed their magic rings on to. How does this add up with Ulcaster’s official image as a school of conjuration? Behimd that façade we already discovered demons lurking, but the undead, too? There is indeed even more evidence linking Ulcaster’s school with necromancy. For one, take the ghost of Ulcaster himself. His current state of undeath must have come about somehow, though not necessarily through necromancy in the literal sense, I suppose. It seems conceivable that his soul just cannot let go of his former school and therefore keeps haunting its ruins without any involvement of sorcery beyond that. It does seem strange though that Ulcaster's ghost would say that

...we all shall live again... someday...

Life after death is not exactly the business of conjurers so why would Ulcaster say that he shall some day live again? Priests dabble in the divine magic of raising the dead back to life and necromancers in the black magic of raising the dead to undeath, but conjurers don’t normally do either. Are we therefore to assume that Ulcaster himself studied necromancy and sought “life and death eternal”? That seems far-fetched, but it is an option – after all Ulcaster did grow unnaturally old, though his wizardry might account for that. Mages are known to grow unnaturally old after all, take Gorion for example or Elminster and Halaster. One other magical item linked to both, the Ulcaster school and necromancy, comes to mind though and it paints a different picture: Ulcaster’s “Vampiric Sword”. As mentioned in the beginning, Ulcaster will swap this ornate blade for the “Ancient Armor” from the Firewine Ruins and the “Idol” from the Temple of Kozah. Firewine lore appropriately dates back 300 years to the days of Ulcaster's downfall, Kozah though dates back much further to ancient Netherese society, about 3000 years according to the archaeologist Charleston Nib. I will not go into more detail about either Firewine or the Temple of Kozah however, and instead short-circuit to the “Vampiric Sword”. When identified, it is revealed to be a cursed blade known as “The Vampire’s Revenge”. A section of its (really good) flavour text informs us that:

The blade is indeed vampiric, as the name would suggest, though not in the manner the finder might have hoped. It is rumored that the blade, instead of performing as one might think a vampiric blade would, was actually constructed by vampires as a trap for those that could eventually oppose them. These incredibly clever fiends have apparently fashioned numerous versions of these unfortunate blades over time, and they are the bane of all right-thinking adventurers. Each swing actually inflicts damage upon the wielder, as his life energies are drained in order to heal his intended victim.

Ulcaster apparently is in possession of a sword forged by vampires, a sword that was constructed as a trap for those that could oppose them. While there are several possible ways of coming into possession of such a blade (such as side-questing across the Sword Coast for the undead spectres of former school principals), the item’s description clearly states that its intended use is to be given to its owner by a vampire who thereby seeks to put an opponent out of action. And here is where I am tempted to speculate. To my mind, Ulcaster’s school of magic, though originally established towards the goal of mastering Hilather of Imaskar’s conjurations and less officially the summoning of demons, was at some time infiltrated by associates either of necromancy, vampirism or both. Possibly, the catacombs of Hilather’s tower with its planar breach into the Abyss is what attracted them to Ulcaster’s school. Ulcaster might have found out and opposed against this conspiracy, but his possession of the “Vampiric Sword” seems to be a testament of his eventual failure.

Calishite wizards burned down Ulcaster’s school of magic in 1106 DR putting an end to its business in conjuration magic, though apparently not to its activities of necromantic origins. Because in 1368 DR, the undead are well and alive… or rather foul and undead, still roaming the ruins of Ulcaster. Among the numbers of skeletons (including the great and hungry warrior Icharyd), ghouls and ghasts that roam the ruins, the powerful vampiric wolf that guards the catacombs as its final boss stands out in particular. Ever wondered how vampiric wolves come into being? You might think (as I did) that they are the results of wolves being bitten by vampires, but it’s actually more complicated than this. The Monstrous Compendium Annual Volume records about this 2nd edition monster:

These foul undead creatures are the result of corrupting ceremonies used on normal wolf pups by evil clerics. ... Vampiric wolves regard the cleric who created them as their leader, accepting no other except their own, strongest member. ... As pack leader, the cleric has complete control over them. ... Vampiric wolves have no interest in treasure. However, the cleric often uses them as guards. It is a better than even chance that there is a concealed portal of some sort nearby if the wolves are found near what appears to be a wolf den.

