This week’s entry is one of the fun results of writing the Gazetteer where I initially name-dropped “the Gennishar Archive” without a single thought as to what it might be. I was prompted to reference it in a couple other entries before I got to sit down and figure out what this strange, oracle-like place might be in detail.
I really like what that turned out to be, but I don’t want to spoil it, so here’s the entry!
Deep under a rocky outcropping in southeastern Outland is a series of caverns and chambers filled with books, tables, and reading lamps lit by will-o-wisps. Visitors are permitted, but most of the figures who ghost through the stacks aren’t people, but helpful manifestations of the place’s genius locus. This is the Gennishar Archive, an awakened library from a distant age.
The librarians of the Archive are manifested representations of characters, both historical and fictional, sourced from the books on the shelves. In general, visitors are greeted by a librarian of their own people from centuries ago. The librarians are happy to help guide visitors through a search of the books and scrolls in the archive, and freely answer most questions put to them.
The Archive will happily tell any visitors that it gained sapience approximately eight hundred years ago, the result of a massive sorcerous ritual performed by the scribes and scholars of the Kingdom of Gennishar. That kingdom had been built atop an ancient underground lake, the water from which allowed the desert to bloom into fields and gardens. Gennishar was the original jewel of Outland, a nexus of trade caravans and a center of learning with a sizeable royal library. The map mosaics in the deep corners of Tour Toriel show the kingdom near its prime, symbolized by two palm trees and a stack of scrolls.
However, the lake beneath the kingdom had been cut off from its sources millenia prior. As the Gennishar drew from the lake, it slowly dwindled, and they knew more than most that their kingdom was a temporary affair. The Archive was an attempt to preserve the knowledge of the kingdom, first by moving the royal library down into the upper reaches of the lake cavern and then by catalyzing the spiritual imprint of the underground library into a genius loci.
Inevitably, the Kingdom of Gennishar fell but the Archive lived on. Scholars continued to travel to Gennishar to consult its library, many of them bringing new texts to add to the collection. The stacks now sprawl across the entire underground lake bed and hold some thirty thousand unique texts. The Archive does not allow any of those texts to leave the caverns (and is very capable of sealing the exit until would-be thieves surrender their loot), but does allow transcription.
The only limit to research at the Archive is food and water, which must be brought in by visitors; there are no local sources for fifty leagues. After a few grisly incidents centuries ago, the Archive maintains a strict policy of expelling visitors whose supplies are dwindling. These visitors are advised to cross the desert back to civilization and return when they have resupplied. Very occasionally a caravan out of Granite Hold visits, hoping to sell to any scholars presently consulting the Archive.
For obvious reasons, open flames are not allowed anywhere in the archive, and even the materials to create flame—flint and steel, matches, black powder, and even hard liquor—must be left outside. Known fire mages are followed at all times by a librarian. While this may seem like paranoia, the Archive has been targetted for sabotage, especially by agents of Ardengeal Grove, who object that a number of sacred elven texts have been added to the collection without their permission.
Other, less-informed invaders have attempted to ransack the place, shouting ‘zuktovardos!’ and searching for hidden gold and jewels. These are first met with straight answers and an offering of intriguing research materials. If this overture fails, the would-be adventurers are expelled by a swarm of the Archive’s librarians and the entrance sealed for months as the genius loci recovers its strength.
Despite these rare instances, most visitors to this remote place are welcome scholars (and their escorts and less-scholarly colleagues). Some visit regularly, developing a deep friendship with the Archive. The Bardic College of Dion mounts an expedition from distant Wildermarch every few years. These trips are referred to as “Archive Semester,” in which a few elder bards escort an unruly gaggle of students, collecting stories all along the route and spending a month or so at the Archive itself.
The Archive knows the contents of its entire collection and is capable of sourcing answers from that vast pool of knowledge. However, it is aware of its own biases and prefers to answer questions by delivering the books in question and allowing visitors to draw their own conclusions. After visitors have read up, the Archive is more than happy to discuss the different possible interpretations.
While the vast majority of the collection is freely accessible, the Archive does withhold a small number of texts from general access. The forbidden collection began as the texts originally proscribed by the Gennishar crown, but includes more modern works that concern similar topics. In general, this includes texts on the construction of curses, direct manipulation of spirits, and necromancy. In specific, it also includes the rituals behind the genius locus’s own creation. The Archive shares these texts with only a select few scholars with whom it has developed literal lifetimes of trust, and even then forbids transcription.
Fans of Avatar: the Last Airbender might recognize some similarities between the Gennishar Archive and a certain subterranean library in the furthest reaches of the desert. What can I say, it was a great episode and left an impression!
As far as next week goes, we’ve got a varied line-up of potential entries. I look forward to hearing what you want to dig into!