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The Harpers, or Those Who Harp, were a semi-secret organization dedicated to preserving historical lore, maintaining the balance between nature and civilization,[9][24][25] and defending the innocent from the forces of evil across the Realms.[12][22][26][27] The Harpers involved themselves in many world-changing events that helped shape the course of Faerûn's destiny.[28] Their power and influence waxed and waned over the years, as their order underwent a series of collapses and reformations.[29][30] Their reputation amongst the people of the Realms varied just as wildly. They were often seen as wild-eyed idealists, but also just as often seen as insufferable meddlers who could not keep their business to themselves.[11][31]

We are the Harpers. We are the Lord Protectors of the Realms, Fools, all―but the Gods look down and smile glory upon us. Weep for us, watch for us, and hope in us. We shall not fail thee.
— Harper Chant, composed by Ailadrea Stars-in-mist.[9]

Organization[]

Harpers tapestry

A tapestry depicting Harpers, including a founding member, Elminster Aumar.

The Harpers as an organization was actually anything but organized. Rather, it was a confederation of individuals from contrasting cultures and backgrounds who bonded over the shared goals of maintaining peace, preserving knowledge, and protecting the downtrodden. Some Harper agents worked in small groups—often alongside friends and close allies—while others operated as lone operatives,[25][32] who kept only informal ties with the group at large.[11] Throughout the many years it endured, the Harpers had disbanded and fallen apart several times, only to reform later in some new iteration.[29][30]

The Harpers' informality and lack of formal structure lent to its continuance as true secret society.[9] Some members took on specific roles, such as 'spymasters', 'handlers', and 'agents',[30] but maintained no hierarchy or ranking over their fellows. It was said that nothing could be truly "official" within the Harpers; the group was poorly defined, with contradictory operational standards, no formal roster, and a public face that was inconsistent from one locale to the next.[9]

There did remain one consistent representation of the Harpers across the Realms, however: their symbol. The Harpers' symbol comprised a silver harp and crescent moon, set upon a field of black or royal blue.[9][29]

Branches[]

Two roads taken to the same gate; one seen more often, the other never late.
— The bard Alither of Telflamm, regarding the two branches of the Harpers.[10]

For much of its history, the Harpers were separated into two branches, each of which operated on either half of Faerûn's Heartlands. The western branch of the Harpers―the Order of the Silver Moon and Harp, headquartered in Berdusk[10]―maintained a formal hierarchy, and orchestrated far-reaching plots many months in advance of their execution. The eastern branch―known as the Senior Harpers or Harpers in the Shadows, based out of Shadowdale―preferred instead to sponsor parties of young adventurers, wielding subtle influence rather than taking direct action.[11][33][34] Both branches strived to achieve the same goals, and regularly shared intelligence with their comrades across the Realms. Beyond their operational differences, the collective members of the two branches each held contrasting attitudes and world-views.[10][35]

For a few decades, there existed an offshoot branch of the Harpers, known as the Moonstars. This splinter sect acted separately from the two branches of the Harpers, operating in the sprawling metropolis of Waterdeep,[11][36] and at times undermining the efforts of true Waterdhavian Harpers.[27]

High Harpers[]

The only true leadership of the Harpers was a small governing council known as the High Harpers. They were responsible for setting and planning most of the group's long-term plans and goals.[30] Members were elected through the means of secret ballots among the other High Harpers, with the criteria of long-term service and extreme discretion in the execution of their plans.[11]

Master Harpers[]

While the Harpers held no formal hierarchy, some members did enjoy the distinction of being named Master Harpers.[10] These select few were blessed by the goddess Mystra and bestowed with divine boons associated with the Goddess of Magic and other deities that were present at the First Reformation.[37][38] This term was sometimes confused with the unofficial name of the Harpers' eastern branch, the so-called Master Harpers, though usage in this manner was generally discouraged.[10]