The Compendium also gives a disturbingly accurate account of the corruption that the wolf pups exactly must undergo to be turned into vampiric wolves, you should read it. Anyways, their presence implicates the operations of evil clerics. Basilius the murderer comes to mind, but his business is resurrecting his zombie family, not weaning wolf puppies. Other powers are at play here, evil clergy with vampiric ties, guarding hidden portals in the dungeon below Ulcaster’s school of magic and whatever may be lurking in the deepest levels of its catacombs… The only other clerics around are of course the Morninglords, devout Priests of Lathander themselves and surely no suspects in such schemes. Note though that their map is the only other place where vampiric wolves roam in these vincinities. In The Western Heartlands, the following is stated about Ulcaster’s school of magic:

The ruins still dominate the eastern side of the road, where the Morninglord's clerics graze their sheep to keep an eye on the ruins and prevent unsavory characters from going in (or coming out.)

Maybe, not all is at it seems at the Song of the Morning temple, maybe there’s good reason these floors are kept so clean in that little vestibule that never seemed to serve any particular purpose…
Post edited by ulcaster on

Comments

  • ZaxaresZaxares Member Posts: 1,291
    A really fun and informative read. :D I personally don't think that Kelddath Ormlyr is in league with Evil though; my memory's pretty hazy but I'm pretty sure that he does not register as being Evil by a Paladin and if you do kill him, you wind up losing reputation for killing an innocent. I think it's more likely that there is probably a hidden priest or cabal of priests deep underneath the ruins of Ulcaster who is responsible for the undead and vampiric wolves. (It might even be a Clerical Lich, given the length of time we're talking about.)
  • AerakarAerakar Member Posts: 863
    "like"

    Enjoyed the read!
  • IseweinIsewein Member Posts: 447
    I faintly recall some mod adding an (ostensibly unrelated) Lich to the area just north of the Temple. It'd be a neat bit of content to imply he might be responsible!
  • HaHaCharadeHaHaCharade Member Posts: 1,638
    ulcaster wrote: »
    “History is so important”

    Lingering outside a complex of heavily weathered ruins on a hill to the east of Beregost, the ghost of Ulcaster himself, former principal of the local school of magic, may be approached and spoken to during the night. While he won’t be forthcoming initially, if spoken to multiple times, he will eventually request that one of the tomes buried in the dungeon beneath be uncovered. Here’s what he has to say:

    ...the best of schools......
    ...a storehouse of arcane knowledge......
    ...lost, all lost... a common dungeon now...


    If pressed further, he will grow more talkative and initiate the side quest “Tomes of Magic”, uttering:

    ...all for knowledge did we strive... nothing left... Hope would return with the retrieval of the simplest of tomes... beneath the rubble... on the lowest floors... return hope... history is so important...

    Once the quest has been obtained, Ulcaster will repeat one phrase over and over until you bring him the book that he desires:

    ...we all shall live again... someday...

    Underneath, in the dungeon below the ruins of his school, a massive pile of dead bodies that is guarded by a vampiric wolf acting as the dungeon’s boss yields treasures for the adventurers that bested its dangers, among it “Ulcaster’s Dusty History Book”. This happens to be a copy of the fairly widespread title “History of the Sisters of Light and Darkness” that can be found on many bookshelves across the Sword Coast, a book about the creation of the universe, of life, magic, and the deities involved, notably the two titular goddesses Shar and Selûne, though also Azuth and Mystra. When bringing Ulcaster the book to complete his quest, he gives a final piece of dialogue:

    ...knowledge returns with these simple words on parchment... to teach once more... in a celestial class... I will prevent the same from happening... some day...

