Legends of the Nentir Vale
White Lotus Academy
Not every master of the arcane is self-taught. Most arcane practitioners learn from a single tutor, such as in an apprenticeship or through bargains with mighty powers, and some martial traditions pass on the lore of the eldritch knights. More than a few worthy candidates have been turned away from such arrangements for reasons of temperament or ambition—or getting on the teacher’s wrong side. For people who can’t partake in personal tutelage, there is the White Lotus Academy.
Arcane schools are rarely founded and rarely survive long. Masters of the arcane arts are protective of their power. When one does found a school, its very nature attracts danger. Rivals seek revenge upon the instructors or headmasters for real or imagined slights. Governments feel threatened by the assemblage of power and act on those fears. Even the curriculum can sometimes destroy the school, such as when the Halls Recondite folded itself into the Far Realm through an accident of research and left behind only a spatial distortion that remains today.
In the world of the arcane, schools gain reputation by surviving their first year. The White Lotus Academy has been teaching students for over 143 years.
Records about the founding years of the White Lotus Academy are incomplete. In fact, 143 years ago, Headmistress Daniorra noted in her journal the day of her acceptance of the position. Apparently an orderly soul, her journal tracks the admission and graduation of each student alongside the coming and going of various instructors over the years. Daniorraalso created the position of the academy bursar, investing the minor devil Incarus as the first with that duty to record tuitions, donations, expenditures, and other finances.
Since that time, few of the headmasters and headmistresses have kept personal records as detailed as Headmistress Daniorra’s, whose original journal was recently stolen by a group of fey, though a copy remains in the academy’s library. Much of the academy’s history can be inferred from the bursar’s complete records. Tuition records account for each student, stipends account for each head of school and instructor, and expenditures authorized by the various instructors and the heads of the school allow insight into their personalities.
Beyond its institutional history, the White Lotus Academy appears in few annals. It has remained strictly apolitical. Students attend the academy from many nations, representing conflicting interests. They might return to those affiliations after graduation, but the school lends aid to and allies with no outside concerns.
The restriction on interfering with external politics extends only to the White Lotus’s headmaster and instructors, as well as to sanctioned student activities. More than one student over the years has departed from the school out of a need to use his or her skills in defense of a homeland or an ideal. The school officially considers such departures to be leaves ofabsence, and it treats these activities as studies abroad and field training rolled into one. Though the school in no way encourages students to involve themselves in politics, the instructors consider such actions valuable training for students who are so inclined. Unless the student’s actions harm the school, as when Kendrick Maero ended a siege on his home city-state by claiming to represent all White Lotus Academy, he or she is readmitted without hesitation.
As a group, the school’s members involve themselves in large-scale conflicts only when the school is directly threatened. Instructors and students went to war to defeat an undead army marching across the land, and a group of students once gained permission to infiltrate and overthrow a rising cult of Vecna as their graduation project.
The academy has refused to involve itself with a great many events in history. When the nomadic hordes rampaged across the nation in which the school resides, the headmaster closed the school’s gates, activated its wards, and blanketed it in illusion. The cruel vampire lord Ilcasar resided nearby for two decades without academy interference. Count Maronmaneuvered the national politics in pursuit of his vendetta against the school.
That last point is telling of the academy’s strict policy: Until Count Maron took direct action against the school, the school’s members did not act against the potential problem. They did not ignore the problem. Headmistress Umberlin arranged paths through the Shadowfell and the Feywild to acquire all the resources the school needed to function in case Count Maron had cut worldly routes.
The White Lotus Academy doesn’t have an expansive campus, but it suffices for the quantity of students and the instructors. Among the various buildings full of classrooms, the many basements, and the grounds outside the walls, space is plentiful. The broad path from the Sunrise Gate curves from the guard post toward the center of the grounds, passing the two student dorms on the right and the Lost Secrets Library, the Hall of Amber, and Iola’s Insight on the left before reaching Founder’s Hall, which is the social and nearly physical center of the academy.
