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The Black Academy, also known as the Bleak Academy,[3][note 3] was a secret cabal of necromancers,[1][3][4] a cult dedicated to the great demilich Acererak,[1][4][5] and a scholastic institution dedicated to the development and study of necromancy and the undead.[1][3][4]

What lies at the end of a life well lived? Eons of cold servitude, your flesh but a memory, your every tortured thought focused on one thing only: to feed on the living.
— Academician Drake, a Black Academy necromancer ruminating on mortal life.[6]

Organization[]

Though speculated by outsiders to be lead by fiends,[3] ever since the days of its founding the Black Academy was lead by the necromancer Mistress Ferranifer.[1] She ceded most of her power to the academy's various instructors.[7] The instructors were typically necromancers and pale masters.[3] Each student within the Black Academy was assigned an instructor, who monitored their progress and disciplined them whenever necessary, though all students studied under a variety of different professors. Discipline among instructors could often be rather harsh, involving maiming the student, and in some circumstances could entail the student being killed[7]

Only the headmaster and the Black Academy's primary instructors had clearance to the Tomb of Horrors,[8] which was considered sacrosanct by the organization,[4] and the catacomb that lead to it.[9]

Activities[]

The rites of initiation was largely shrouded in secrecy to outsiders.[10] Applicants to the school had to pass a potentially fatal screening within the Hall of Petitioners.[9] They then had to pay an initiation fee of 300 gold pieces[3] and prepare a corpse candle to further prove their worth.[10] Additionally, each semester students had to pay a fee of 60 gold pieces and either animate or create some form of corporeal undead. These creations would be taken and turned over to the communal "dead pool".[3]

BlackAcademy Anatomy101

Instructor Ngise hunches over an examination table in the classroom of Anatomy 101.

Black Academy members engaged in a variety of experiments[1] and received schooling in both anatomy and necromantic practices.[11] They were also taught foul rituals, many of them geared towards the purpose of summoning or raising and controlling various undead monstrosities.[1][3] This act was viewed as glorifying Acererak,[1] though the Black Academy additionally taught[12] and performed evil ceremonies and rites that were specifically designed to garner Acererak's attention and favor,[4][13][12] usually performing such ceremonies on a weekly basis.[13]

Beyond just necromancer-style spellcasters, students at the school were known to overtime take up lives as either assassins, blackguards, and pale masters.[3]

Students with the lowest marks in each class[3] those lacking the necessary talent or resolve to master the Black Academy's coursework, were liable to be slain by their instructor and raised as a zombie that would be used in the academy's anatomy courses.[7][14][note 4] According to some outsiders, the failing student also gave up their immortal soul to the Black Academy's leadership.[3]

Tactics[]

In order to ensure their secrecy, the Black Academy often kidnapped those who openly told stories about them or killed them in various creative and horrible ways.[3]

Base of Operations[]

For many the exact location of the Black Academy was a mystery, often referred to in rumors as being in some dreary swamp atop the crypt of an ancient lich.[3] According to some, it was located on the world of Oerth in an area known as the Vast Swamp,[15][16][17][note 1] at a spot where the barrier between the Prime Material and the Shadowfell was thin.[1][16] The academy emerged from the side of a hill that capped the demilich Acererak's legendary Tomb of Horrors and it stood in front the dungeon's entrance. It was centered around a small community generously referred to as "Skull City".[1][4][18][19] An assortment of various homes, shops, and graveyards behind a steep wall.[1] This wall was 20 feet (6.1 meters) high,[20][21] 4 feet (1.2 meters) thick,[21] and constructed of black stone.[20][21] The only way in was bone gateway,[22] made out of the bones of the dungeon's victims.[1]

BlackAcademy Auditorium

Students sit in attention in the auditorium room.