If a Master Harper was slain or otherwise died with an unfinished quest or charge, they returned to the Realms as a spectral harpist.[39] These incorporeal, undead Harpers retained the powers they held in life,[40] serving the order as immortal guardians over the aptly named 'Harper haunts'.[5]

Among the Masters Harpers were four of Mystra's immortal daughters, Endué Alustriel, Ambara Dove, Anamanué Laeral, and Esheena "Storm" Silverhand, as well as two of the goddess's favored chosen, Elminster and Khelben Arunsun. Other known Master Harpers included:[41]

Beliefs[]

Right, then, good Lady Shandril, I shall try to tell thee something of what it is to be a Harper. A Harper holds peaceful sharing of the lands above all other goals. By sharing, we mean all the races living in and under the land, where each prefers to live, trading together where desired and need stir them to, and respecting each other's holds and ways—without the daily bloodletting that all too often holds sway in the Realms today.
— Mirt the Moneylender, explaining the Harpers' purpose to Shandril Shessair.[43]

The Harpers believed in the power of the individual over that of the sprawling kingdoms with laws that oppressed individual liberty. They sought to maintain balance between all things, civilization and nature, societal order and personal liberty.[44] They considered the elven city of Myth Drannor, with its rich culture, celebration of the arts, and promotion of education to be the most ideal expression of this balance by the free peoples of the Realms. They sought among other things to spread that belief, and recreate the world in the lost city's image.[9][45]

While they strived to eliminate tyranny and foster "goodness" in the Realms, not all Harpers agreed on how it was defined.[11][45] Despite these differences of opinion, they did share the belief that current events could only be fully understood with a comprehensive knowledge of the history that preceded them.[44]

Attitude[]

True bards are another matter entirely. Part of a bard's training is memorizing the traditions and lore, which are passed down, precise and immutable, for generations. That's why so many Harpers are bards: to preserve a knowledge of our past.

Considering the vastly different backgrounds and cultures from which Harper members were drawn, each cell or individual agent maintained their own, unique outlook on how to best conduct Harper business. Generally speaking, they took care of how their actions affected the greater world. Senior members tended to act with caution and circumspection, while younger Harpers often believed it was upon them to personally make the world a better place.[11][31] Yet all members were taught to uphold the virtues of dedication and comradery and honestly assess their own shortcomings. Harpers knew they could only earn respect not by attaining power or holding lofty titles, but by demonstrating sound judgement and acting with integrity.[45]

Some enemies of the Harpers accused them of treating their more manipulative schemes as some sort of grand game, that the people they directed were mere pieces on a chess board. The Harpers demonstrated a type of altruistic arrogance, insisting that their machinations were taken for folks' own good and the overall betterment of the world.[45]

Harper agents were determined individuals. They never quit on their missions and took however long was needed to see them to completion.[45] If an agent was slain in the field, their comrades would never forget their sacrifice and vowed to bring justice to their killer.[10]

Culture[]

It was said that the secretiveness of the Harpers extended beyond the organization as a whole, trickling down to its individual members and their personal lives. While often boisterous and lighthearted in public, Harpers tended not to share genuine sentiments with others–save for occasions when they were alone with their comrades.[10]

Overall, the Harpers were one of the most tolerant factions of the Realms. They accepted people from all walks of life, even those with unsavory pasts,[30] so long as they swore the Harper Code and did not violate its tenets.[9]

Harper Code[]

I shall do no less.
— The response given to the Harpers' watchwords.[45]

The code of the Harpers was a series of outwardly simple statements that were in truth exceptionally difficult to maintain in earnest. They were not written down in any book or tome, but were expressed as a series of 'watchwords' used to swear in new members, an occasion known as the ritual of recognition.[11][19][24][35][45] In the late 15th century DR, however, the Harper code was written in a book, upon which new members would swear their oaths. They would keep a copy as reminder.[47][48][49]

The Code of the Harpers, or the Harper Code, was as follows:[11][19][24][35][45]

