Lore-Win: Host Tower, Academy of Evil
The magical academy has become something of a mainstay in every fantasy world.
You know exactly how it looks too. No matter if the setting is high or modern fantasy, magic or magitek dependent, there will be a tower and a great campus. A sprawling school with uniforms and factions within it. It might be focused on teaching demons, or bringing together all the races of the realm.
There will be grand libraries, sprawling with knowledge. Great green spaces, perhaps used to grow magical plants, perhaps for sports. Statues of ancient and knowledgeable wizards will dot the halls and common spaces. And deep, deep down, there may be a terrible secret at the school’s heart.
But it will always be a magical academy.
Whether you’re in the United Kingdom, travelling through Eorzea, or trekking through Dimension 20, you’re almost guaranteed to run into some school for the magically inclined. And certainly, the Forgotten Realms is no slouch in that department either.
But today, I think that we will stray away from the more heroic examples of the various schools of wizardry that exist inside the more common destinations along the Sword Coast, and move north to the city of Luskan.
Welcome to Lore-Win, the Dungeons and Dragons lore series. I, as always, am your humble Loremaster, Sokar. Today we will delve deep into one of the great causes of mischief and mayhem along the Sword Coast. A school that is as famous as it is infamous, that has likely been the bane of many more than it has helped. Today we will be looking at The Host Tower.
In The Days of Netheril
Before we get into where the Host Tower came from, let’s begin with what it is.
The Host Tower of the Arcane, also known as the Host Tower or Hosttower, is a bit more than a wizarding school. It is, or should I say was, also a magical structure that looked like a dead tree. A dead tree that also happened to be the headquarters for an evil, magical organization known as the Arcane Brotherhood.
The Host Tower stood in the city of Luskan located along the northern Sword Coast. Within Luskan, it stood on the not at all sinisterly named Cutlass Island. And for man, it had stood there for as long as anyone could remember.
Given the age of Faerun, it should come as no surprise that the Host Tower is old. Ancient even.
In fact, there are tales that put the construction of the tower sometime before the year -3000 DR. At least 4500 years before the setting as we know it. These accounts come from the oral traditions of the Northlanders, also known as human tribes who settled the north of the Sword Coast. According to these tales, the Host Tower existed even back when those tribes first migrated the region, and its origins seem unknown.
But this is far from the truth, and in fact, we can pinpoint exactly when the tower was constructed, and by who.
Spoiler: It was the Netherese.
While it may seem as though the Host Tower has been a permanent fixture in what is Luskan today, in reality, it was constructed in the year -354 DR.
At the time, Illusk was a city refounded by the Netherese and forged into a Magocracy, ruled over by a Grand Cabal. This city also proved as a refuge for those Low Netherese citizens — also known as inhabitants of the Netheril Empire who couldn’t afford to live in the flying cities they had — who fled the destructive war with the worm-like phaerimm.
Behold, the bane of Netheril.
I find a lot of uses for this image.
Source: Nethril: Empire of Magic (2e)
One of these refugees was a Netherese arcanist (or mage) named Melathlar. Fearing that he would be followed by the creatures turning his home into a desert, Melathlar decided to sacrifice himself in a ritual to defend the city. This took the form of the Host Tower of the Arcane, along with stone walls and magical wards.
Interestingly, in keeping with the tree-like appearance of the Host Tower, it also had roots. Roots that would in turn be used by another Netherese arcanist a mere twenty years later.
In the year -335, an arcanist named Maerin discovered a fiery, godlike being beneath Mount Hotenow, just northeast of what is now the city of Neverwinter. This was the primordial Maegera, and Maerin commissioned a clan of dwarves to build a city named Gauntlygrim above them. In order to keep the potentially destructive primordial under control, Maerin devised a system to syphon cold seawater from the Sea of Swords to Maegera’s resting place.
To do this, he used the roots of the Host Tower, transporting the water to the city, and using water elementals to bind the primordial. And with such immense power at their hands, the dwarves used Maegera to power their forges.
Of Course It’s Liches
Over the centuries the tower stood. Even as the city and people around it changed, the Host Tower remained the same.
By the year 95 DR, the city of Illusk came under attack once more. This time it was not the worm-like phaerimm that threatened the city however, but instead a tribe of raiders from the island of Ruathym. These warriors, led by Uthgar Gardolfsson, craved battle and glory, and so threw themselves against the city’s defences.
Uthgar himself managed to slay the leaders of the Grand Cabal, leaving the rest of the Cabal to flee to the Host Tower, sealing themselves inside. Without the wizards to lead them, defence of Illusk fell to the common folk. Under the leadership of one Stefan Blackspear, the Illuskans managed to repel the invaders, and a new ruler was appointed to lead the city.
