The Invisible College of Aten-Örm
Concept: An order of wizards which claims traditional descendance from Khufic sorcerers.
This many-named arcane fraternity, also called variously the House of Aten or the Ormetic Wizardry Tradition, is ancient. Founded by Aten-Thoth during the Second Dynasty, the order has preserved in one form or another through the Mana Wars, the Holy Crusade of Thrane, the Lignification of Illyria and the Secession of Fymory, and several internal schisms. Whether its continuity can truly be said to extend back to its founding is a theoretical question, since Aten-Thoth was a sorcerer who founded a sanctum and school of wizardry, and its guiding members are now mostly wizards, who occasionally accept sorcerers as agents and associates.
The founding members were Rary, Bigby, Otiluke, Drawmij, Tenser, Nystul, Otto, and Aten-Thoth herself. All were potent wizards seeking access to magical resources, which the Khufic sorcerer-queen granted to her court viziers. Their organization was damaged by internal treachery, but survived; it vowed thereafter noninterference with worldly affairs. Their retreat during this schism to the extraplanar Fortress of Örm gave the organization its second name; the Ormetic Citadel lies in a pocket of astral space, unassailable save through its Silver Gates.
The Ormetic wizards are currently led by eight potent magisters: Mordenkainen (the current Sorcerer Supreme, an assumed name and title, since he is in fact a wizard), Yrag (presumed warlock), the House Iggby (Belanna, Robilarr and the adopted Zedloff the Gnome, all wizards), Felnorith Evenstar (sorcerer), and the elf-twins Vram and Vin (bard and druid). They watch in horror as the world veers, but find themselves unwilling — or unable? — to interfere. It worries the otherwise cosmopolitan human members of the council that to maintain their roles at full strength they have had to call upon elven wizardry’s aid, and that moreover the Sorcerer Supreme has not been seen in over a decade. To address that deficiency, they seek new candidates. Jallarzi Sallavarian (sorcerer), Warnes Starcoat (wizard), Alhamazad the Wise (wizard), and Theodain Eriason (druid) are currently undergoing trials to take the seats of the elves; Zedloff shows no sign of wishing to step down.
Below each full member of the Invisible College lie a dizzying array of apprentices and sojourners; most Ormetic Wizards are of this latter type, a title relatively easily won. These members are significantly more cosmopolitan and, notably, Sallavarian and Eriason are not currently affiliated with the House of Aten, despite
Their interests are the study and curation of pure magic, and the removal from the world of ancient magics such as were used in the Mana Wars, the elven catastrophes, and other era-definining events.
Concept: Travel-writers to the Queen of the Elves
Founded by Queen Yaralay before it sunk beneath the ice in order to catalog the whole world, the Yelendirim, also known as the Grey Riders or the Order of the Silver Star, travel under a cloud of opprobrium. Their membership is made up of travelers and scholars bound by ancient treaty to a variety of worldly princes and powers. The members of the order are effectively stateless diplomats, charged to be given food, rest, and supplies in exchange for information and granting magical aid to local authorities. The treaties are especially strong in elven communities, where recognition to the order may safely be assumed; in human communities, the treaties may not be well recognized. This loose structure survived the destruction of Yaralay’s courts, as well as those of her successive successors; the Grey Riders’ numbers are currently at a peak, as each rider for the past several generations has been committed to training and setting loose new riders, until they’ve become a reasonably recognizable group.
Grey Riders interests focus around planar magics especially; whatever their original mandate, their several lesser fortresses now focus on the activities of Dis and Thrane, as well as far-flung sites in Berlaine, Millepelagos, Barovia and beyond. The Berlish Rider-Lord, a half-elf known as Daen Theodorim Dux, seems focused especially on finding gate level magics and summoning. His response to questions from apprentices have centered around the interest of his predecessor, prophecy: he fears some external force.
The Grey Riders are most interesting because, at intermittent periods of months at a time, they provide to diplomats and kings their Missives, a summary of information from the preceeding year. This is publicly available information, but detailed and well-sourced, and so provides a good basic-level even understanding of the world. From this, their relatively arcane interests can be difficult to discern, but their general patterns become obvious.
Concept: Religious group which enforces the Iron Laws Against Witches.
Like all Vornish groups, the basic unit of organization is the squad: a fighting body with a chain of command under commission from some other Vornish body like a church or a thane of the faith. Also like all Vornish groups, questions of loyalty to nation, god, and commander can put the groups in a difficult position often solved through declaring all loyalties but to their deity heretical. The witchfinder-generals of Vorn’s Word levy pilgrims, paladins and peasants to confront the dark things in the night.
The witchfinders themselves are a deeply religious group. The most frequent classes among their number are, obviously, clerics and paladins; unusually, these types are much more devoted to the study of magic and of magical objects than most. As a result, sorcerers frequently find their way into the Word, as they provide protection and tutelage to gifted youngsters.
Oddly, however, actual wizards also find themselves working alongside the Word. While some witchfinders are more staunch than others, the actual laws against witches mostly proscribe actual crimes; abjurers, evokers, diviners, careful transmuters and conjurers, and certain illusionists are perfectly able to operate within their strictures. Enchanters, necromancers, and the balance of transmuters, conjurers, and illusionists tend towards a more criminal bent, and therefore also a sinful bent.
As with all Vornish groups, in areas controlled by Thrane they co-identify with Mertion as Mertion’s Word; in areas controlled by Dis they are the Iron Word, and in Barovia they are called simply Witchhunters.
The Khufic Heresy
Concept: Anti-Thranish group which explicitly positions itself as a shadow government
The influence of the Celestial Court on the empires of humanity cannot be overstated. The unprecedented levels of health, wealth, medicine, culture, and technology which the contact has created is enormous. Two neighboring cultures — the sorcerer-kings of Khuf and the Turathi that would become Dis — reacted in different ways. The Turathi sought and found a patron which could provide an alternate way to the celestials, the very forces of Hell. The Khuf came to a different understanding of the Celestials.
The Khuf had long had demigods in their midst. The first sorcerer-kings left their kingdoms behind, taking their servitors with them through gates to other skies. When the Celestials arrived, similarities between the patrons of the sorcerer-kings and the Celestials were undeniable, and the Khuf quickly realized that the worlds commanded by the Celestial forces could not be entirely bound to the will of the angelic beings they beheld. Instead, more likely, the angelic beings were themselves a property of the plane, and moreover, that plane was therefore unlikely to be relatable in the way that frail mortals are. In other words: the Celestials are puppets, and the universal forces which drive them are potent forces which can be channeled by those who master the proper disciplines.
Thrane began their First Inquisition to cast the Heresy as in league with Hell and oppose it, casting the Church and the Heresy forever into opposition. And yet, they could not destroy it; the fine degree of theological construction (what is the basis for the Celestial’s goodness and power? Are they both intrinsic, or are they independent qualities?) proved difficult to discover in the priests of the Church. Worse, the dialectic is very useful to arcane study; power divorced from its moral element can still be invoked, and so it seems that the Khufic Heresy may indeed be correct. The brotherhood moved underground, teaching its potent perversions of Church liturgy in the dark and, satyrically, clothing themselves in the garbs the Church assigns to its foes. Whether they are truly as dark as all that centers on whether their views are objectively correct; both sides have committed atrocity in the name of their viewpoint and each becomes monstrous if it is wrong.
Regardless, the Antipope of the Heresy seeks out free-thinkers, outsiders, and iconoclasts; anyone interacting with Thrane may ultimately find themselves approached.