    Alas, with this, Ulcaster’s quest for his lost tome is completed, though there’s one more hidden quest involving two more items that can be handed over to the spectre. These are the “Ancient Armor” looted from the dead body of the Undead Knight inside Firewine Ruins and the “Idol of Kozah” stolen from the archaeological site south of the lighthouse area and defended against the temple’s guardian, a Doomsayer who is summoned upon its removal. Ulcaster will trade these treasures for a magical weapon, the “Vampiric Sword”.

    It always intrigued me what might have happened at Ulcaster’s school of magic all this time ago such that it assumed its contemporary ruinous state and I have taken upon me the quest of piecing its story together from information that I found both in the game itself and outside – after all, “history is so important”. Join me on this journey to the deepest level of the catacombs beneath Ulcaster’s school of magic and brace yourself for a tale of present times and yesteryears, reaching back to the very days of creation, a tale of great archwizardly ambition, of demons and the Abyss as well as vampiric conspiracies and evil clergymen…

    Ulcaster, the Burning Wizard

    Let us begin with Ulcaster himself who in 1368 AD during the campaign’s setting happens to be a ghost roaming the ruins east of Beregost. In the forgotten realms, ghosts are the undead souls of once-living creatures, bound to haunt a location, creature, or object from their life. In the case of Ulcaster it seems that he is bound to the location of his former school of magic, though he might also be haunting any of the objects that are involved in his quests: “Ulcaster’s Dusty History Book”, the “Ancient Armor”, the “Idol of Kozah” or even the “Vampiric Sword”. Curiously, having his quests completed does not release Ulcaster from the material plane. His binding is not undone by “returning hope” to his school through retrieval of “Ulcaster’s Dusty History Book”, through possession of both the “Ancient Armor” and the “Idol of Kozah” or finally by his parting with the “Vampiric Sword”. (Releasing Ulcaster from the material plane apparently involves the patient use of the “Dagger of Venom”, the application of a series of “Contagion” spells or any other such meaner means, netting -10 reputation for killing an innocent, measly 175 EXP and the “Robe of the Neutral Archmagi”…)

    From Volo’s Guide, we learn that in life, Ulcaster was a wizard of notable power, specializing in conjuration magic. He established a school of conjuration some three hundred years ago in the mid–11th century DR. Throughout various sources, this school is referred to as the “Ulcaster School of Magic”, the “Ulcaster School of Wizardry” or the “Ulcaster Academy”. According to Volo, the history of Beregost itself appears to be intimately tied to the life of the conjurer, as it “begun as a farming village under the protection of a school of wizardry” though “is now dominated by the Song of the Morning, a major temple to Lathander”. Other sources (namely realmshelp.net) tell the story slightly differently, stating that “the town’s founder was … a wizard named Ulcaster (who) established a magic school here that attracted a farming village to support it”. All the sources agree though, that roughly 80 years after the school was founded, Calishite mages came to envy (or fear) the school’s power and popularity. At this time, Ulcaster must have been exceptionally old for human standards; well beyond 100 years of age indeed, assuming that he must have been an adult of middle or even old age when he founded the school. Anyways, the school was destroyed in a massive spell battle between both parties and Ulcaster disappeared, not to be seen until the present day. As this battle must have involved the excessive use of magic, we may more or less safely assume that Ulcaster’s school was burned to ashes. “On a related note”, Volo muses, “Beregost has only one tavern, called the Burning Wizard (of course!).” Among the items scattered across the dungeon, a “Wand of Fire” stands out as some of the most rewarding loot.

    Thus far we have learned that Ulcaster’s academy was a school of conjuration established three hundred years ago that rose in popularity as it rose in power and had to be destroyed 80 years after its founding according to the reasoning of Calishite wizards as it started to pose a threat. What business, though, might Calishite wizards have with a school of conjuration magic located so far north of their homelands?

