One of the more puzzling districts for new arrivals to the city, they are often first impressed by the collection of knowledge, learning, and erudition. But soon they discover the district’s darker side: the slavery, the underdark influence, the cultists, and the Grand-Provost himself, Zhirilith the Mind Flayer. Despite his intentions to make the University District an attractive place for savants and academics, he has a cruelty that shows itself elsewhere in the district.
Background: Nexus University District
A character that studied at one of Nexus’s universities is likely to have picked up pieces of lore unattainable elsewhere, in addition to picking up all sorts of academic contacts and dabbling in other fields. Even the enforcers, slavers, and university bureaucrats pick up scholarly habits, peppering their speech with foreign loan words or academic buzz words. A character picking this background may choose Arcana or History as their background skill, or may gain an extra language.
The Warden: Grand-Provost Zhirilith
Zhirilith is a powerful member of his race, and practiced in both the arcane and psionic arts. Given that so few others of his race are present in the city, it is suspected that he may be an outcast or exile from his people. Zhirilith, like all his kind, has an appetite for brains, and consumes those of slaves imported from the underdark or imprisoned for breaking the District’s laws.
Zhirilith oversees the operations of all four of the District’s colleges, funding them out of his personal fortunes, direction research policy, and making all major decisions personally. He gives his academics a loose leash, allowing them to teach and research as they please, but expecting his share to any breakthroughs.
Ordinary students or residents of the District rarely interact with, or even see Zhirilith. He only occasionally gives lectures, his travel about the District is highly secret, and he does not issue open proclamations. The Grand-Provost spends the majority of his time conducting his own experiments, using only expendable slaves as lab assistants. No one knows exactly what the Warden is researching, or what will happen when he finishes.
Organizations and Locations
The largest portion of the District is known as College Court, and his home to the universities, lodgings for students and faculty, and many support businesses.
The University of Nexus is the largest and oldest of the city’s universities, offering a broad and general curriculum. Generally, students who wish to attend one of the other universities spend a few years studying here first, though it can’t be matched in several fields, such as arcanozoology or planar geography. The Transplanar Library is operated by the University of Nexus, but partners with the other three universities. Students of any of the schools have access to most of the texts; outsiders have to pay 100 gold pieces per year for basic access.
The Nexus College of Wizardry and the Academy of Arcane Mastery are both specialized in the arcane arts, and have a healthy rivalry. The Nexus College of Wizardry is both older and larger and views the Academy as an upstart, less prestigious school. The Academy, for its part, views the College as overly focused on theory and the idea of magic, whereas the Academy does useful, practical research into things like how to make a bigger (and hotter) fireball. The debate rages on, between theory and “pure” academics on one side, and practical usage on the other.
Also located in College Court is the Symposium, an auditorium and debate hall, where regular meetings are held discussing open topics on a variety of issues ranging from the academic to the politic. The Sensory Auditorium is another strange diversion. Sensory performers are situated at the center of the stage and engage in a variety of activities, some enjoyable, some sensual, some gruesome. The magic of the auditorium transmits their sensations to the audience members, allowing them to experience the same sensations as the performers.
The relatively humble (for one of Nexus’s Wardens) Warden’s Estate is home to the Warden, his experiments, his slaves, and his constructs, and no one else. Only his closest confidantes and allies ever see the inside of his estate, and few are foolish to try to steal from it.
The District is the seat of three guildhalls- those of the Printer’s Guild, Tinker’s Guild, and Slaver’s Guild. The Printer’s Guild specializes in the reproduction and distribution of texts, by way of massive printing presses situated in their Guildhall. The nature of these machines is very secret, and their work is in high demand. The Tinker’s Guildhall is host to artificers, enchanters, and machinists. They are unable to monopolize enchanting itself, but have a lock on creation and innovation of mechanical devices and contraptions, and were recently given license to operate the city’s only Warforged Creation Forge. The Tinker’s Guild is highly involved in the creation of the district’s airships, working in concert with the Shipmaker’s Guild. The Slaver’s Guild, while operating in many of the city’s districts, locates its Guildhall here, and uses the portal for slaving runs into the underdark.
The Temple of Ioun serves as the only major temple in the District, exalting the goddess of magic, knowledge, and prophecy. Smaller statues of Ioun are scattered throughout the district, often on the university grounds or as the centerpiece for a neighborhood.
The Gnomehill neighborhood is home to a large population of gnomes. Many are involved with the universities, or with the Tinker’s Guild (the Guildhall is located in the neighborhood.) The hilly, almost rustic area is home to several parks, and is also host to several halfling and dwarf families.
Caravanserai Square is located in front of the Portal, and is a stopping point for the expeditions into and out of the portal. Outfitters, stablers, merchants, and above all, guardians, line the square. Behind closed doors, slave negotiations often take place.
Thrallstreet is a walled neighborhood, patrolled by both the Slaver’s Guild’s and the Warden’s enforcers. Slaves who are not kept in residence in their owner’s homes have meager lodgings here, and it also serves as a holding area for new imports.
Law and Order
The University District employs the Enforcers to keep the district organized. The rank and file soldiers of the enforcers are all constructs- automata, homunculii, and warforged. The leaders and officers of the Enforcers includes distinguished warforged, alongside swordmages, drow mercenaries, and other strange characters. The Enforcers protect the students, keep the slaves (and the slavers) in line, and in general work to keep the appearances of a safe, orderly district.
Most severe and violent crimes are punishable by either a very steep fine or slavery, the duration depending upon the duration of the crime. Senior enforcers have the ability to set sentences for crimes. Minor crimes are punished by small fees.
One unusual law that’s almost never punished is the ban on worship of Vecna. Charms and symbols of Vecna are absurdly common, and many a study group doubles as a cult, making dark sacrifices to sway their grades. Zhirilith outlaws such cult activity, and every so often there’s an enforcer raid on a larger cult, but the low-level cult activity is far too widespread for the Warden to effectively combat.
Rumors, Secrets, Adventure Hooks, and Outright Lies
Zhirilith occasionally shuts down the Sensory Auditorium, and invites a select few to spectate as he dines on the brain of one of his slaves. Sometimes he broadcasts the sensation of devouring a brain, sometimes that of having it devoured.
Worship of Vecna is illegal in the city, but widepracticed and rarely punished. The cults must have connections going high up. Does the Warden himself tolerate the cults, or is he behind them?
Zhirilith has a number of strange lieutenants, but none are stranger than the Transcendent One, who is an independent consciousness with no body.
A wide variety of wizards are agitating for the creation of a Wizard’s Guild (again). This has always failed before and is expected to fail again, because the Warden dislikes the autonomy that would give them. This movement seems to be taking off though. What backing might it have? Another Warden?
Zhirlith often attends the Symposium in disguise, or perhaps he scries. In any case, he uses it to gauge the pulse of public policy, and amends his own designs to suit.
They never touch the students, but a group of Enforcers is abusing their power to press strangers and outsiders who won’t be missed into slavery, or to extort heavy fines from them. Sooner or later this is going to catch up to them- this sort of thing happened before, and the Warden’s wrath was great.
The Warden’s research is none other than divine ascension- he intends to join the gods in the cosmos as a Divinity!
The Warden doesn’t need to ascend to godhood- he already serves as an Exarch of Ioun, Vecna, or somehow both. His works are solely to serve his god.
The true project beneath the Warden’s Estate is a vast mind flayer spawning pool. One day, all those hidden mind flayers will rise up and enslave the entire city.