In addition to the various cities, nations, and peoples, there are a number of other powers within the Realms, all operating to their own ends, and often ignoring national boundaries. These are secret societies, cults, and adventuring companies that seek to put forward their own agenda and advance the Realms to their own ends. Here follow a few that are known to operate in the areas of the campaign.

Arcane Brotherhood
Arcane brotherhood
The Arcane Brotherhood is a mercantile company and wizards’ guild. It maintains several safehouses in Luskan and in other cities of the North and at least one fortress somewhere in the mountains north and east of Luskan. The Host Tower of the Arcane, however, is the seat of its strength.

Hard information on the upper echelons of the Arcane Brotherhood is very difficult to come by. It’s clear, though, that some of the senior wizards have recently been destroyed or trapped in forms they can’t escape, communicate, or work magic from. Some have been moved behind the scenes, and some have left the Brotherhood to pursue their own aims – —lichdom, mastery in other lands or planes of existence, and so on. Some of the names in this entry are new to most observers in Faerûn, but should be noted that current activities of the Zhentarim, the Cult of the Dragon, and the Red Wizards of Thay reveal they haven’t managed to place agents or even spies in any positions of importance within the Brotherhood.

The Brotherhood changes with menacing rapidity, as its internal feuds are deadly. Travelers are
advised to avoid the attention of this evil, manipulative group.

The Cult of the Dragon
Cult of the dragon
This semi-religious organization was founded by Sammaster, a powerful wizard favored by the gods with great power, in a manner similar to (reportedly) Elminster and Khelben Arunsun. In Sammaster’s case, however, the additional power brought delusions of godhood and madness, and he came to believe in time that “dead dragons shall rule the world entirely” and began to work toward that goal. While Sammaster has died, risen as a lich, and fallen again, his cult lives on, and continues to threaten the Heartlands.

The Cult of the Dragon venerates dragons in general, evil dragons in particular, and specifically dead evil dragons, reanimated as powerful and fell dracoliches. The Cult acts as an information network for its draconian “masters,” brings gems and riches as offerings, and encourages evil dragons to become dracoliches.

The Cult of the Dragon is active throughout the Realms but is specifically powerful in the Cold Lands and the North, where dragons are particularly populous (if not popular). Cult member activities include gathering information on particularly rich caravans to be raided, stealing unique items to be offered to their master, and leading raids against their enemies, who in their minds are all those who might oppose the rulership of the dragons.

Druids of the Tall Trees
The Druids of Tall Trees are quite secretive and allow few other than druids (and vouched-for companions) into this part of the wood. The Great Druid is the leader here, but former Grand Druid Sinklayr Greenstroke resides here, as does the mysterious Gildenfire.

The Eyes of the Evening
Eyesofthe evening
The Eyes of the Evening is a secret organization of werecats (and a few rare weretigers) that serves the goddesses Selûne, Sharess and Eilistraee. The Eyes, as they refer to themselves, seek to actively oppose the aims and agendas of the followers of Shar, Loviatar and, too a lesser extent, Mask. In many respects, the Eyes act as spies, scouts, and armed messengers for the three churches they represent.

Shar is still bitter that Sharess was able to break free of her influence and seeks to return her to darkness, by force if necessary. Her clergy and other followers have taken to committing their evil acts in the name of Sharess in an attempt to turn public opinion against the goddess of pleasures. The Eyes of the Evening actively oppose these operations and seek to clean up the mess made by the Sharan followers. The ages old animosity between the goddess of the moon and her sister Shar is another aspect of the Eyes of the Evening. The werecats seek to oppose the anti-Selûne operations of the followers of Shar.

Though Loviatar and Shar are often enemies, their agendas run a similar path in many cases and both operate at odds to the beliefs and desires of Selûne, Sharess and Eilistraee. Loviatar spreads darkness and evil, which both Selûne and Eilistraee find anathema, as well as pain disguised as pleasure, which Sharess finds revolting. Also, as many drow (especially surface drow) are turning to the worship of Shar, Eilistraee seeks to prevent the dark elves from abandoning one evil for another.

Finally, the god of thieves and dark deeds done under the moon often finds his followers being opposed by the Eyes. It is primarily the assassinations, murders and other heinous crimes committed by followers of Mask that draw the attention and ire of the Eyes of the Evening.

The Eyes of the Evening often work in conjunction with the Harpers and with the High Heralds, taking on the agenda of those organizations as well. However, the Eyes are an independent group and their own missions take precedence over the goals of the Harpers and Heralds.