    Halaster Blackcloak, the Mad Wizard

    When trying to uncover of what exact nature the threatening power of Ulcaster’s school of magic might have been, it turns out that studying the site that Ulcaster founded his academy on reveals some of its darker secrets. The sourcebook Dragons of Fearûn states thereabout:

    In the Year of Crimson Magics (1026 DR), the mage Ulcaster, a conjurer of note, established a school of conjuration on the ruins of Hilather’s tower that attracted would-be mages from up and down the Sword Coast. For eight decades, Ulcaster and his senior apprentices secretly attempted to replicate Hilather’s earlier work on the site. Just as they were on the brink of success, the school was destroyed in the Year of the Solemn Halfling (1106 DR) in a spell-battle with Calishite mages who feared the school’s growing power.

    Ulcaster’s school, apparently, was founded – and not accidently so – on the ruins of an older estate that originally belonged to someone else: Hilather of Ismakar. “Hilather of Imaskar” is the former name of Halaster Blackcloack, the chaotic evil archmage that presently (presumably) resides beneath Waterdeep in the Underhalls of Undermountain. Probably older than Elminster himself, Hilather rose to become one of the archwizards of the late Imaskari Empire sometime after -3920 DR and was revered as a hero during that time. 4000 years later, in 130 DR, Hilather was hired by the young Aleph yn Jadhar el Shoon, Shoon III, the fourth emperor of the Shoon imerpium of Calimshan. This explains why Calishite wizards took an interest in Ulcaster’s school in 1100 DR: Ulcaster studied magic that dates back to the ancient days of their ancestors. Hilather, as mentioned before, was hired to perform magical research for Shoon III. Namely, he was to be study nothing less than the ensnarement of demons and he chose to experiment with this dark magic at the very site Ulcaster almost 1000 years later founded his school on. The book reads:

    In the Year of the Addled Arcanist (128 DR), Hilather established himself in an abandoned tower in the remote emirate of Torsil, which lay along the Sword Coast north of the northwestern foothills of the Cloud Peaks and south of Candlekeep, near the site of present-day Beregost. In the catacombs beneath his newly appropriated tower, the Raurinese wizard either located or created a planar breach between the Material Plane and the Abyss. Drawing on the large body of genie lore that had been developed by Calishite sorcerers over the centuries and the process for creating a mirror of life trapping, he devised a process whereby he could summon all manner of nether beings and permanently bind them into physical objects.

    The dungeon beneath the ruins of Ulcaster’s school turns out to be what remains of Hilather’s tower, that is, the former abode of one of the most powerful wizards on the face of Faerûn. The tower must have been in ruins those 1000 years later when Ulcaster arrived at the site, and it certainly suffered further decay (and burn) during the 300 years that went by since to resemble what we can visit today. It turns out that in these very catacombs, Hilather summoned otherworldly beings, among them demons whom he indeed manged to ensnare – practicing the very magic, by the way, that eventually drove him as insane as he is nowadays. The only chronicle of Hilather’s work on the ensnarement of demons, a book entitled “Hilather’s Workbook”, seems to have been lost soon after Hilather emerged from his scholarly seclusion in 132 DR “with thirteen Demonshields” (Dragons of Fearûn) which he handed over to the imperial court of Ismakar. These "Demonshields" are the physical objects that Hilather permanently bound whatever he summoned from the Abyss to. The “earlier work” by Hilather that Ulcaster and his students wanted to replicate might well have been the art of ensnaring demons.

    But why was the book that the ghost of Ulcaster wanted uncovered a copy of the “History of the Sisters of Light and Darkness” and not rather “Hilather’s Workbook”? When “Ulcaster’s Dusty History Book” is delivered to the ghost, he regretfully moans:

    ...knowledge returns with these simple words on parchment... to teach once more... in a celestial class... I will prevent the same from happening... some day...

