The party searched the detritus of the ancient, now-subterranean city. They had been commissioned to find a powerful artifact in the ruins, but over the centuries many a treasure hunter had already stripped away anything of obvious value. Hours into the search, the party was hungry, tired, and ready to stop for the night. As they began to make their way back to the surface, Fan gave a final glance over her shoulder.
From out of the darkness, one of the structures -- an immense orb half-hidden by the surrounding rubble -- seemed to gleam, reflecting back the light of the party’s torches. When part of the street collapsed beneath Fan's feet, she was too distracted by the sphere to react in time. She fell into a waist-deep hole, becoming firmly stuck, and no amount of Gorrick's pulling could free her.
The Netherese street had been well made, in the Golden age of the fallen empire, and even centuries of abandonment later, it did not yield to the party's attempts to dig Fan out.
Gorrick remembered how he'd once seen a farmer free a stuck calf from a fence by slicking its hide with oil. So it was decided that the cleric should cast grease, in the hopes it would allow Fan to be lifted out.
However, when the spell left the cleric's throat in an exhaled breath, it did not act as expected. For a fraction of a second, the same enormous orb that had caught Fan’s attention flared with a sharp strike of light. And, rather than simply coating Fan in a light layer of grease, the spell blasted oil upward from the hole like a geyser, flinging Fan up in the air and drenching the entire area. After a few seconds, the party realized something terrifying: the oil was not stopping.
The oil began hurtling upward with such force, it began to tear away sections of the previously immutable street. The party was forced to run for higher ground as grease began to flood the ancient streets. By the time everyone made it back to the surface, the grease had completely flooded the underground city. “Well…” Fan said, sadly, “I suppose we should go tell that guy at the inn: if he wants that artifact, he’s going to have to go swimming for it.”
Narrator: Whoa! What happened? How did a level 1 spell manage to flood an entire subterranean city? Hi, I’m Katie, and in today’s chapter of The Tome of Dungeoneering, let’s explore a powerful artifact: once a shining keystone of the Netheril empire's power and success, now an impotent colossus, marking the Empire's fall. The Mythallar.
What is a Mythallar?
Okay, so first: what’s a Mythallar? What does it have to do with that out-of-control grease spell?
Mythallars are giant crystal balls that function kind of like electric outlets. Just like how electric outlets connect to a source of electricity, Mythallars connect to the source of magic: the weave. Also, similar to how you don't want to stick your finger in an outlet, anything that touches a Mythallar is instantly killed. Disintegrated. Dead. Done. That includes the undead. It will kill you AGAIN.
Back before the Fall of Netheril, , there were entire cities... on mountaintops... being floated around in the sky, and their continuous levitation was entirely dependent on Mythallars
Normally, when a mage wants to make a magical item, they have to spend their life force to power it. And you can imagine, the amount of lifeforce it would take to continuously float a city would leave you with a serious mage shortage.
But, with a Mythallar, they could just plug the city-floating spell directly into the weave. No dead mages required. As long as the spell or magical item was within 1 mile of the Mythallar, it would function.
Then, when the mage Karsus killed the goddess Mystryl, and whoopsy-daisy-destroyed the weave, it was like shutting off electricity to the world. No electricity? No more functioning outlets. So all the Mythallar stopped working, and the cities fell out of the sky.
Now, before we go any further, let's answer what are probably some burning questions: Katie, if Karsus accidently destroyed magic and rendered the Mythallars powerless, theeeen how does magic still exist? And why hasn’t anyone turned the Mythallars back on? You still haven't explained what this has to do with that spell going crazy.
Patience, patience - - I'm getting there. SO, after Karsus killed Mystryl and tried to take her mantle of godhood, he realized, real quick: her mantle was literally the weave. For him to take it, he would have to bear the burden of all magic for all time. Spoiler: he couldn’t.
He dies a horrific death.
Mystryl is reformed as a new goddess: Mystra.