  • "Harpers work against villainy and wickedness wherever they find it—but they work ever mindful of the consequences of what they do."[45][35][19]
  • "All beings should walk free of fear, with the right to live their lives as they wish."[45][35][19]
  • "The rule of law aids peace and fosters freedom, so long as the laws are just and those who enforce them lenient and understanding."[45][35][19]
  • "No extreme is good. For freedom to flourish, all must be in balance: the powers of realms, the reaches of the cities and the wilderlands into each other, and the influence of one being over another."[45][35][19]
  • "Whatever it takes, a Harper will do. Pride never rules the deeds of a true Harper."[45][35][19]
  • "Harpers can spare themselves less freedom than those they work to protect must have—but even a Harper must be free."[45][35]
  • "Harpers police their own. A Harper who hears the call of personal power can no longer hear the sweet song of the harp. A Harper who seizes power, and holds it above all else, is a traitor to the harp. Traitors must die, for freedom to live."[45][35][19]
  • "Without a past, no being can appreciate what they have, and where they may be going."[45][35]

In summary and practice, it meant to oppose tyranny and evil; to protect the oppressed; to maintain freedom, peace, and order; to support fair and just laws; and to prevent extremes and imbalances of power, wealth, influence, and opportunity.[11][19][24][35][45][47][48] They should do whatever they must, no matter how mundane or boring; no matter how hard, uncomfortable, or demeaning; and no matter how risky or life-altering.[45][19][11] They were expected to help one another without hesitation or concern for cost[11] and to ask nothing in return for the works they did.[11][47][48] They could freely disagree with or criticize each other, and were to police their own and punish treachery.[45][11] Finally, they were to accumulate knowledge for the good of everyone and to record and preserve the past,[45][11] for it was said that history provided the light with which a Harper could see the future ahead.[19]

Throughout the course of history, the code of the Harpers spread beyond its members, influencing the shaping the laws of cities across the Heartlands and the North.[45]

Activities[]

Harper Teleportation

The Harpers employed a network of teleportation circles in cities across the North, to ensure their movements remained shrouded in secrecy.

True, we must fight, it seems often enough to keep our swords and our tempers both sharp enough. Yet, know ye; all of us fight when we must, or die. Moreover, ye only hear of blades drawn and death and spells hurled, and never know of the many, many times that a quiet word or a skillful deal has turned enemies aside from each other, forced a way clear where none was before, or distracted foes from the eager task of tearing each other's throats out. That is the true Harper way: subtle and quiet, behind the shouting. Trust and wisdom, and outfoxing others is what we deal in."
— Mirt, continuing to Shandril.[43]

Conducting Harper business consisted of scheming, subtle nudging, and more than a little manipulation. More often than not, they helped guide events of the Realms rather than acting as their direct cause.[45] Harpers tended to work as discreetly as possible, preferring the weapons of knowledge and influence, rather than those of more violent means.[19][28][50]

So that the balance between civilization and the natural world could be maintained, the Harpers acted to keep kingdoms small and minimize the destruction of animal and plant life by humans or others.[9][24] To that end, they cultivated public gardens and regularly re-planted crops in the wake of war and other crises.[45]

To preserve the knowledge of the past―and thus keep secure present and future prospects―the Harpers readily shared their wealth of knowledge and lore with the common folks of the Realms,[11][24] often through music, stories, and song.[44][45] They never altered their performances to agree the whims of those who held power, but kept their works true to the tune of history.[9] When necessary, they used their performances to convey secret messages to allies and warn them of nearby dangers.[51] The simple alteration of a single chord or substituted phrase in a well-known folk song could instantly inform others to heed their warning.[52]

When the threats of destruction and tyranny presented themselves, the Harpers took decisive action. They moved against evil cults, thieves' guilds, and other malevolent forces that terrorized the people of the Realms.[11] Agents protected innocent folk from monstrous beings that sought to destroy civilization,[45] defended the weak against careless or malicious practitioners the Art,[9][53] and kept at bay the horrors of the Underdark, by sealing off passages that linked it to the surface world.[54]