    What is it that Ulcaster wants to prevent from happening again? A spell battle such as the one that burned his school to the ground? Or is there something more sinister at play, something such as abysall classes in foul summoning magic taught by Ulcaster himself, something that must be countered with a “celestial class”? Something such as the ensnarement of demons and the dangers involved in the process? It might be a coincidence, but the circumstance that Hilather wrested the exact number of 13 “Demonshields” from the Abyss is mirrored in the “History of the Sisters of Light and Darkness” by a number of 13 “lords of shadow”, the Shadevari, that originally stalked the dim chaos of the Realmspace upon creation and who were imprisoned beyond the edges of the world… One way or another, the “Demonshields” are magical artifacts sought after by conjurers all across the realms. Dragons of Fearûn states that one Thalantyr of Beregost, “perhaps the greatest living scholar of Ulcaster’s work” seeks to acquire one of them “as the cornerstone on which to refound the Ulcasterian school”, though his is a story for another time. (A story, perhaps, that sheds some light on Thalantyr’s charmed dialogue about his suffering in an adventure that he won’t even tell his closest friend about but which Volo knows to link to meeting “some sort of horrible monster” and having been ”enslaved for a time”…)

    With the information gathered above in mind, it seems appropriate to conclude that Ulcaster’s school of magic was in fact a site of studies in the ensnarement of demons after the example of Hilather of Imaskar, the mad wizard Halaster Blackcloack himself, and for that very reason it was burned down by Calishite wizards in 1106 DR when it came close to mastering this terrifying art. As straightforward as it may seem and providing a satisfactory answer to the question what happened 300 years ago at Ulcaster’s school of magic and how it went to ruin, too, it nonetheless leaves a few loose threads hanging. For one thing, the persistent presence of the undead in the ruins of Ulcaster’s school is hardly explained by conjuration shenanigans even of the most demonic kind but rather reeks of necromancy – after all, the dead rarely rise on their own accord, as it were.

    LIFE AND DEATH ETERNAL – NECROMANCY

    In Icewind Dale’s “Heart of Winter” expansion, adventures may unearth a magical artifact known as the “Ulcaster Academy Ring” which grants improved saving throws against spells as well as something else: The “Ulcaster Academy Ring” bestows upon its wearer the power to cast several bonus spells, though curiously these are not conjurations but necromantic weaves. The description of the ring when identified reads as follows:

    A stout gold ring set with a black opal, this Ulcaster Academy ring bears the Netherese phrase “GOTHA E ETAN MEDR - ETACC,” or “LIFE AND DEATH ETERNAL - NECROMANCY.” A date on the side of the ring reads “1072 DR.” The Ulcaster Academy was a school of wizards who practiced, learned, and taught magic near the town of Beregost on the Sword Coast. Ulcaster's school eventually became frighteningly powerful. A group of wizards descended on the academy and reduced it to ruin. Most of the students and teachers were killed. Ulcaster's fate is unknown. Those few Ulcaster residents who escaped are known to pass on their class rings to private students, continuing their particular brand of education with pride.

    Apparently, among the residents of Ulcaster’s school, there were both teachers and students who taught and studied necromancy sometime around 1070 DR, that is, somewhat halfway through the school’s existence. We must assume that this group of necromancers was established, so much so anyways, that they would have a lineage of students whom they passed their magic rings on to. How does this add up with Ulcaster’s official image as a school of conjuration? Behimd that façade we already discovered demons lurking, but the undead, too? There is indeed even more evidence linking Ulcaster’s school with necromancy. For one, take the ghost of Ulcaster himself. His current state of undeath must have come about somehow, though not necessarily through necromancy in the literal sense, I suppose. It seems conceivable that his soul just cannot let go of his former school and therefore keeps haunting its ruins without any involvement of sorcery beyond that. It does seem strange though that Ulcaster's ghost would say that

    ...we all shall live again... someday...