The Harpers
Harpers symbol
The Harpers are a semi-secret society based in the Heartlands. The Harpers have seen a number of incarnations through the years, with rising and falling levels of political power. They are primarily a good-aligned group that is allied with a number of good churches, and are receiving support from powerful neutral individuals, including druidic circles. Their aim is to keep the dangers both of and to civilization at bay, including goblin raids, dragon flights, and the insidious control of other groups such as the Red Wizards and the Cult of the Dragon. They believe in the power of individuals, the balance between the wild and the civilized, and the good of humankind and its allied sentient races. They also believe in preserving the tales of the past, so that one may learn from those tales for the future. The Harpers attract a wide variety of character types, but this society is most attractive to elves, rangers, and bards.

Harpers are spread throughout the North and the Heartlands, often operating in secret. They are by their nature meddlers, and often operate alone or in small groups to achieve their ends. Except when battling long-term foes, it is unimportant to them if their name is connected with their actions (their own tales and songs are another matter).

The Harpers are an amorphous organization, and as such have no main base of operations. Two common Harper locales are Berdusk, where they are centered on Twilight Hall, a sprawling complex of buildings under the nominal control of the local temple of Deneir, and Shadowdale, where they have powerful allies. Harper members or allies include such worthies as Khelben Arunsun, Elminster, Mourngrym of Shadowdale, and Lord Piergeiron of Waterdeep.

The Harpers are a force of good in the Realms, and goodly folks may find themselves being aided by unseen allies if their business aids the organization. The only hint as to these allies’ identity is the harp and moon symbol of the group.

The Heralds
The Heralds – sometimes known as the High Heralds – are a group of historians and arbitrators who were originally allied with the Harpers but split with them when the latter group’s tendency towards good became unbalancing to their own even-handed interest in justice.

That respect in matters of arms has extended into other areas in courtly life, such that the Heralds are often called upon as nonpartisan judges for contests and legal disputes. In some countries, such as Cormyr and Impiltur, Heralds are incorporated into the government itself as assistants and aides to local rulers. While the loyalty of these aides is considered to be first to their locality, they are responsible for passing information throughout the Herald organization.

The Heralds are led by five High Heralds, with the titles Unicorn, Black Vizor, Crescentcoat, Old Night, and Red Dragon. Of these, Old Night is the best known among the public, for he orders and organizes the heraldry of the Realms and is usually a sage wizard of great age and power. Old Night makes his home in the Savage Frontier in a hidden fortress known as the Herald’s Holdfast.

Heralds strive for neutrality to the point of stasis, attempting to maintain the current order as opposed to extending it further in new conquests. They may advise their lords freely, and may be on opposing sides of a conflict and still maintain their power as Heralds as long as they maintain their impartiality. Heralds have in the past served as regents for underaged kings and queens, but are forbidden from holding onto that power once a suitable heir is found and from leading attacks directly against other Heralds. There have been abuses of these restrictions in the past, and the High Heralds have proved powerful enough to punish the guilty.

The Iron Throne
Iron throne
Independent merchants generally tend to be individuals who deal on face value and (at least reputed) honesty. They also tend to stay out of politics, other than currying the favor of whoever or whatever is currently in charge of their favorite watering holes and way stops. Merchants trust to their luck but hire mercenaries as protection, and enough of their goods get through to make them profitable. The rulership of the lands they pass through is up to others, including retired members of their craft, whom they trust to give them a fair shake.

An apparent exception to this is the Iron Throne, a mysterious organization which has been operating over the past decade. Despite its long existence, little is known of its purpose or the identity of its hackers.

The Iron Throne operates through agents, mostly lowly thugs and brigands who have only recently taken legitimate employment and entered into the service of the merchant coster. The turnover is apparently high, since Iron Throne agents often seem to lapse into their old ways. The Throne denies all complicity in any criminal acts by their agents, and replaces them regularly. The Iron Throne wishes to maintain a patina of respectability, regardless of how thin.

The veneer has become thin indeed, for the Iron Throne has been charged with attempted assassination of competition, extortion, and thuggery, trading weapons to monstrous tribes, and trafficking in smoke powder, poison, and drugs. There have been frequent reports of conflicts between Iron Throne caravans and agents and those sponsored by the Zhentarim, and reports of Throne disputes with the tribes of the North and the Goblin Marches. The Iron Throne has recently
been banished for a year from acting within Cormyr.

The masters of the Iron Throne are at present unrevealed, and have to this date resisted all attempts to magically divine their identities or intentions. This indicates some level of magical ability or protection on their parts, and rumors are rampant. Some say that the Iron Throne members are secretly agents of the Zhentarim, or of Cormyr, and previous actions against those groups are only to hide their trail. Some mention that some god is involved, such as Cyric or Lliira, or that some dead deity is using the Throne as a stage for resurrection. Some talk of undead beholders, sentient lizards, or pale blue sea giants as the true masters of the merchant company and the secret of it power. The truth remains to be seen.

