It did not take long for the various people of the North to determine that the frontier could not be tamed without the assistance of strong alliances and strength in numbers. As a result various alliances have sprung up in the region. Some of these groups are loose knit, and others held together with ironclad treaties and agreements. One thing holds true in all cases though: They were right to band together against the harshness of life in the Sword Coast. There are several alliances or factions that stand out among the rest.
The Harpers are a loose knit alliance of spellcasters, adventurers and spies who covertly oppose abuses of power; magical, political, monstrous or otherwise. Working alone or in small cells, they gather information throughout Faerun, discern the political dynamics within each region, and help the weak, the poor, and the oppressed. As a rule The Harpers act openly only as a last resort.
The Harpers is an old organization that has risen, been shattered, and risen again several times. Its longevity and resilience are largely due to its decentralized, grassroots, secretive nature, and the near-autonomy of many of its members. Though they work in small “cells” or as lone operatives they interact and share information with one another as needs warrant. The Harpers’ ideology is noble, and its members pride themselves on their integrity and incorruptibility. Harpers do not seek power or glory, only fair and equal treatment for all.
Harper agents are trained to work best alone and depend on their own resources. When they get into scrapes, they don’t count on their fellow Harpers to rescue them. Nevertheless, Harpers are dedicated to helping one another in times of need, and friendships between Harpers are nigh unbreakable. Masterful spies and infiltrators, they use various guises and secret identities to form relationships, cultivate their information networks, and manipulate others into doing what needs to be done. Although most Harpers prefer to operate in the shadows, there are exceptions.
The Harpers have a list of ideals that they hold as their core values. First, “One can never have too much information”. Second, “Too much power leads to corruption” and Finally, “No one should be powerless.”
The Lord’s Alliance
Various settlements of the North have banded together to form the Lords’ Alliance, a shaky coalition that proactively eliminates threats to their mutual safety and prosperity. Alliance leaders are often contentious, while their operatives seek honor and glory for themselves and their respective lords. Key representatives of the Lords’ Alliance include the canny Lord Dagult Neverember of Neverwinter, the resplendent Lady Laeral Silverhand of Waterdeep, the grave Lord Taern Hornblade of Silverymoon, and the willful Queen Dagnabbet of Mithral Hall.
The agents of the Alliance include sophisticated bards, zealous paladins, talented mages, and grizzled warriors. They are chosen primarily for their loyalty, and are trained in observation, stealth, innuendo, and combat. Backed by the wealthy and the privileged, they carry quality equipment (often disguised to appear common), and spellcasters tend to have a large number of scrolls with communication spells.
To seek out and destroy threats to their homelands, agents of the Lords’ Alliance must be highly trained at what they do. Few can compare to their skills in the field. They fight for the glory and the security of their people and for the lords who rule over them, and they do so with pride. However, the Lords’ Alliance can only survive if its members “play nice” with one another, which requires a certain measure of diplomacy. Rogue agents within the Lords’ Alliance are rare, but defections have been known to occur.
The Lord’s alliance’s core values are three fold: If civilization is to survive, all must unite against the dark forces that threaten it. Glory comes from protecting one’s home and honoring its leaders. And the best defense is a strong offense.
The Emerald Enclave
The Emerald Enclave is a group of wilderness survivalists who preserve the natural order by rooting out unnatural threats. They struggle to keep civilization and the wilderness from destroying each other, and they help others survive the natural perils of the Savage Frontier.
A Ranger might be hired to lead a caravan through a treacherous mountain pass or the frozen tundra of Icewind Dale. A Druid might volunteer to help a small village prepare for a long, brutal winter. Barbarians and witches who live like hermits most of the year might defend a town against marauding orcs or barbarians. Members of the Emerald Enclave know how to survive, and more importantly, they want to help others do the same. They are not opposed to civilization or progress, but they strive to prevent civilization and the wilderness from destroying one another.