The academy itself was a looming structure made of black stone,[1][19][20] 80 feet (24 meters) high, resembling the upper half of a skull. Each of the skull's 20 feet (6.1 meters) tooth-pillars was carved with[19] all manner of images most macabre,[1][19][20] such as rotting skeletal figures,[20] as well as profane inscriptions and unholy glyphs or sigils.[1][20] Fronting the building was a half ring of stone made to resemble teeth. Inside the building housed classrooms, workshops, private chambers, a large auditorium,[1] a dungeon for live captives, a room for experimenting on captives,[23] and a library that had a collection of various lore on Acererak and his plots.[24] All interiors spaces of the academy were similarly decorated with a death motif.[1] Notably, both the auditorium[25] and the foyer were filled with hundreds of student-made corpse candles.[10]

Under an arch inscribed with necromantic runes and through a lack curtain stood the Hall of Petition. It was a room covered from floor to ceiling in 1 foot (0.3 meters) squares of obsidian. It was dominated by a granite construct, as large as an ogre, that was shaped like a skeleton and attached to the wall. Both of its hands were raised to waist level, with the palms situated upward and each inset with a flat palm-shaped tile of obsidian. Each time the curtain to the room was parted the construct's eyes would flare red and it would utter in a menacing voice, "Enter, and be judged, petitioners!" Upon some entering the room it would instruct potential students to place their hands upon the palm-shaped tiles, stating, "To gain complete access to the Black Academy, you must place your hands in mine." Once this instruction was followed it would utter, "Hold still", and grasp the hands touching its tiles.[9]

The construct emitted a beam of light from its eyes when examining potential students, identifying their alignment and whether or not they are a necromancer or a mage in general. This process wasn't foolproof, as the construct could be tricked by magical abilities or items that shielded the mind. If a student wasn't detected to be a spellcaster, or if they were detected to be of a good alignment, the construct's palms would transmit a powerful electric shock and the beam would start to emit death magic, ripping out the victim's soul, which would then be deposited into Acererak's phylactery. Once this display finished the construct would announce, "Admittance denied. Next!" If a candidate did meet the requirements for admission, then the beam of light would narrow to the thinness of a quill and burn a tattoo of a skull onto the forehead. Once this was done, the construct would announce, "You have Mistress Ferranifer's permission to study at the Black Academy. See Instructor Ngise for remedial classes. Next!"[9]

A small stud close to the construct, when pressed, would cause it to swing open on hinges and reveal the entrance to the academy's catacombs.[9] The academy's own entrance to the Tomb of Horrors, referred to as the Shrine of the Black Academy, was a chamber enclosing the northern edge of the hill. Hundreds of corpse candles were along its walls, on the floor, and in various candlesticks and candelabras. Only the headmaster and the academy's primary instructors were allowed to enter.[8]

Situated next to the academy was a huge black tent, measuring 70 feet (21 meters) by 70 ft (21 m). Referred to as the "Dead Pool", it housed all of the Black Academy's undead, who stood in a shallow muddy bowl. No light could penetrate the tent and its interior was lit only by a suspended orb, which emitted a sickly green light.[26]

Possessions[]

BlackAcademyGraverobbing

Undead servitors make getting new materials easy for Black Academy members.

All full fledged necromancers within the Black Academy had a small image of a skull tattooed on their foreheads.[27] This could only be removed with limited wish or similar spells.[9]

Members of the Black Academy had access to the "Dead Pool", a common pool of undead creatures that performed manual labor for the Academy.[3][26] Usually full of lower forms of undead, necromancers could drop off any servitors that they weren't using or (more often) that were damaged.[26]

History[]