    Life after death is not exactly the business of conjurers so why would Ulcaster say that he shall some day live again? Priests dabble in the divine magic of raising the dead back to life and necromancers in the black magic of raising the dead to undeath, but conjurers don’t normally do either. Are we therefore to assume that Ulcaster himself studied necromancy and sought “life and death eternal”? That seems far-fetched, but it is an option – after all Ulcaster did grow unnaturally old, though his wizardry might account for that. Mages are known to grow unnaturally old after all, take Gorion for example or Elminster and Halaster. One other magical item linked to both, the Ulcaster school and necromancy, comes to mind though and it paints a different picture: Ulcaster’s “Vampiric Sword”. As mentioned in the beginning, Ulcaster will swap this ornate blade for the “Ancient Armor” from the Firewine Ruins and the “Idol” from the Temple of Kozah. Firewine lore appropriately dates back 300 years to the days of Ulcaster's downfall, Kozah though dates back much further to ancient Netherese society, about 3000 years according to the archaeologist Charleston Nib. I will not go into more detail about either Firewine or the Temple of Kozah however, and instead short-circuit to the “Vampiric Sword”. When identified, it is revealed to be a cursed blade known as “The Vampire’s Revenge”. A section of its (really good) flavour text informs us that:

    The blade is indeed vampiric, as the name would suggest, though not in the manner the finder might have hoped. It is rumored that the blade, instead of performing as one might think a vampiric blade would, was actually constructed by vampires as a trap for those that could eventually oppose them. These incredibly clever fiends have apparently fashioned numerous versions of these unfortunate blades over time, and they are the bane of all right-thinking adventurers. Each swing actually inflicts damage upon the wielder, as his life energies are drained in order to heal his intended victim.

    Ulcaster apparently is in possession of a sword forged by vampires, a sword that was constructed as a trap for those that could oppose them. While there are several possible ways of coming into possession of such a blade (such as side-questing across the Sword Coast for the undead spectres of former school principals), the item’s description clearly states that its intended use is to be given to its owner by a vampire who thereby seeks to put an opponent out of action. And here is where I am tempted to speculate. To my mind, Ulcaster’s school of magic, though originally established towards the goal of mastering Hilather of Imaskar’s conjurations and less officially the summoning of demons, was at some time infiltrated by associates either of necromancy, vampirism or both. Possibly, the catacombs of Hilather’s tower with its planar breach into the Abyss is what attracted them to Ulcaster’s school. Ulcaster might have found out and opposed against this conspiracy, but his possession of the “Vampiric Sword” seems to be a testament of his eventual failure.

    Calishite wizards burned down Ulcaster’s school of magic in 1106 DR putting an end to its business in conjuration magic, though apparently not to its activities of necromantic origins. Because in 1368 DR, the undead are well and alive… or rather foul and undead, still roaming the ruins of Ulcaster. Among the numbers of skeletons (including the great and hungry warrior Icharyd), ghouls and ghasts that roam the ruins, the powerful vampiric wolf that guards the catacombs as its final boss stands out in particular. Ever wondered how vampiric wolves come into being? You might think (as I did) that they are the results of wolves being bitten by vampires, but it’s actually more complicated than this. The Monstrous Compendium Annual Volume records about this 2nd edition monster:

    These foul undead creatures are the result of corrupting ceremonies used on normal wolf pups by evil clerics. ... Vampiric wolves regard the cleric who created them as their leader, accepting no other except their own, strongest member. ... As pack leader, the cleric has complete control over them. ... Vampiric wolves have no interest in treasure. However, the cleric often uses them as guards. It is a better than even chance that there is a concealed portal of some sort nearby if the wolves are found near what appears to be a wolf den.

