Thursday, 18 April 2019

Wizards: the Hollow Tree

Gravedigger. Corpse Stealer. Ghoul.


As a member of the Hollow Tree, you learn arcane secrets of death and the soul. The church of the Authority will hunt you for your practices. But your order is older than the church and knows its rotten secret. One day, the world will know what it lost and the Hollow Tree will blossom again. Until then, this is the most dangerous Wizardly Order to belong to.

By Lotte Teusink

Membership in the Hollow Tree should feel like equal parts mystery sect and unlicensed nuclear operator. Admittance is by sponsorship and secret vote. You maybe know one or two higher members and a handful of fellow apprentices - and that's in the thicker branches of the Tree. Most likely you just know your Master and some scraps of lore. Initiation into the deeper mysteries takes years of earning trust. And for that trust, society will hunt you as an abomination.

Why did you want this, again?


The Hollow Tree is a loose underground network of death wizards. Most are part of single master-apprentice chains, with some larger cabals bringing members together and sharing knowledge. Members are chosen for brains, subtlety and a relaxed attitude towards what society calls vile heresy.

The Tree teaches how they are the lone survivors of the shining Du'vanku civilization, unfairly laid low by the Creator. How serious you take all this secret history is up to you - maybe you nod along and see it all as a metaphor, maybe you're indignant and want to reclaim your lost heritage.

Meanwhile the Hollow Tree is the world's biggest repository of necromantic knowledge outside the Nightlands. They dabble in all schools, and most of their necromancy is about contacting spirits, reviving old memories, strengthening the soul. These are some of their spells.

Necromancy is like getting into nuclear physics to give medical treatments, and learning about applications for enriched uranium along the way. The player handbook's weaponized necromancy is a terror weapon - it's there, but it's not all that necromancy is about and it's rarely used. The motto of the Tree is to be subtle, grow and spread. A member raising an army of the undead is off the deep end, at best a useful decoy so the real necromancers can slip away.

Maybe you were trained to be that useful idiot.


You are taught the truth of things. (Highlight to read.)
Also check out the Church's take on Wizardry.

On the Authority:
  • There is one true god, and He is the Authority. There are thousands of minor gods, hunted for power by the Church. The Sleeping Priests of the Olmadicians keep some of them in a coma until they can be properly tamed.
  • The Authority created all that is. Hardly. He is a lowly, underqualified bureaucrat who took over when the Creator suicided.
  • The Church of the Authority has always existed. It is barely 700 years old. The world, 5.000 years at least. Those are the oldest Du'vanku settlements. The world might be older still.
  • Faith in the Authority will get you into heaven. True Heaven was a separate plane. It was destroyed or lost by the Creator when the Du'vanku journeyed to join him there. The Authority's Heaven is a hastily constructed shack on a cloud. It is way too small to house all the souls of the righteous.
  • Blasphemy against the Authority will land you in hell. Sin and Hell were invented by the Church to divert the flood of souls that should all be allowed into True Heaven.

Blessed Be the Host of the King of Heaven, a Russian icon from the 1550s
On the Du'vanku empire:
  • The Du'vanku were arch-blasphemers. These necromancers tried to usurp heaven. More like stable adults who didn't appreciate the Creator imposing his rules on their civilization.
  • Their homelands are the Nightlands, filled with blasted unlife. Whose suicide wrecked True Heaven and cursed our ancestral lands again?
  • The Authority broke the Du'vanku empire at the day of First Dawn, when he founded our Church and gave us new rules for just behavior. Please. The Authority was starving on a cloud after the Creator suicided. He forced his cult on a broken population to get his daily dose of mana.
  • The Authority changed the nature of magic after the Du'vanku rebellion. That is why there are no arcane spells of the 7th Circle or higher. More like these are the spells we need to reach other planes and see the truth with our own eyes. The Authority didn't change anything, the Church just burned the libraries and anyone who knew these spells. But we keep looking... 

On Necromancy:
  • Necromancy is a crime against divine and natural law. It's simply the best tool we have to save our souls from Hell.
  • Necromancers strive for Undeath, a ceaseless torture of the soul. That's not completely wrong. Undead are a last-resort option we sometimes need to use to protect ourselves from our enemies. Binding a soul to a rotting frame is distasteful and pretty hard to do right. That is why lower order zombies and skeletons are almost mindless. Higher magics exist that make more intelligent undead, but even those aren't all too stable.
  • Necromancy spells are a tool of terror, suitable only to curse, kill or raise as a foulness. Lies. There are many spells of the soul that have nothing to do with death or undeath. (Here's some of those spells!)

Last resort, honest. from


  • Your enemies know many things, but likely not high grade Necromancy. This is good. You know what that shit can do to someone.
  • You get to experience the Dark Sun wizard's thrill of having to hide the source of your power or be hunted down. Disguise your wand as a cane, your staff as a scythe or shovel, your crystal sphere as a glass eye.
  • You have no formal papers as a wizard, unless you obtained fakes somehow (500 gp debt, monthly 10 gp down payment.) In this case, you can have a job as a wizard - disgraced or even part of another Order - as long as you play the part.
  • You have a master (mentor) who sponsored your membership in the Hollow Tree. Every wizard level (including first), they will teach you one Necromancy spell for free. You and your DM will work out this spellbook together.
  • Hollow Tree wizards write their spells in Du'van, the speech of the Du'Vanku empire. This is incredibly dangerous: all it takes is one church rat to recognizes the language in your spellbook and the mob will form. 
    • As a dubious bonus, you are proficient in History (Du'vanku) and can read, write and speak Du'van. 
    • You can whisper your spells so that listeners do not immediately spot that you're speaking Du'van.
  • Keeping a decoy spellbook in Elemental is a wise choice - you will need to pay 25 gp per spell level to copy your Du'van spells into Elemental. You always write new spells in Du'van first.
    • Necromancy spells were optimized for Du'van and the oath you take when joining the Hollow Tree forbids you to translate them. Make sure your enemies don't get access to this magic.
    • Translating Necromancy into Elemental anyway would take twice as much gold as other spells from other schools. You'll still have Necromancy spells in your new Elemental spellbook and recognizably so, now that you've helpfully translated them for the inquisition.
    • The Linguist feat lets you build a personal cypher to hide the details of your spellbook. Encrypting spells to prevent them secrets being stolen isn't all that uncommon for wizards.

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