Now Mystra, like lots of other parental figures we might know, gets to clean up the huge mess Karsus created. And she starts by putting magic back together. But, also like those parental figures we might know, she decides: since humans have grossly misused their privileges with super-powerful magic, she's going to revoke those privileges.
She reforms magic so those super powerful-spells are just...no longer available. She puts a hard stop to any magic past level ten. All the more powerful spells, previously accessible to humans and others, simply do not function within the new framework of magic.
That included the Mythallar.
But, you know, if someone just happened to be homebrewing a game. And if a party visited a fallen city with a Mythallar that JUST HAPPENED to still have a weird, on-off connection to the reformed weave….
Well that brings us back to how earlier, a tiny, level 1 Grease spell became a level 10 grease flood. Unbeknownst to the players, there was a Mythallar nearby.
Although it is largely understood that the Mythallar and those lost, super-powerful spells are no longer functioning, that doesn’t mean it’s necessarily true.. And, since we’re here to encourage homebrewing, let’s brainstorm!
What would happen if rumor told of a Mythallar in the ruins of a once-floating Netheril city? Would your players partake in a race to recapture the item? Would it still work? How could it be transported without instantly killing anyone who touched it?
Or, what happens if your players just happen to stumble upon a Mythallar in their explorations?
How would proximity to a Mythallar impact the potency of the players’ spells?
This could be a great addition to a long campaign, where your players have leveled up their magics and are starting to call-in their spells, because they’ve gotten good enough to not have to worry about it anymore. Suddenly, they cast a level 1 or 2 spell in the ruins, and it operates like a level 10 spell. What?! OH, gods!
And there are so many lower-level spells that would be hilarious at level 10. You might:
Create a Hypnotic pattern, but…. the size of a city.
Cast Alarm, intending to set a perimeter and quietly notice if it is breached, but instead setting off a very loud, attention-drawing siren when a squirrel decides to pop into camp.
Or, what if the opposite happens? What if the Mythallar, cut off from the weave, is still trying to function by siphoning off other magic sources, effectively creating a massive spell dampening effect? Someone in your party might cast a giant fireball, but only get something akin to a sparkler.
Or they might attempt to cast vines, only to have a tiny flower shoot out their pinky. Suddenly, all your high-level casters are going to become reliant on physical attacks. That, and it will make enemies usually beaten by magic very threatening again. Horde of goblins trying to stab and gnaw your party to death? Well, fireball will make quick work of them... oh, oh no. The goblins laugh at your magical impotence!
You can also use this sort of mishap to create setting and backstory for your campaign.
Like, maybe the structure of a Netheril city somehow managed to stay mostly intact, and hundreds of years later, lots of people have moved in, making the city their own. But the people have developed a VERY anti-magic culture, because the Mythallar is somehow still functioning, and any wizard who comes through and casts anything, ends up exploding half the city. Would they persecute or outright try to hunt down any magic users in your party?
Alternatively, maybe the new residents of the fallen city LOVE the effect of the Mythallar, and magic flourishes, and they do lots of big, dangerous, stupid, experimenty things with magic all the time.
You could have a setting with an entire city wrapped in darkness, and no one knows for sure why, but it’s highly suspected that a wizard cast darkness too close to a Mythallar and uh-oh-spaghetti-oh’ed the entire place in permanent darkness. Would your party assist researchers attempting to venture into the dark to seek out the hypothesized Mythallar and destroy it?
And you could always set it up to work in reverse, like if a Mythallar was intentionally tampered with to suck up all the magic in an area, as part of a containment spell. That Mythallar could be the only thing keeping a whole lot of scary nasties trapped in a given area. And what happens if those monsters get out?
There’s lots of great ways to mix Mythallars into your homebrew. Until next time, how will you use Mythallars to tortur-- delight your party?
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Thanks! We can't wait to read you another chapter from The Tome of Dungeoneering.