Founder’s Hall was the first building of the White Lotus Academy. Originally, it served two instructors and 26 students as dormitory, classroom, meeting hall, and dining hall. Today, it has the largest open chamber on campus and is used for social gatherings and public addresses. Students and instructors post notices here. It also contains the school’s permanent teleportation circle and a reception chamber. Ever since a cohort of yuan-ti attacked the school from this area, use of the circle has triggered a mental alert to instructors. Today, this includes Dean Mahli and Instructor Ibok.
Hall of Amber
Possibly the most recognizable building on campus, the Hall of Amber is a breathtaking edifice mostly of amber stained glass. It contains two performance halls, several practice rooms, and some storage. Here, Instructor Ibok teaches the school’s bards.
When the school grew to a point where Founder’s Hall and the Headmaster’s Residence needed more space for administrative functions, the academy had this hall built. All the instructors have offices here, though only the dean of students and the bursar do much work in them. Headmaster Marovic prefers his office at his residence, and most other instructors claim a laboratory or classroom and make it their de facto domain. Students who distinguish themselves as responsible and capable are given additional duties and one of the unused offices for that work.
The headmaster or headmistress traditionally inhabits a mansion set against the academy’s northern wall. It has a small personal library, ancient furniture, master and guest bedrooms, master and guest offices, a small courtyard, and two overlooking terraces. Only the furniture in the master bedroom and office changes when a new person assumes the office. Headmaster Demmon moved out of the residence after 3 years as headmaster, describing an evil presence that disturbed him. No one else has sensed such a presence, so no effort has been made to remove it.
The first of the two student dormitories to be built, Hiwai displays an older architectural style by 20 years but is structurally the same. The ghost of a student from almost 80 years ago keeps a room here and is willing to help residents of the dorm with their studies. She occasionally grumbles about revenge.
This is the academy’s temple to the world’s many gods. A wealthy elf student named Iola donated the funds for the construction, believing that the absence of any worship on campus could anger the gods. The most honored deities in the temple are Corellon and Ioun, but all the non-evil gods and goddesses receive attention. Instructor Ibok tends the temple as part of his duties.
Lost Secrets Library
The White Lotus Academy’s library is deceptively large. It began about half the size of Founder’s Hall with a single door, but it has since become a building large enough to hold thousands of books and hide at least three subbasements, where students must go to find tomes to study. The lower chambers are accessible from a central stairwell, which appears to have no end to the stairs or the heavy iron doors that lead into the stacks. Students cannot open most of the doors. In recent memory, only one student has bypassed this magical protection and returned—the dangers in the depths of the Lost Secrets Library are real.
A private donor funded Stelson Arboretum 77 years ago. The arboretum is filled with trees and other flora from exotic locales and sustained through a combination of hard work and magic. Not only quietly beautiful, the arboretum is also a giant classroom for various lessons. It even contains plant creatures, which only occasionally slip their arcane bonds and endanger the students.
Here is where the magic happens. Most of the classrooms and laboratories are in or under Stokes Hall. Instructors give their lessons here at all hours of the day and night, and they run hands-on laboratory classes in the well-equipped and –supplied labs. Several of the labs are devoted to an instructor’s personal experiments and are therefore off limits to students, but the instructors pay close attention to who breaks those restrictions. A student with that initiative frequently ends up as an instructor’s valued personal assistant.
Within the horseshoe of Stokes Hall is Harrid Yard, colloquially called the Yard, and it serves as the main practice area for students. Though students are allowed to practice their magic anywhere, they are held responsible for the results, and the Yard is better protected than most of the campus. The Yard contains several animated suits of armor and targets for practice plus a dueling area paved in flagstones. No windows pierce the solid walls into Stokes. One time, the animated practice dummies rampaged, but a group of advanced students lured them to the courtyard of the Headmaster’s Residence and then demolished them for good marks.
Umberlin Dormitory was under construction when Headmistress Umberlin died in defense of the school, and it was named in her memory. The dormitory contains a kitchen and a larder, and students are expected to feed themselves.
Several landmarks stand near the White Lotus Academy: the town of Whitton, the rock formation called the Count’s Fingers, the mysterious VeltishCrypt, and Lockhart Keep.
