Ill Winds Over Verbobonc
Uncle to Ruprecht Windchester, this puissant illusionist and adventurer was once quite active in the domain of the Free City of Greyhawk, the WIld Coast, and the Pomarj. He vanished in 587 CY.
In his youth, Phanstern was a little on the stout side, noted for his good cheer and a flamboyant style all his own. He wore his auburn hair and full beard a little unkempt and shaggy, and he was given to wearing a fur vest and a vibrantly rakish crimson headband with feathers tied into it. His fondness for knives and daggers was apparent, for he often carried several on his person when adventuring, and he was adept indeed in their use. The trials he experienced in the conflict against the slavelords changed him; he returned with obvious scars, both physical and mental. As his middle years approached, he became more respectable in his attire and presentation, but he maintained a certain flair for his dress, favouring sashes, baldrics, and fur cloaks and stoles. At the time he departed Fairwain for the last time in 587 CY, grey had begun to streak his hair and beard.
Born in 546 CY to a storied but rather decrepit Furyondian noble family of Fairwain Province, Phanstern was a noted adventurer throughout the 570s and 580s. The House of WIndchester have long been known as loyal servants of the Crown, but their star has never risen so high as to be counted among the peers of the realm. Rather, for centuries they have been lords of a number of villages in the east of Fairwain, and while they have produced a few noteworthy knights and captains, and even more notable wizards, their chief role has been as courtiers and advisors to the king. In fact, the library of rare tomes and cabinets of odd curiosities they curate is the envy of many other nobles and arcanists throughout Furyondy and Veluna.
Phanstern’s older brother Hannibal was duty-bound to shackle himself to the inheritance, and despite his talent for wizardry it was to martial pursuits that he was drawn and propelled. From a young age his sister, Marnia, was destined for a politically advantageous marriage to Denholm, younger brother of Baron Xanthen Butrain of Willip, and as such she was heavily schooled in the courtly graces. Phanstern, however, displayed no great aptitude for martial pursuits, estate management, or courtly etiquette, for his talent and interest lay in another arena.
Quick of hand and of wit even as a boy, he certainly made a splash in the king’s court, and his obvious aptitude for magic drew the attention of King Belvor’s Royal Wizard, Ringlerun. At the age of twelve Phanstern became prenticed to the old mage, and he would spend the next thirteen years as one of several talents under Ringlerun’s instruction. Ringlerun was careful to warn his ward about the dangers of wizardry, using as a cautionary tale the story of Phanstern’s great aunt Arabella, a water elementalist who was driven insane by her delvings into obscure lore.
Throughout the course of his apprenticeship, on the rare occasion that he was permitted to vacation briefly at the Windchester estates Phanstern delighted in the company of his brother’s children, especially the brilliant Ruprecht whose own talent for magic was obvious from his earliest years. Hannibal himself had grown into maturity as a friend and advisor to Prince Thrommel, and he would answer the call when the royal heir called together his allies to assist him against the Temple of Elemental Evil in 569 CY. When Lord Hannibal returned home, his tales of the Battle of Emridy Meadows stoked Phanstern’s interest in adventuring, but when he completed his apprenticeship in 571 he was required to remain at the royal court for some years. His odd taste in fashion and flamboyant personality, together with his penchant for entertaining others with his illusions made him popular in Chendl, but he found court life to be tiresome. Instead, he returned home to the family estates as often as he could so that he might nurture Ruprecht’s interest in magic. Eventually, however, Phanstern grew bored and restless, and was given leave by the king to remove himself for a time.
He decided to embark upon a life of adventure and excitement, and after promising to return often, the travelled widely the lands of Furyondy and the Shield Lands as well as the dominions that fell under the influence of the free cities of Dyvers and Greyhawk. He returned in 576 CY, full of colourful tales, and these stories together with his style, which had always been a bit rakish but was now positively scandalous, made him a popular addition to the king’s court once more. His skill in the Art had grown considerably as well, and Ruprecht benefitted from his knowledge over the next eighteen months before the illusionist grew bored and sought leave to make his way in the world once more.
In the meanwhile, Ringlerun had become disgraced through a falling out with the king over his secretive and manipulative ways, and the old mage frequently dwelt at the Windchester estates, taking advantage of their generous succor and teaching Ruprecht and his siblings the formative secrets of wizardry in return. He made a meagre living for a number of years in this fashion, working as a tutor to the monied families of Fairwain, though he was careful to advertise that his loyalty to his king was undiminished. His own interest, though not so specialised as his former apprentice, lay in the schools of divination and abjuration.
By the middle of 577, Ringlerun had formally taken Ruprecht as his apprentice, and Phanstern’s feet had grown itchy for the road again. He took his leave once more and headed to the south, this time to the Viscounty of Verbobonc, the Gnarley Forest, and the Wild Coast. This time he would not return for three years and when he did, he was much changed. He had grown famous for taking part in the victorious struggle against the vile Slavelords of the Pomarj, and the experience had left him both physically and mentally scarred. His smile was no longer ready, nor was his wit disposed towards jesting as it had been in the past, and he had developed a paranoid streak and a penchant for brooding. He had no interest in the royal court, and spent more than a year at the Windchester estate as he sought to recover from his trials. During this time he continued training his nephew, though there was a harder edge to his magical philosophy now. Behind closed doors, he and Ringlerun quarrelled at times. Ruprecht overheard the old wizard gently caution Phanstern for delving into matters best left forgotten; talk of chained and forgotten gods, elder elemental evils, and aberrations. For the first time, the talented lad heard Ringlerun remind Phanstern of “Arabella’s fate” as the old mage pleaded with the younger illusionist to preserve his sanity.