Stefan Blackspear, now Highlord of the city, decided that the wizards had caused too much damage and Illusk would be better off without them. So he went about driving the wizards from the city, making a decree that wizards were to be banished from the city.
And yet, the Grand Cabal persisted within the Host Tower. The wizards within gave up on their lives, embracing undeath instead and becoming liches. There, they persisted through three invasions of orcish hordes. All of which failed to enter the tower, by the way, let alone threaten them.
Not that orcs could really threaten liches.
The Host Tower. It really does look like a tree.
Source: The Forgotten Realms Atlas (2e)
It would take the better part of a century for the Host Tower’s defences to be breached.
And it would take a powerful mage to do the deed. In the end it was the Chosen of Mystara, and partner to the original Khelben “Blackstaff” Arunsun, Laerel Silverhand who managed to break into the tower. There, she encountered the deathless cabal.
Where some wizards would fall to the overwhelming power of the liches, Laurel instead proved to be their better. She sealed the liches inside the Host Tower, and barred the entrances with magical barriers.
Of course, a barred entry is an invitation to some. And a barred entry on a magical tower?
That’s just asking for wizards seeking more power to come knocking.
The Arcane Brotherhood
500 years later, in the year 1311 DR, a wizard named Arklem Greeth broke through Laerel’s wards and entered the Host Tower. There, he released the liches within and with their aid, formed the Arcane Brotherhood.
Arklem named himself Archmage Arcane of this new organization and claimed the Host Tower as his base of operations. Over the years, the Arcane Brotherhood built up from their base there. On the outside, the Arcane Brotherhood was a simple mercantile company and wizards’ guild. In the inside, however, it was a political entity seeking to control the North both politically and economically.
The symbol of the Arcane Brotherhood. Somehow, it's less extravagant than I imagined.
Source: Sword Coast Adventurer's Guide (5e)
Inside their base of operations, the very structure of the Host Tower reflected the organization of the Brotherhood. The tree-like tower had a central spire with four, skyward reaching limbs that branched off of it. At the top of each of these limbs resided one of the organization’s amusingly named Overwizards.
And, of course, at the top of the central spire lived the Archmage Arcane himself.
Here, in the Host Tower, the Arcane Brotherhood trained their aspiring apprentices. Throughout the many spires and branches of the tower were workshops, libraries, laboratories, living quarters, and more. The Host Tower was truly rich in chambers. So rich that it was said that every apprentice had their own alchemical laboratory and meditation chamber.
Now, I haven’t been able to find much on the exact inner workings of the Host Tower as an academy. The Arcane Brotherhood is fierce in how it keeps its secrets, after all. However, I can still make some assumptions based on what we’ve seen here.
Given that they were apprentices to the working wizards of the Arcane Brotherhood, these apprentices were likely taught directly by their masters as opposed to attending proper classes. Further, while the Arcane Brotherhood is a single organization, its members do not have a singular purpose.
Apprentices were made to be tools in a political game of backstabbing, both literally and figuratively. Wizards-in-training like Akar Kessell were used to kill their masters at the behest of rivals. Then, these apprentices were discarded, like so many loose ends. Therefore it is likely that the wizards of the Arcane Brotherhood would try to keep their students close and insulated from outside influences.
As apprentices were also granted alchemical laboratories, it is likely that individual studies were also encouraged. Given the evil nature of the organization, many discoveries made by apprentices were likely taken by the wizards above them.
In terms of schools, learning at the Host Tower would make for a cut throat experience, perfect for a campaign focused on political manoeuvring and arcane prowess. Climbing the ranks of the Arcane Brotherhood would make a fine goal for aspiring mages, with threats such as rival apprentices and hostile wizards at every turn.
Yet, nothing is eternal. The Host Tower was destroyed in the year 1376 during an invasion of Luskan by Waterdeep. In the fighting, Arklem broke his staff of the magi with destructive results. The resulting explosion leveled the Host Tower, and killed most of those who lived within it. A great event to mix up any campaign you might want to run inside and send the aspiring wizards off into the wilderness.
In 1486 DR, an effort was made to rebuild the Host Tower, and the Arcane Brotherhood returned. Now they built up a shining reputation, defending Luskan from threats and promising to stay out of politics. And yet, when other wizards petitioned to join them in the newly regrown Host Tower, the Brotherhood took only those of a like-mind to themselves.
If you’re looking for a more… normal wizarding school, perhaps it would be better to seek out attendance at something like the Neverwinter Academy of Magic. Or, maybe you’d rather attend Strixhaven using the new Strixhaven Curriculum of Chaos book available now at the Wizard’s Tower!
Oh, and if you want to get a bit more power with less study? Just saying, warlocks always an option.
Until next time, may fortune favour you.