About twenty years or so[28] after the Tomb of Horrors was successfully plundered and Acererak seemingly defeated by a group of adventurers,[5] the legends of Acererak's incredible power and secrets over death attracted a wide range of people.[13] Necromancers hoping to obtain scraps of Acererak's vast knowledge[13][5][29] and others seeking to learn of dark arts, such as those in search of eternal life and lost souls in search of a purpose. Over time these people came to not only admire Acererak, but to venerate him as a god.[29] The efforts to create the Black Academy were spearheaded by the necromancer Ferranifer,[1][30] with considerable help from her undead minions, after she discovered the ''amulet of the Void]] near the entrance to the Tomb of Horrors and interpreted this as a sign of destiny. Following its construction, the community of Skull City slowly developed around it[30] and the dungeon in secrecy.[5] Early on explorations into the Tomb of Horrors were conducted in earnest by the leading necromancers, but it wasn't long before they chose to focus their research efforts elsewhere.[8]

In time all manner of other people would come to walk Skull City's streets, including mercenaries, disreputable merchants,[5] gnolls, misfits, murderers,[7] miscellaneous rogues, and other unsavory sorts.[20] As time went on most people were unaware of the Skull City's existence, until reports began to circulate of disappearances, kidnappings, undead incursions, and increased instances of hauntings. This began to occur around the time a phenomenon was taking place inside the Black Academy, which members referred to as the "Dark Intrusion".[13]

This phenomenon seemed to enhance all spells in its vicinity that were either necromantic spells[13][27][31] or dealt with the Plane of Negative Energy,[13] spontaneously generation of undead from the bodies of any creature recently slain in the vicinity[13][27][31] that was rat size or larger, and all undead in its vicinity was more resilient to the power of turn undead.[31][27] The inhabitants of the city took this as an omen from Acererak that great things were coming and so members of the Academy began performing more dark rituals, rites, and sacrifices that necessitated fresh victims.[13]

Adventurers would once again be drawn to the Tomb of Horrors and, once there, be readily guided into its depths by the members of the Black Academy, who were all but certain they would die and feed their master's power with their souls.[12] Through the power of their souls, Acererak constructed a hidden sanctum called the Fortress of Conclusion.[12] Eventually, a group of heroes following the journal of a mage named Desatysso[5][32] managed to successfully plunge the depths of the Tomb of Horrors and put an end to Acererak's plot to become a god and master of all undead creatures,[5][12] destroying his Fortress of Conclusion[12][16] and slaying him for what would be the third time.[5] With his phylactery destroyed, Acererak's soul became shattered and was cast out into the Shadowfell.[33]

The band of heroes then allegedly razed Skull City to the ground, seeking to cleanse the land of the necromancers,[34] speaking openly of Acererak's plot and defeat. Their words sparked controversy among the members of the Black Academy, leading to infighting.[5] Some necromancers fled to the Shadowfell in hopes of recovering secret knowledge from which they could use to return and exact their revenge. However, these necromancers too fell into infighting and, through the influence of Vecna, splintered off into a new group known as the Votaries of Vecna.[34]

According to some, Skull City was left in ruins and this marked the end of the Black Academy,[34] but in actuality the organization managed to persevere. They acknowledged Acererak's disappearance and felt it heralded a time of darkness for the academy,[16] but refused to believe that Acererak was truly destroyed. The necromancers of Skull City went on actively encourage new generations of treasure-seeking adventuring companies to seek out the tomb,[35] as they had done once before,[12] regarding this as a way of making offerings to Acererak.[4] Yet many of its leaders feared that they might in fact have little understanding of the demilich's true motives.[4]

In his fourth bid for being reborn, Acererak drained his original Tomb of Horrors of its dread arcane energies,[16][18] causing a feedback blast of eldritch power.[18] This included the manifestation of arcane storms, earthquakes, and vents that blasted out ash and lightning.[16] Skull City and the Black Academy both fell into a state of ruin, as most of its necromancers and intelligent undead were either killed[16][18] or fled.[16] The enormous skull-shaped building, shattered, was left wreathed in blackflame.[16] The academy's collected lore on both Acererak and his plots were stolen afterwards, with survivors reporting a vengeful wraith had besieged the library.[24]