The nearest of these is the town of Whitton, which supports the academy by providing food, menial labor, accommodation for visitors, and a social structure with which students can interact. History is unclear on whether Whitton sprang up around the business the academy provides or the academy chose the location for the convenience of the town.
Regardless of which came first, Whitton is a town shaped by its largest customer. It caters to the students of the arcane in the services and goods it offers. One can find reagents for all sorts of rituals at numerous shops, inns give special rates for wizards willing to cast an entertaining illusion or bards who perform their music, and the town guard gives a lot of slack to students. Persistent but unproven rumors suggest a group of advanced students summons and binds creatures from other worlds to rent these creatures’ services to unsavory characters.
Veltish Crypt is a labyrinthine catacomb. Its antechamber and few nearest halls are relatively safe, and they are marked with over a century of rebellious students’ clandestine meetings. More than a few White Lotus secret societies have met in the crypt’s chambers over the years. The Blood Stars, a group of star pact warlocks who have all graduated and gone separate ways, left a face to help them communicate danger to their fellows; it is even now weeping blood in dire warning.
Deeper in the crypt is a mix of trap-laden halls and monster-infested chambers. Undead are common dangers there, but creatures of all sorts threaten those students who brave the depths. White Lotus students think that the crypt is maintained and restocked by academy instructors, but this might not be the case.
Beyond the nearby hills, a small keep is just out of sight from the western edge of the Hadorim Memorial Wall. Abandoned in an earlier era and restored by academy staff some time ago, it serves for those guests of the school who insist on bringing retinues too large to be accommodated on the academy campus. Lockhart Keep is enchanted to provide food and unseen servants to guests of the White Lotus, and to ward off the return of its first owner.
White Lotus Students
The White Lotus Academy always has 46, 58, 73, 90, or 112 students, numbers that grant the school a numerological advantage in calling on good fortune and negating a curse laid on the school before the time of Headmistress Daniorra. Luck, fate, and the headmaster’s diligence maintain these numbers. A new student is usually between 8 and 12 years old (or the equivalent for other races), with a smattering of students joining the school as old as 16. For a student to be admitted at an older age, there must be special consideration. One student who began at 20 was the child of a devil and a deva. Also, a human farmer became a new student at the age of 68 when dispersed energy from the death of an exarch imbued him with uncontrolled arcane power.
Students at the White Lotus Academy come from all strata of society and all parts of the world, but the school’s attendees skew toward the wealthy. It is a matter of logistics, not prejudice. The school’s location makes the effective cost of attending ever larger for those traveling from far places. Wealthy folk can pay the academy’s substantial tuition more easily than poorer would-be students.
The school offers scholarships to promising youths who cannot pay the full tuition, and this fee is set high enough to give the unmotivated rich pause. The number and size of these scholarships depends upon how many additional students the academy needs to meet its numerological quota. The prospective student’s entrance interview with the dean of students determines whether an applicant is offered a scholarship or whether the student is permitted to repay the school after graduation—called a loan of knowledge on the bursar’s books—and how large a grant the student receives. Students granted a loan can expect to repay the debt monetarily if they are financially successful, and in service if they are not or if their skills are useful. Headmaster Marovic decides the final tally on when such a debt is paid, telling the bursar only when to mark a debt paid (sometimes a full century after it was incurred). He records the details in a private book handed down from headmasters and headmistresses past.
The typical student comes to the White Lotus Academy early in life and stays for an average of 10 years, graduating between the ages of 18 and 22 years. In the arcane disciplines, few students qualify as average. Prodigies complete the curriculum and their final projects in as little as 6 years, and students who take things a little slower might stay 14 years from start to finish. Students are permitted to remain only as long as the dean of students foresees that the student will graduate, and they must be able to pay the tuition.
Kendall Farson, a current student, has been attending for 20 years and is only 2 years shy of the record. In contrast, a prophecy tells of a student who will need only 4 years at the academy—which would be the least time to graduation—and who will save the White Lotus from dissolution in a time of great crisis. Headmasters over the years have leaked this prophecy to the students as a motivation tool, and Marovic is one of them.
