(From the archives of the Geographical Society of the Triune Empire, Aarenis
It was in 1137PC (or 2483SS by the Laurentian reckoning) that King Oland of Varangia made his disastrous assault upon the Univeristy of Linnarson. Varangia, the growing power in the south of Laurentia, had crushed the independent Duchy of Zechstein and manoueverings had been taking place that indicated an imminent conflict with the waning power of Torridon, the nation that had long been one of the dominant nations of norther Laurentia.
When King Oland, instead of moving north against Torridon, swung his host east towards the neutral city of Linnarson, the surprise was total. The city of Linnarson (dominated by its great university for over 1300 years), had long since trusted to its traditional neutrality (and its vast array of powerful mages) to ensure its safety. The city militia, caught unawares, were only just able (with the aid of the substantial magical defences) to halt the Varangian horde’s first assault short of the city walls. Once they realised the threat, however, Linnarson rallied, and university mages by the score came to rally the defenses. Oland, now that surprise had failed, settled down to besiege the city, cutting off its supplies of food, for a direct assault against so many magic users would be costly in the extreme.
Wise fool! Now that surprise had failed, a bloody assault was his only chance of taking Linnarson. Whilst a siege would work, in time, he was giving the most powerful wizards in the world, with all the resources of the Great Library, several weeks to prepare counter-measures against him. All across Linnarson, researchers convirged upo the Great Library, searching for spells that could scour the Varangian host from the face of the earth.
Better for Linnarson if they had never tried. To this day, none know precisely went wrong, but on the afternoon of the 10th day, a cataclysmic explosion ripped through the Great Library, pulverising the entire edifice. The blast wave echoed forth across the city; none of the buildings close to the Library were destroyed, and few buildings in the city remained undamaged. More devastating though, if that can be possible, were the chaotic magical energies released by the disaster. Any living thing (including plants) within a day’s travel of the city was warped by the energies. Many creatures were so badly warped that they died on the spot, whilst those who survived were changed, often beyond recognition. Some creatures with intelligence lost it, whilst others which had previously had none gained. The Varangians, of course, were all warped, as were all the inhabitants of the city. Within three days ride of the city the effect could be described as severe, and subtler signs of the catastrophe continued even further.
The Senior Masters, being undead, were unaffected by the magical energies. Though over 2/3 of them were killed in the blast, the rest have survived and continue to pursue their eternal quest for knowledge. Six of the colleges - Barnwells’, Duke’s, Victory, Cornelius, Philosopher’s and Penitence - were left partially habitable by the blast, and these are inhabited today by the Senior Masters and their servants.
Of the warped magical creatures, plants, people, etc., many died through lack of food and other problems, but those that survived have formed a strange sort of ecosystem. The beasts hunt and feed upon each other, and those that are intelligent have formed primitive communities (those that are thus inclined). These communities sometimes fight each other. Remember that even before the blast, Linnarson was inhabited by many outlandish creatures and races, so now things are even stranger. The magical energies have lingered (even 300 years on), and chiefly affect reproduction - i.e. many offspring born are different (either slightly or majorly) from their parents. This would affect people/things from outside that came in to the region. There is a high proportion of magical creatures, creatures with magical abilities and creatures that feed of magical energies in Linnarson (these were created by the blast and survived because of how much the environment suited them. A few may have been attracted from elsewhere).
Some of the more intelligent creatures serve the Senior Masters. The Senior Masters have few needs (e.g. they don’t need to eat, sleep, etc.) but they might sometimes find uses for other hands, perhaps to clear some of the rubble from a ruined college to investigate the artifacts beneath. They are totally oblivious and uncaring to the warped creatures around them and to the intelligent communities of warped creatures, provided that they do not interfere with them or with their quest for knowledge. Any creatures that attack them, interfere with them, or destroy things that they consider worth saving would meet with with instant destruction (they would have no remorse about doing this). Remember that the Senior Masters are some of the wisest and most powerful mages who have ever lived (and some of them have been around for a long, long time); they also now have the resources of an entire magical university split amongst about 50 of them.
As a side note on items, some items have been warped by the magical energies and have unpredictable effects. The Senior Masters have "cleaned" some of them, but not all.
The Senior Masters are not necessarily hostile to outsiders; indeed, some have come to study under them and a few, over the last three centuries, have even joined their number. An adventuring party might be able to perform a service for them that they consider to dangerous - for example getting books out of a remote section of the catacombs of the Great Library - for which they might be rewarded. The Senior Masters do not like risk - they have a lot to lose - however, they will not hesitate to obliterate anyone who threatens knowledge (even at the cost of their own lives). They have some control over some of the warped creatures.
Notes on the Great Library
As stated before, all of the Great Library above ground was pulverised; however, some of the area below ground survived. There were three levels of catacombs full of books and they are quite extensive. Of the books, many have been damaged and some destroyed out right; however, many still survive and even a damaged book could contain irreplaceable knowledge if it is the only copy. Not all, or not even most of the books there are magical (though a large number are - say 10-20%). Of those books that are magical, some have been warped by the magical energies. Spells cast using these books might have different or unpredictable effects, ranging from the minor, to the medium (e.g. spell blows up in user’s face) to the catastrophic. The library is inhabited by many creatures that feed on magic. The Senior Masters have only explored the near regions.
Suggestions for running a dungeon in the Great Library
Create a "library floor plan" of where the different books are. Suggestion: catalogue by broad subject area, followed by size (for fitting on shelf), followed by date of acquisition (i.e. random). Allows you to have some order whilst still having a lot of different books in each area (and is also a genuine library cataloguing system). The lower levels should have more obscure books.
The library has literally tens of thousands of books in. Players can literally walk through and pick 100s of the shelf. Divide it in to small areas - not all the same size - (you may need about 100 of these for the whole library, but you don’t have to go through the whole library) for amount of destruction (maybe 12 categories, ranging from none to total). Then make some randomisation charts for each area (i.e. for each broad subject area and for each damage area): that will give: amount of damage, type of damage (i.e. does 1/2 mean half the book is gone, or does it mean that on each page about half the words are unreadable); specific subject; magical or non-magical; rarity (don’t necessarily tell the players this at the time); and degree of warping.
A warped book cast inside the library will have a worse effect than if cast outside, due to the high degree of magical energies there for it to react with. In other words, a wizard can just pick up a book and firestorm the enemies, but it is risky.
A lot of the books should be in different (and extinct) languages from all over the world and some maybe in secret runes etc.
There should be some books there containing magical spells or rituals far beyond the normal.
The Senior Masters will do all in their power to prevent people from leaving with any books. They would not object to people taking the books out of the library, transcribing them and then giving the Senior Masters the originals (in fact they would be quite pleased).