Wednesday, August 31, 2022

The Iscarion Academy

Below is a write-up of the Iscarion Academy, a prestigious finishing school with a dark secret from my Ravenloft campaign. If you like this, consider checking out Strahd Loves, Man Kills, my Ravenloft fanzine. The Iscarion Academy originally appeared in issue six.

The Iscarion Academy
The Iscarion Academy is a prestigious finishing school for young ladies from wealthy, aristocratic families in Dementlieu. Of course, it can be difficult to discern whom truly belongs to the domain’s upper ranks and whom is merely an infiltrator from the lower rungs of society. As long as their families are able to pay the exorbitant tuition required to attend, the Iscarion Academy does not look too deeply into the pedigrees of its applicants.

The Iscarion Academy is renowned for its well-rounded curriculum, which includes a variety of feminine accomplishments to enrich the supposedly upper-class girls who attend the school. The Iscarion Academy’s sprawling campus of stately buildings is located far from the hustle and bustle of Port-a-Lucine’s busiest districts—the better to keep its charges out of trouble and its own nefarious agenda out of view. Visitors with a keen eye cannot help but notice the dragon motifs present in the decorative elements and ornamentation found throughout the school.

The Cult of the Five-Headed Empress
Unbeknownst to their guardians, some children sent to the Iscarion Academy are singled out for induction into the school’s secretive Avernus Program, which involves initiating them into the Cult of the Five-Headed Empress—a mystery religion devoted to Tiamat, the Queen of Dragons. The Cult of the Five-Headed Empress reveres Tiamat as the patron goddess of wealth, status, and social power.

Students admitted to the Avernus Program are trained in a variety of skills and techniques that will allow them to exert influence over the political arena when they leave the Iscarion Academy to enter the upper echelons of Dementlieuse society. 
Beyond the usual social graces, the Avernus Program tutors them in psychological manipulation, subtle interrogation, deception, the use of poison, and arcane magic.

Once they have pledged themselves to the Cult of the Five-Headed Empress, students must choose one of five paths to follow. Those on the Black Path learn the arts of sadomasochism, so that they might introduce powerful members of society to unknown pleasures and thereby gain their subservience. Students on the Blue Path learn to use their beauty to dominate the politically powerful. Those on the Green Path manipulate others through rhetoric and powerful oratory. The financial tyrants who pursue the Red Path leverage investments, offer bribes, and attach themselves to the rich to siphon away their wealth. Those who adopt the White Path favor assassination as their method of rising in society—clambering their way to the top from amid a pile of perfumed corpses.

The students recruited to the Avernus Program always possess noteworthy beauty, charm, and physical presence—all attributes they are intended to use to catch the eyes of important men and women in Dementlieuse society. The Cult of the Five-Headed Empress indoctrinates in them a desire to insinuate themselves as trusted friends, lovers, and spouses—and thus position themselves to pull the strings of political power unnoticed. The ultimate goal pursued by the graduates of the Avernus Program is unknown, but under the direction of Headmistress Hamir they have already begun to steer the domain toward a hidden purpose. 

Nadezhda Hamir
Nadezhda Hamir, better known to the students of the Iscarion Academy as “the Hammer,” is the school’s headmistress. Seemingly human, she possesses an austere, ethereal beauty and a coldblooded, unyielding core. Nadezhda projects an image of perfect genteel refinement, but those who spend enough time in her presence may notice that her eyes are vaguely serpentine and her tongue is slightly forked. Hidden beneath her calculated and duplicitous exterior is intense avarice and lust for political power. 

Nadezhda Hamir is a yuan-ti pureblood, possessing proficiency in Insight, Intimidation, and Persuasion.
Ideal. “Tiamat’s greed and imperious nature make her an idol to be emulated.”
Bond. “Though I instruct the students admitted to the Avernus Program personally, they are nothing more than pawns in a greater bid for my own ascendancy in Dementlieu.”
Flaw. “Truculent disobedience causes me to drop my polite facade and reveal the scheming monster underneath.”