    The Compendium also gives a disturbingly accurate account of the corruption that the wolf pups exactly must undergo to be turned into vampiric wolves, you should read it. Anyways, their presence implicates the operations of evil clerics. Basilius the murderer comes to mind, but his business is resurrecting his zombie family, not weaning wolf puppies. Other powers are at play here, evil clergy with vampiric ties, guarding hidden portals in the dungeon below Ulcaster’s school of magic and whatever may be lurking in the deepest levels of its catacombs… The only other clerics around are of course the Morninglords, devout Priests of Lathander themselves and surely no suspects in such schemes. Note though that their map is the only other place where vampiric wolves roam in these vincinities. In The Western Heartlands, the following is stated about Ulcaster’s school of magic:

    The ruins still dominate the eastern side of the road, where the Morninglord's clerics graze their sheep to keep an eye on the ruins and prevent unsavory characters from going in (or coming out.)

    Maybe, not all is at it seems at the Song of the Morning temple, maybe there’s good reason these floors are kept so clean in that little vestibule that never seemed to serve any particular purpose…



    This is fantastic. Love realms lore! Well done!
  • OlvynChuruOlvynChuru Member Posts: 2,873
    ulcaster wrote: »
    LIFE AND DEATH ETERNAL – NECROMANCY

    In Icewind Dale’s “Heart of Winter” expansion, adventures may unearth a magical artifact known as the “Ulcaster Academy Ring” which grants improved saving throws against spells as well as something else: The “Ulcaster Academy Ring” bestows upon its wearer the power to cast several bonus spells, though curiously these are not conjurations but necromantic weaves. The description of the ring when identified reads as follows:

    A stout gold ring set with a black opal, this Ulcaster Academy ring bears the Netherese phrase “GOTHA E ETAN MEDR - ETACC,” or “LIFE AND DEATH ETERNAL - NECROMANCY.” A date on the side of the ring reads “1072 DR.” The Ulcaster Academy was a school of wizards who practiced, learned, and taught magic near the town of Beregost on the Sword Coast. Ulcaster's school eventually became frighteningly powerful. A group of wizards descended on the academy and reduced it to ruin. Most of the students and teachers were killed. Ulcaster's fate is unknown. Those few Ulcaster residents who escaped are known to pass on their class rings to private students, continuing their particular brand of education with pride.

    Apparently, among the residents of Ulcaster’s school, there were both teachers and students who taught and studied necromancy sometime around 1070 DR, that is, somewhat halfway through the school’s existence. We must assume that this group of necromancers was established, so much so anyways, that they would have a lineage of students whom they passed their magic rings on to. How does this add up with Ulcaster’s official image as a school of conjuration? Behimd that façade we already discovered demons lurking, but the undead, too? There is indeed even more evidence linking Ulcaster’s school with necromancy. For one, take the ghost of Ulcaster himself. His current state of undeath must have come about somehow, though not necessarily through necromancy in the literal sense, I suppose. It seems conceivable that his soul just cannot let go of his former school and therefore keeps haunting its ruins without any involvement of sorcery beyond that. It does seem strange though that Ulcaster's ghost would say that

    ...we all shall live again... someday...

    Life after death is not exactly the business of conjurers so why would Ulcaster say that he shall some day live again?

    I think you're overthinking this. You had to go pretty deep into the lore to even learn that the Ulcaster school specialized in conjuration; the writers for these games may not have been aware of that fact. And even if they were, I can tell that they didn't take the idea of specialization in one school very seriously. Thalantyr may have been called "the Conjurer", but they didn't go out of their way to make him only use conjuration magic: he created flesh golems (likely using necromancy), he reversed Melicamp's "chickenation" (likely using transmutation or abjuration), and he has a lightning thingy in the middle of his house (which was likely made using evocation). They probably just pictured NPC wizards as being able to cast whatever spell they want as the plot demands.

    In the case of Ulcaster, the person who wrote the description for that ring probably pictured Ulcaster as just a generic wizard academy, with wizards who practiced every school of magic, including necromancy. There were probably rings like that for conjuration, transmutation, divination, evocation, abjuration, illusion, and enchantment as well.

    As for that quote from Ulcaster himself, he's probably just referring to the afterlife (he's a ghost, after all).
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