In the months that followed, the ruined streets of Skull City ran wild with anarchy. The members of the Black Academy that remained splintered into two factions, divided over the status of Acererak – the Blackfire Disciples, who believed the chaos was a sign that Acererak was truly dead and ceased their reverence for him, and the Faithmarked, who believed that the demilich still lived and continued to zealously revere him.[16] The latter were determined to garner Acererak's favor and to be pardoned for their perceived transgressions, primarily by slaying the members of the Blackfire Disciples, who they considered to be heathens.[36]

Realms History[]

Sometime prior to the Second Sundering, in the late 15th century DR, a male human necromancer from the Bleak Academy who was seeking to improve his necromantic craft began operating within an ancient Untheri burial site in Tymanther, near the frontier village of Ruinspoke. Deep within a mausoleum at the burial site, the necromancer discovered a vein of onyx. He began harvesting this vein, as well as excavating most of the tombs and burial sights in the area, for material components and body parts so he could cast the spell undead servitor on a daily basis.[37][note 5] The undead he created through this spell included two corpses of despair, three famine hounds,[38] a zombie grave digger, a lasher zombie, and four rot hounds.[39] His profane rituals would cause necromantic energy to seep out from the mausoleum and into the surrounding area.[37]

At some point, the necromancer’s lair was stumbled upon by Melnar, a dwarf explorer and member of the Gem Assayers Union who had been surveying various ruins in the area. Spotting him through a Skull Watch, the necromancer had his undead servants subdue Melnar and bring the dwarf to the ritual chamber he had set up, reasoning that a living test subject was always preferable to a dead one. After not hearing from him for two days, Melnar’s friend Dirnth hired a group of adventurers to find him.[37] When the adventurers finally made it inside of the mausoleum they found Melnar strapped down[38] in a room with half-finished skeletons and zombies.[37] Sources differed as to whether the adventurers killed the necromancer, turned him over to the authorities in Ruinspoke, or failed to defeat him.[40]

Members[]

The Black Academy readily welcomed anyone with an interest in the necromantic arts,[7] leading to an abundance of deviants and exiles in their midst who had been driven from their homelands for all sorts of crimes.[1]

At the height of its power, the Black Academy was estimated to have around 50 full fledged necromancers, around 200 apprentices, servants, and toadies, as well as 250 living captives and slaves.[20] This stable of live captives were kept for the purpose of murdering and then reanimating as new undead when they came of age.[41]

Over a thousand undead walked the halls of the Black Academy and Skull City,[27] serving the role of laborers and guards.[1] These undead were largely of a corporeal nature,[16] including bone nagas,[10] skeletons, zombies,[1][16][27] and wights.[42] There were also bone golems counted among its servitors,[16][42] and other, fouler creatures.[16][42] Outside the confines of Skull City, a large pack of ghasts under the control of Mistress Ferranifer patrolled the waters of the surrounding bog. They were instructed not to attack anyone crossing the bog that loudly chanted a dirge.[21]

Notable Members[]

The names of most of the Black Academy's teachers were a mystery to outsiders.[3] Some of the members that were known included the following:

  • Academician Drake,[25] one of the Black Academy's primary instructors.[8] He taught a course titled "Applied Necromancy".[43]
  • Ferranifer, the headmaster of the Black Academy ever since its founding[1] and a vampire scion. Her vampiric nature was unknown to most, though her being undead was widely rumored among devotees.[44]
  • Leon, a human fighter who guarded the academy's entrance. They wore a unique set of armor, a sort of exoskeleton made up of various humanoid bones fused together.[45]
  • Instructor Ngise, an eccentric human necromancer and instructor. He was among the first necromancers to establish the Black Academy alongside Mistress Ferranifer[46] and thus considered to be among its primary instructors.[8] He taught remedial courses,[9] such as "Anatomy 101", as well as the advanced course "Adventures In Animation".[11]

Appendix[]

Notes[]