Members of the Emerald Enclave are spread far and wide, and usually operate in isolation. They learn to depend on themselves more than others. Survival in a harsh world also demands great fortitude and mastery of certain fighting and survival skills. Members of the Enclave who dedicate themselves to helping others survive the perils of the wilderness are more social than others who are charged with defending sacred glades and preserving the natural balance. A common misconception among the commonfolk, and some of the other alliances, is that members of the Emerald Enclave wish to see Nature take over. In reality, the Enclave’s mission to ensure a balance between Nature and Civilization.
The Enclaves core values are: The natural order must be respected and preserved, forces that seek to upset the natural balance must be destroyed, and the wilderness can be harsh and not everyone can survive in it without assistance.
The Order of the Gauntlet
Members of the Order of the Gauntlet are mostly Paladins, Clerics and Knights that seek to protect others from the depredations of evildoers. Placing their faith in deities such as Torm, Helm, and Tyr, they bring the strength of their faith, their hearts, and their weapons to bear against villainy.
Knights of the order and their loyal squires can be found throughout the North, gathering information on monsters or evildoers, searching for their lairs, and aiding in the defense of settlements.
The Order of the Gauntlet is ready to lash out the moment evil acts, and not a moment before. When evil breaks laws, agreements, or commonly accepted codes of conduct, the Gauntlet strikes hard and fast, without waiting for the blessings of distant temples or the permission of rulers. They believe that evil must be met in the field and smashed, or it will swiftly overcome all while the bureaucrats debate a proper course of action.
The Order of the Gauntlet is a dedicated, tightly knit group of like-minded individuals driven by religious zeal or a finely honed sense of justice. Friendship and camaraderie are important to members of the Order of the Gauntlet, and they share a trust and a bond normally reserved for siblings. Like highly motivated soldiers, members of the Order of the Gauntlet seek to become the best at what they do and look forward to testing their mettle. There are few, if any, “lone wolves” in this organization.
Members of this Order believe that Faith is the greatest weapon against evil. Faith in one’s god, one’s friends, and one’s self. They respect those who do battle with evil as they see battling evil as an extraordinary task that requires exceptional strength, character and bravery. In the Order, punishing an evil act is just but punishing an evil thought is not.
The Zhentarim, also known as the Black Network, is an unscrupulous shadow network that seeks to expand its influence and power base throughout the North. Its members crave wealth and personal power, though the public face of the organization appears much more benign, offering the best mercenaries money can buy. Adventurers allied with the Zhentarim are free to profit as they see fit, either by helping or hindering the forces that stand opposed to the other alliances.
The Black Network has spies and operatives in every major northern settlement, and it doesn’t wish to see its footholds destroyed and strives to protect its holdings.The leaders of the Black Network are open to the possibility of establishing trade relations with evildoers and other alliances, even bribing them, if necessary, to ensure their own continued wealth and prosperity. At the same time, the Zhentarim profits by selling the services of mercenaries to those who can’t defend themselves.
The Zhentarim seeks to become omnipresent and inescapable, more wealthy and powerful, and most importantly, untouchable. When a merchant needs an escort for his caravan, when a noble needs bodyguards to protect her holdings, or when a city needs trained soldiers to defend its honor, the Zhentarim provides the best-trained fighting men and women money can buy. However, the cost of doing business with the Black Network can be high.
The Black Network wants to make it necessary, and preferable, even, to deal with its members. It wants to secure, over time, an iron-fisted monopoly. Members must be the best, the cheapest, the fastest, and the most secure at providing services and goods both legal and illicit. They must be willing to lose coin if it means destroying a competitor, and securing profits from everyone they deal with, except when to do so would work against the Black Network’s ultimate goal: to make everyone dependent on it.
A member of the Zhentarim thinks of himself or herself as a member of a very large family and relies on the Black Network for resources and security. However, members are granted enough autonomy to pursue their own interests and gain some measure of personal power or influence. Their core set of beliefs boils down to the following… The Zhentarim is your family; you watch out for it, and it watches out for you. You are the master of your own destiny and you should never be less than what you deserve to be. And finally; everything and everyone has a price.
Next: The Peoples of the North