The Knights of the Shield
Knights of the shield
This group of merchants, nobles, and other hidden individuals seeks to manipulate the politics and money of the Sword Coast to its advantage. The Lords of Waterdeep have foiled the plans of this group on several occasions in the past.

The aims, real power, and precise activities of this group are largely unknown, though their guises as merchants and nobles serve them well to infiltrate places and perform quick attacks and assassinations (as the members are rarely seen without a contingent of bodyguards. It is unknown where this group came into being, who heads it, or what holds it together; investigations into such matters are, of course, fraught with peril.

As with many other secret societies throughout the Realms, there are more rumors than facts about the Knights of the Shield. Among the elves, from whom this rumor spread to various Sword Coast sages and adventurers, rumors place a disguised demon or devil at the head of this group; names and the exact type of being change with each telling (the most common stories mention a leader known as Charsultketh, a marilith). Other rumors tie them farther south, hinting at connections with Calimshan (or even further south to Zakhara) and a powerful cadre of genies ruling the Knights through human agents.

The Kraken Society
Kraken society
The calling card of the Kraken Society, a purple squid with an incredible number of tentacles, is perhaps one of the most recognized and feared symbols in the North. It is synonymous
with kidnappings, torture, assassinations, and brute force.

For many years, the Kraken Society was thought to be yet another organization that was a gatherer of information; some even referred to its members as the “Heralds of the Sea.” Still, there was always something sinister in their dealings, an eerie sense of danger and intrigue in their mannerisms.

It’s known now that the Kraken Society serves the kraken Slarkrethel, an immense squid that lives near the ruins of Ascarle. Over the years, the society’s activities have made themselves known via the mass exodus of aquatic races from their homelands. While the society still seeks to gather knowledge to sell or barter, it also seeks to drive other sea creatures from its surrounding waters.

What is not known about the organization’s leader is that he has been gifted with spellcasting ability. In undersea folklore, such a creature would be called “Umberlee’s spawn,” a powerful servant of the dark mistress of the oceans.

The Lords’ Alliance
Lords alliance
This group is also known variously as the Council of Lords, the Lords’ Council, and the trade barons, and was formed to oppose the Zhentarim and their agents. It is a lawful and essentially good alliance of the rulers of the cities of the North and the Western Heartlands. These include Waterdeep, Mirabar, Neverwinter, Silverymoon, Baldur’s Gate, Elturel, Berdusk, Iriaebor, and Sundabar. The Lords’ Alliance is not to be confused with the Lords of Waterdeep, though members of the latter belong to the former.

The Alliance communicates through official envoys by means of the trained pigeons of Piergeiron the Unmasked Lord of Waterdeep and by the magical arts of Khelben “Blackstaff” Arunsun. In this way Alliance agents have successfully coordinated military operations against Zhentarim annexation of an exclusive overland trade route, limiting that organization to its base in Llorkh.

The Lords’ Alliance is an alliance against the Zhentarim, and while the lords stand firm against the encroachment of the Black Network, they are less cohesive in other matters. The Zhentarim hope to use such differing attitudes towards trade, magic, and treatment of nonhumans to break the alliance, but to date have failed.

The agents of the Lords’ Alliance are varied, and usually swear their loyalty first to one particular lord, then to the Lords’ Alliance as a whole. Still, there are a number of adventuring companies and paladins who strike against the Zhentarim “"in the name of the Lords’ Alliance.”"

The coastal city of Luskan, north of Neverwinter, is not a member of this group, as it receives most of its goods by sea, places a fierce value on its independence that precludes any firm alliances, and is noted for not being above a little trade raiding of its own. The kingdoms of Amn and Calimshan are indifferent to the alliance. It has been rumored that the Empires of the Sands secretly side with the Zhentarim for economic reasons – —while there is trade strife in the North, the overland routes within their own borders will be enriched.

The Pathfinder Society
The Pathfinder Society is a new organization that has seemingly grown out of the High Heralds. They have recently established their base of operation at Candlekeep, along the Sword Coast, but are actively recruiting new members and establishing “lodges” in various towns and cities. So far, they have established most of their lodges in the Sword Coast South, but have only recently added one in Waterdeep.

The goals of the Pathfinders are to explore ancient ruins, publish notes on explorations, and recover lost information, books, items, and artifacts. All recovered items are sent to Candlekeep for further study.

The Harpers are keeping a close eye on the Pathfinders. While the Pathfinders are not inherently evil, they are not overly picky about the morality of their own members, so long as those members get the job done. Also, some of the items they seek to recover are things the Harpers feel are better left alone.

The Red Wizards
Red wizards
The Red Wizards are the rulers of Thay, and the powerful ruling zulkirs of that land are chosen from among their numbers. The Red Wizards are abroad throughout the Realms as spies and agents of their kingdom. Their actions are supposedly for the good of their home government, but each Red Wizard has his or her own agenda to pursue.