Every two new students are assigned to an older student who helps familiarize the student with the campus, the routine, and the classes. This student helps with the younger students’ study, so he or she frequently pursues the same or a similar curriculum. Third-years are considered the ideal choice for the duty, since that is the same time that the students are allowed a broader degree of freedom in choosing the course of their study. The responsibility helps ground them and forces them to revisit the fundamentals, a valuable chore third-years usually neglect. New students who promise to be a greater challenge are assigned to even older students, and one prompted Headmistress Calcagia to call in a favor from a graduate from a decade before.
One of the instructors chooses a new student’s classes and continues to dictate the student’s lessons until the student completes the first 2 years’ curriculum. In the third year, the student can choose the course of his or her studies, allowing for a core of advanced fundamentals. The fifth- and sixth-year student chooses all his or her own classes and works more closely with instructors, assisting in tutoring younger students. The student’s eighth year is self-directed and might be theoretical research, practical experimentation, or practical application. Students create wonders and travel on dangerous quests to earn their diplomas of graduation from the White Lotus Academy.
Numerous groups, clubs, and associations are active on campus, and a student can belong to several. Most are devoted to specific tangential academic interests, such as the construction of minor automatons or the interpretation of various prophecies that can be read in the library. Others are dedicated to less academic pursuits. The Wilted Lotus is a faux-anarchic group of students competing to play the best prank on the faculty or general student body. Members of the Apple Core Affair try to leave as many broken hearts (and mussed beds) in their wake as possible, laughing over their conquests.
Some of these groups qualify as secret societies, but such secrecy is not always for sinister purposes. The Phantasmal Players conceals its membership because someone felt embarrassed at spending that much time creating entertaining uses for cantrips. Others have good reason to hide their affiliations. Shadow Claw performed assassinations for 19 years before its members were ousted. The Wizards Serene found a path through the library’s depths to where a mind flayer sits, bound, and members take lessons from it in secret.
A Day in the Life
A typical student rises within an hour or two of dawn, or earlier when the days are shortest. He or she might stop at the temple for a quick prayer to a god associated with the morning, before or after breakfast. Breakfast is a chaotic affair in the student kitchens, and then the student heads to classes, with half-hour to hour breaks between them, until roughly noon. Lunch is less crowded than breakfast because the students return from classes at different times.
A student returns to classes until middle to late afternoon, and then enjoys free time. Much of this time is required for study, but the student can spend time with friends, perhaps in Whitton. The student also has time for personal communion in Iola’s Insight in this period.
Dinner comes at the student’s leisure, and those with funds purchase something in town. Any meal could be purchased in town, but doing so does not reduce the student’s tuition and doesn’t mesh with the packed schedule of the earlier day.
A student goes to bed anywhere from before sundown to long after midnight.
Fourteen instructors teach at the White Lotus Academy. All but two of them live on campus in the spacious quarters the academy grants them. Their quarters are scattered across campus, each near the part of the school where he or she spends the most time. Only the Headmaster’s Residence is visible to students. All the other faculty’s quarters are accessible only to them and their invited guests, and the areas are behind doors that normally lead to closets or unused labs. Each instructor can also leave his or her quarters directly to a sitting room in the Headmaster’s Residence where the faculty has occasional meetings. One artificer pranked the faculty by randomizing the doors from which an instructor would emerge. Despite his complaints, he was not allowed to use that display of skill as his graduation project.
A short, aging human with wispy hair, Rolland Marovic is deceptive to his core, as befits a master of illusion magic. He learned his craft from a master in the Shadowfell of whom Marovic says little. Since coming to the school, he has incorporated White Lotus techniques into his art. He taught at the academy for 13 years before he accepted the position of headmaster. His habit is to walk incognito among the students and instructors both to judge the state of his school, and to dispense cryptic advice as himself or as the janitor who wanders the grounds. Instructor Westbrooke thinks Marovic has been somewhat unstable since he shrouded the entire school in a persistent illusion “to avoid notice of angels on a holy rampage.”