By the end of 581 CY, Phanstern was on the move again, this time at the behest of Karzalin of the Chamber of Four. The Archmage Fire Elementalist had retained his services for the Crown due to his knowledge of the Shield Lands, and he wished to know more of the vulnerable petty states surrounding it as well as the war between the Knights of Holy Shielding and the allied Horned Society and realms of Wormhall and Warfields. Trouble was coming to the boil in the north, and King Belvor IV desired forewarning of ill tidings. Now strong in his power, the illusionist moved widely throughout those lands once more, and ventured further still to the easterly Bandit Kingdoms and even the fringes of the dreaded lands of the Horned Society and the Old One. Having mastered teleportation magics, he returned to the capital several times throughout his mission. Each time, he seemed grimmer and grimmer, and he warned his family that war was coming, though from which quarter it might start he could not tell.
Over the following months rumours of war filtered back from far to the east; stories of conflict from the distant Hold of Stonefist, the Thillonrian Peninsula, the Duchy of Tenh, and the Kingdom of Nyrond — all lands far from Furyondy’s care. Then, early in 583 CY, Phanstern returned suddenly from the Shield Lands, having just fought at the Battle of Critwall Bridge against the hordes of Iuz. His eyes wide with horror and subdued panic, he spoke of demons and countless numbers of fell men, orcs, goblins, ogres, giants, and the undead. He informed the family that the Shield Lands were no more, but that the eastern flank of the kingdom was secure for now. The warnings of he and others like him allowed the king to begin mobilisation of his armies just in time, but Earl Holmer and the nobles of the Shield Lands had chosen not to heed until it was too late.
Just a few days later, the king’s messengers brought word to the estate that a second army of Iuz as large as the first had attacked through the fringes of the Vesve. Crockport and the Barony of Kalinstren had fallen already, and the horde was marching on Fairwain Provence with great speed. Both Ringlerun and Phanstern teleported to Chendl, and swiftly returned with news that all the estates must be vacated, for the marching horde “was without number and they will overrun the entire province.” They recommended that the smallfolk of the villages should immediately take what they could carry and make their way to the safer lands of the Viscounty of the March and the Barony of Littleberg. Hannibal gave custodianship of the villagers to his wife and several trusted retainers, but stated that the duty of the men of the family was clear. They would ride for Chendl, to aid their king.
Working together, the mages and retainers of the family were able to assist the outmanoeuvred armies of the king in their screening withdrawal to the capital. Many soldiers died, but it gave hundreds of peasants the time to get behind Chendl’s walls, and it bought enough time for the capital to ready its defences before the horde of the Old One was upon them.
The vicious Siege of Chendl lasted for more than six months. Many of the most able wizards, clerics, and warriors in the kingdom come to her defence and names such as Karzalin, Ryshanden, Piscentan, Dramaynen, Zonkle Knacklesack, Terevas Sevensong, Ringlerun and, of course, Phanstern, are entered into the annals of Furyondy as magi most capable. Indeed, mastery of teleportation magics allows several of these worthies the ability to take part in the desperate defence of both Chendl and the vital castle of Redoubt, which lay under siege to the north.
Late in 583 CY, one last assault by the forces of Iuz was turned away by the sacrifice of Ringlerun. The assault was personally led by the Old One’s High Priest, Patch, who came forward supported by several of his fellows among the Boneheart in addition to a Balor, several Maraliths, a Glabrezu, and a company of the elite Legion of Black Death. The eastern gate would have fallen but for Ringlerun, who unleashed a previously obscure artifact (the Heartstone) to sew confusion in the enemy ranks before, in a desperate moment, snapping his Staff of Power to unleash a retributive strike that slayed Iuz’ High Priest, Patch, in addition to himself. Their strongest cleric dead, several of their most powerful demons banished, and several of the Boneheart fled, the army of Iuz lost heart and the king was able to lead a charge of southern levies that broke the siege. Over the next months, the forces of the Old One were rolled back throughout much of the north, and the nine month siege of Redoubt was finally relieved. Sporadic fighting continues right up to the signing of the Treaty of Greyhawk.
In the wake of the war Phanstern, even more troubled than before, picked up where Ringlerun left off in regards to Ruprecht’s wizardly education. However, Phanstern lacked Ringlerun’s perspective and he saw the work of the Elder Evils, the Forgotten and Chained Gods (the Earth Dragon and He of the Eternal Darkness), and the aberrant races of old (such as the Aboleth) in everything. The following year, when Canon Hazen used the Crook of Rao to cause the Flight of Fiends, Phanstern was called to serve once again as the Kingdom of Furyondy and the Archclericy of Veluna proclaimed the Great Northern Crusade against the dramatically weakened forces of Iuz the Evil. A master of his school himself, Ruprecht’s uncle returned with a profound admiration for the greater power, creativity, and knowledge of the gnome known as Zonkle Knacklesack, who had been appointed the king’s advisor “on all matters Illusory and Phantasmal.”
By 587 CY, Phanstern was in the south again, quietly gathering intelligence for the Crown on the unstable situation unfolding throughout the Wild Coast, the Principality of Ulek, and the newly forged Orcish Empire of the Pomarj. Before he left the estate, he shared with Ruprecht his concerns that he had heard rumours that the yellow sails of the Slavelords had been seen once more on the Sea of Gearnat and the Azure Sea. He was incensed and worried that his old enemies had returned, and told his apprentice that he would return after he took advice with his friends Dread Delglath and Eljayess, both of whom dwelt in the Wild Coast port of Safeton. He also indicated to Ruprect that somewhere in or near the port city of Dyvers, Delglath kept a residence maintained under a secret identity. If Phanstern did not return from his trip, it was to Dyvers that Ruprect should first seek out clues as to his path.
He vanished immediately thereafter, and no word has surfaced of him throughout the years.