The stated goal of the Red Wizards is to establish Thay as the superior political and magical force in the Realms. The Wizards’ chief opponent has historically been Mulhorand, since Thay is a former principality of that ancient country, but in recent centuries their attention has been redirected westwards, towards the cities in Cormyr and Sembia, and in the direction of strong concentrations of magic in the Moonsea, the Dales, Nimbral, and Halruaa.

The Red Wizards are many things, but one of the things that they are not is subtle. Swaggering, boastful, loud, insulting, and dangerous, yes, but never subtle. It takes great personal danger for a Red Wizard to affect personal humility, no matter how slight, and tolerate even the most subtle reproach as to the superiority of the Thayvian people. Despite this, there are always (apparently) new Red Wizards to challenge adventurers.

The Shadow Thieves
Shadow thieves
The Shadow Thieves are a wide-ranging guild of thieves, spies, and assassins who perform particularly dangerous, evil-aligned, and lucrative ventures. Their activities, unlike those of most thieving guilds, are not limited to a single city, and they range the length of the Sword Coast from Luskan to Calimport.

A group directly opposed to the Lords of Waterdeep and all their allies, the Shadow Thieves are based in Athkatla, Amn, where they have a massive training complex and a testing ground for the assassins they sponsor.

These thieves were once the thieves’ guild of Waterdeep, until they were driven out of that city or slaughtered by the Lords of Waterdeep. The Shadow Thieves have sponsored an assassins’ guild in Athkatla with the eventual aim of slaying all of the Lords of Waterdeep. In the meantime, this secretive organization appears to have reached some sort of agreement with the merchant-kings of Amn, who would like to see turmoil in their trade rival, Waterdeep (and perhaps also wish to avoid being on the assassins’ list of targets themselves). Under this pact the merchant-kings leave the Shadow Thieves alone and are in turn left alone.

The Shadow Thieves operate up and down the Sword Coast; their trademark is a black silk mask impaled upon a stiletto blade (usually used in assassinations, or left behind at the scene if a garrotte or poison is employed instead). No names or numbers of Shadow Thieves are known; powerful operators are thought to be few.

Xanathar Thieves’ Guild
Xanathar thieves guild jpg
Not much is known of this group beyond a few whispers. Xanathar’s Thieves’ Guild is said to be run by a huge, elder beholder, but others say this is a deliberate falsehood spread by the guild. This slaver network is also said to be the most powerful on the Sword Coast. It is believed that they operate out of Skullport, beneath Waterdeep.

Members of the guild are likely trained in stealth, discretion, and tactics with fighters, rogues, sorcerers, wizards, and experts comprising most of its numbers. An ever-growing organization, it utilizes multiple mouthpieces to protect and conceal the identity of the Xanathar.

The Zhentarim
Fr zhentarim
The Black Network of the Zhentarim is a not-so-secret group of mages, priests, and warriors devoted to the task of dominating trade, and therefore power, throughout the Heartlands region. To that end they work to achieve the downfall of an ever-increasing list of opponents, including the Dalelands, the Harpers, rival Moonsea cities, the Cult of the Dragon, Cormyr, Sembia, and anyone else who gets in their way. That which cannot be infiltrated and controlled must be cowed into obedience or destroyed. They are most influenced by the religion and priests of the god Bane, but many also worship or at least pay homage to gods Bhaal and Myrkul. Iyachtu Xvim – the son of Bane and a greater succubus – also holds some sway with the Zhentarim.

The Black Network is active throughout the Heartlands, but currently has three major bases of operations. Darkhold has been established as a base within the Far Hills, a terminus in the Western Heartlands for caravans from the northern, southern, and eastern Realms. The Citadel of the Raven, hard on the borders of Thar, is a major military base as well. The third headquarters, and birthplace of the organization, Zhentil Keep, has long been the seat of power and most influential base.

The Black Network activities in the Heartlands include a number of legal and illegal actions. Trade is a major component of the Zhentarim’s income, and they are not limited morally to mere transport of ores from the Moonsea area and finished goods from Waterdeep and the North. The Zhentarim also do excellent business in poisons, illicit drugs, weapons, and slaves. Caravans bearing the black banner of the Zhentarim (and not the coat of arms of Zhentil Keep) can be found throughout the Heartlands, particularly in areas far from prying eyes and normal travel (such as the Goblin Marches, the Stonelands, and the plains around the River Tun).

Assassination, theft, blackmail, kidnapping, and torture are all acceptable methods to advance Zhentarim goals. Zhentarim have no compunctions about hiding behind aliases or setting up rivals against each other, but usually wish to let their opponents know who is responsible for their downfall.

(SOURCES: The Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting; City of Splendors; The Forgotten Realms Wiki; original material)

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