Muriel Mahli, Dean of Students
Dean Muriel Mahli is the eladrin dean of students and has been for 31 years. She is tall with the stately beauty common to her people and one notable disfigurement: a patch of hair is missing on her temple, where she bears a great scar. At least one new student is tricked into asking about it each year and suffers the consequences of the one question that looses Dean Mahli’s fierce temper.
Mahli’s duties, beyond instruction of swordmages-in-training, are to guide and protect the general student body—generally from themselves. She wields the longsword well, and also has melee skills using her bare hands, both of which allow her to keep students in line without trouble. She is legendary among students for quelling an unruly and incorrigible student body by inviting them to attempt to best her in combat, all at once. With every student on the ground in a state of incapacitation and pain, she proceeded to patch them all up. After setting that precedent to keep the students in line, she was more forgiving. To improve the student body’s mental health, she encourages acts that other disciplinarians might punish.
Dean Mahli can reach her quarters through any door that leads to a custodial closet in either of the student dormitories.
Instructor Hribar, Bursar
The devil Incarus retired from the position of bursar 18 years ago, volunteering Hribar as his successor. Hribar, a devil of knowledge, accepted the position, and only the headmaster knows what Hribar receives in return. He is an imp who looks, for the most part, like a short, devilish human or tiefling with a pair of wings. He is suitably civil in his role as bursar but delights in teasing or unnerving the students. In addition to his duties as bursar, Hribar uses a working knowledge of infernal magic to instruct warlocks at the White Lotus Academy. He has additional insights on artifice, and he suffers in silence when other instructors ask him to demonstrate the way a magical principle reacts to his nature.
Hribar’s quarters are behind a door that normally leads to a supply closet immediately behind the bursar’s desk. From his quarters, Hribar can, at great cost, escape to the Nine Hells rather than return to the academy grounds.
Instructor Ibok, Master of Duels
Students recognize Rufus Ibok by sight, since few dwarves are on campus. Instructor Ibok was an avid adventurer in his youth, and he traveled with six different adventuring companies before settling to write books and ballads of his experiences. As an instructor at the White Lotus Academy, Ibok teaches aspiring bards the art of music and uses his free time for his personal projects. Hearing a plaintive, original melody from his worn lute wafting from nowhere is not uncommon, occasionally accompanied by his sweet baritone.
In addition to teaching the academy’s bards, Instructor Ibok also teaches classes in protocol and etiquette across the world, which is knowledge he acquired on his travels. This expertise also makes him the ideal master of duels, since he knows all the forms, including regional variations, and is a masterful arbiter of fair play. When two students ready for a practice duel, Ibok ensures they remain safe; his attention was especially valuable when a student revealed himself to be a doppelganger assassin while in the middle of a duel.
Ibok’s quarters are in the Hall of Amber, through a door that normally leads into a practice room that contains a harpsichord that can control the local winds. Ibok lets most students stride directly into his chambers rather than give them access to the harpsichord.
Liese Apresa is a powerful and unpredictable sorceress. She lives her life in the same manner she wields her magic: chaotically. Her habit is to show up places she is unexpected, such as other instructors’ classes, students’ conversations, parties, and duels, to dispense wisdom and a quick lesson before leaving just as suddenly. Her words often have no relevance whatsoever, but occasionally they are prophetic or just what is necessary to help someone. One student endured hearing her warning, “Ignore the winter” each time she saw him for his entire enrollment. He recently sent word that he learned her meaning in a recent encounter with a ghaele of winter from the Feywild, along with his thanks. Apresa lives with her husband, Instructor Westbrooke, in a house near the campus on the edge of Whitton.
Malcolm Westbrooke is a half-elf wizard in the middle of his life. He teaches wizardry and artifice at the academy and accepts no hesitation or errors from his students. Mistakes are rewarded with long essays or research work in his lab. Perfection earns a trip abroad to study whatever subject the deserving student chooses—a reward Westbrooke takes seriously. He once escorted an artificer on a trip to infiltrate a githyanki compound to investigate one of their silver swords firsthand. These trips are why Westbrooke’s classes are full despite his uncompromising teaching style.
Westbrooke lives with his wife, Instructor Apresa, but usually comes to the campus through an enchanted door that leads to an office in Founder’s Hall.