  1. 1.0 1.1 In the original Tomb of Horrors module, the titular dungeon was not given an exact location, but rather six different locations on Oerth were given as possible locations. When the dungeon was revisited in Return to the Tomb of Horrors, the dungeon was given the precise location of the Vast Swamp in the country of Sunndi on Oerth. It was revisited again in 4th edition, in the module simply titled Tomb of Horrors. There the location was once more left ambiguous, though the text somewhat implied Nerath as the setting by stating Acererak lived in the empire of Bael Turath. And the latest map of Oerth's Flaeness region, presented in the revised 5th edition Dungeon Master's Guide, depicts the Tomb of Horrors as once more being in the Vast Swamp of Sunndi.
  2. Since the construct in the Hall of Petitioners only rejected admission for those of good alignments, it stands to reason that any evil or neutral alignment was acceptable for members. And indeed, most of the members we meet in Return to the Tomb of Horrors fall under various forms of evil and neutral alignments, with the only alignments not represented being chaotic neutral and lawful neutral.
  3. Despite both being housed in buildings of the same name, this organization is unrelated to the "Tenbrous Cabal" from Tome of Magic: Pact, Shadow and Truename Magic.
  4. Return to the Tomb of Horrors features a student that was simply expelled from the academy. However, it also stated that he was "...suffered to live because of his dark, prophetic visions of Acererak." This can interpreted as meaning that expulsion from the Black Academy usually entails death.
  5. It is not specified in the adventure whether the ruins being explored belonged to Unther or Tymanchebar. However, due to the adventure only making note of ruins of "the old Untheric Empire" and the presence of a Lathanderite sarcophagus in the mausoleum, it stands to reason the ruins were from Unther.

Appearances[]

Organized Play & Licensed Adventures

From One Dwarf to Another • The Undumor Connection

References[]

  1. 1.00 1.01 1.02 1.03 1.04 1.05 1.06 1.07 1.08 1.09 1.10 1.11 1.12 1.13 1.14 1.15 1.16 1.17 1.18 1.19 1.20 1.21 Robert J. Schwalb (2009-01-12). “Legacy of Acererak”. In Chris Youngs ed. Dragon #371 (Wizards of the Coast), p. 10.
  2. Bruce R. Cordell (1998-07-13). Return to the Tomb of Horrors. (TSR, Inc.), pp. 38–39, 42, 47–48. ISBN 978-0786907328.
  3. 3.00 3.01 3.02 3.03 3.04 3.05 3.06 3.07 3.08 3.09 3.10 3.11 3.12 3.13 3.14 Bruce R. Cordell, Skip Williams (July 2001). Tome and Blood. (Wizards of the Coast), p. 25. ISBN 0-7869-1845-4.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 4.5 4.6 4.7 Bruce R. Cordell, Eytan Bernstein, Brian R. James (January 2009). Open Grave: Secrets of the Undead. (Wizards of the Coast), p. 201. ISBN 0786950692.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 5.5 5.6 5.7 5.8 Logan Bonner, et al. (May 2012). Into the Unknown: The Dungeon Survival Handbook. Edited by Jennifer Clarke Wilkes. (Wizards of the Coast), p. 109. ISBN 978-0786960323.
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  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 8.3 8.4 Bruce R. Cordell (1998-07-13). Return to the Tomb of Horrors. (TSR, Inc.), p. 54. ISBN 978-0786907328.
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 9.3 9.4 9.5 9.6 Bruce R. Cordell (1998-07-13). Return to the Tomb of Horrors. (TSR, Inc.), pp. 47–48. ISBN 978-0786907328.
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 10.3 Bruce R. Cordell (1998-07-13). Return to the Tomb of Horrors. (TSR, Inc.), p. 39. ISBN 978-0786907328.
  11. 11.0 11.1 Bruce R. Cordell (1998-07-13). Return to the Tomb of Horrors. (TSR, Inc.), pp. 39–41. ISBN 978-0786907328.
  12. 12.0 12.1 12.2 12.3 12.4 12.5 12.6 Ari Marmell, Scott Fitzgerald Gray (July 20, 2010). Tomb of Horrors (4th edition). (Wizards of the Coast), p. 62. ISBN 978-0-7869-5491-9.
  13. 13.0 13.1 13.2 13.3 13.4 13.5 13.6 13.7 13.8 Bruce R. Cordell (1998-07-13). Return to the Tomb of Horrors. (TSR, Inc.), p. 6. ISBN 978-0786907328.
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  15. Gary Gygax and Christopher Perkins (April 2013). “Tomb of Horrors”. In Kim Mohan, Miranda Horner eds. Dungeon #213 (Wizards of the Coast) (213)., p. 69.
  16. 16.00 16.01 16.02 16.03 16.04 16.05 16.06 16.07 16.08 16.09 16.10 16.11 16.12 16.13 Ari Marmell, Scott Fitzgerald Gray (July 20, 2010). Tomb of Horrors (4th edition). (Wizards of the Coast), p. 86. ISBN 978-0-7869-5491-9.
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  22. Bruce R. Cordell (1998-07-13). Return to the Tomb of Horrors. (TSR, Inc.), pp. 33–34. ISBN 978-0786907328.
  23. Bruce R. Cordell (1998-07-13). Return to the Tomb of Horrors. (TSR, Inc.), p. 50. ISBN 978-0786907328.
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  26. 26.0 26.1 26.2 Bruce R. Cordell (1998-07-13). Return to the Tomb of Horrors. (TSR, Inc.), p. 36. ISBN 978-0786907328.
  27. 27.0 27.1 27.2 27.3 27.4 27.5 Bruce R. Cordell (1998-07-13). Return to the Tomb of Horrors. (TSR, Inc.), p. 31. ISBN 978-0786907328.
  28. Bruce R. Cordell (1998-07-13). Return to the Tomb of Horrors. (TSR, Inc.), p. 5. ISBN 978-0786907328.
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  30. 30.0 30.1 Bruce R. Cordell (1998-07-13). Return to the Tomb of Horrors. (TSR, Inc.), p. 51. ISBN 978-0786907328.
  31. 31.0 31.1 31.2 Bruce R. Cordell (1998-07-13). Return to the Tomb of Horrors. (TSR, Inc.), p. 38. ISBN 978-0786907328.
  32. Bruce R. Cordell (1998-07-13). Return to the Tomb of Horrors. (TSR, Inc.), p. 27. ISBN 978-0786907328.
  33. Ari Marmell, Scott Fitzgerald Gray (July 20, 2010). Tomb of Horrors (4th edition). (Wizards of the Coast), pp. 44, 120. ISBN 978-0-7869-5491-9.
  34. 34.0 34.1 34.2 Matthew Sernett, David Noonan, Ari Marmell and Robert J. Schwalb (March 2006). Tome of Magic 3.5. (Wizards of the Coast), p. 173. ISBN 978-0786939091.
  35. Ari Marmell, Scott Fitzgerald Gray (July 20, 2010). Tomb of Horrors (4th edition). (Wizards of the Coast), p. 84. ISBN 978-0-7869-5491-9.
  36. Ari Marmell, Scott Fitzgerald Gray (July 20, 2010). Tomb of Horrors (4th edition). (Wizards of the Coast), p. 87. ISBN 978-0-7869-5491-9.
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  40. Joshua Freeman (July 2009). From One Dwarf to Another (TYMA1-5) (PDF). Living Forgotten Realms (Wizards of the Coast), p. 26.
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  43. Bruce R. Cordell (1998-07-13). Return to the Tomb of Horrors. (TSR, Inc.), p. 42. ISBN 978-0786907328.
  44. Bruce R. Cordell (1998-07-13). Return to the Tomb of Horrors. (TSR, Inc.), p. 52. ISBN 978-0786907328.
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