Operations[]

The Harpers operated either individually or in small, close-knit groups. Senior members who wielded significant influence―known as spymasters[30]―directed and aided young adventurers―known as Harper protégés[55]―who took on quests that furthered the Harpers' interests.[11][56] Yet other veteran Harpers lived the adventuring life themselves, taking it upon themselves to complete those very quests for the betterment of Faerûn.[31]

Special Harpers known as handlers served as intermediaries between spymasters orchestrating events, and other members completing field work. They were more often deployed in cities and regions that were considered more perilous for an agent's safety and well-being.[30]

Most Harper agents lived some form of a double life.[30] They went about their business for much of their day, earning an honest (or not-so-honest) living in town or in the wilds, all while closely observing the activities of others. They took careful note of gossip and local tales, and compiled that information with that given to them by fellow members.[31] They put on their best outgoing and charming personas, in order to get from others the most significant insights and information possible. Agents were of course allowed to pursue other interests outside of the organization, so long as they did not violate the Harpers' code.[45]

Tactics[]

Isn't that how the Harpers operate? They send one person to slip in and do a job where an army couldn't go. If the agent fails, they've lost only once. But if the agent succeeds...

Whenever possible, Harpers made most of their moves outside of public view so they could not be tracked and studied and they acted "behind the scenes" either in places of power or at opportune moments.[11][19] They analyzed power dynamics within a realm and took action when needed to prevent power imbalance or stop one faction from achieving domininance over others.[45] These techniques were how Harpers ensured the greatest chance of success during their missions; it was on occasions when agents revealed themselves and acted openly that the group committed its greatest blunders.[24]

Known amongst their own as "weaponless Harpers", some lived as spies as informants[31] often under aliases as traveling performers.[57] Some others acted as political manipulators and information brokers, working with commoners and merchants to spread rumors in aid of the Harpers' cause.[31] Yet others fed intelligence to their more foolhardy comrades, focusing on deception and subterfuge over steel and spell.[11]

In order to correct economic disparities that were prevalent across the Realms,[58] the Harpers were known to occasionally rob wealthy nobles and merchants, in order to redistribute their wealth to poorer folk. If needed, those agents took some of their ill-gotten gains for themselves, to finance future Harper operations.[45] To further support other members, the Harpers employed a network of drop boxes, hidden caches, and safe houses, at which their agents could find communiques, supplies, or even a safe place to rest.[10] It was believed there were at least thirty such drop-offs in the city of Waterdeep alone.[8]

Individual Harpers agents often used the grand, boisterous Midsummer celebrations sponsored by the church of Tymora as occasions to meet with their comrades.[59][60]

Communication[]

Information and knowledge gained is half the battle won against any foe.
— Harper maxim[8]

Members shared information with each other in myriad ways, often employing magical means of communication or employing allies as intermediaries.[19]

Elder Harpers developed their own form of non-verbal cant, known as harpspeak.[19] The Harper sign language dated back to the years before the Era of Upheaval, and fell into disuse during that era.[10]

Harper Symbols

Harper symbols were used to discreetly communicate messages to fellow members and allies. An additional dot added to a rune denoted it as false. This was used as a means to throw off foes familiar with the script.

The Harpers also employed a secret, rudimentary language of runes,[19] each of which had a unique meaning to other Harpers. These runes were inscribed at certain locations to warn, attract, comfort, or otherwise notify other members―or anyone else that knew their meaning―about nearby dangers or local support. To mislead their foes, this system included extraneous marks that only other agents would know how to interpret and know to disregard them.[10]

They also utilized a series of passwords and code words to facilitate secret communication. Some of the known words and phrases included:[61]

  • Bad crops, as I recall, used in the Eastern Heartlands to warn others of impending danger.[61]
  • Bitter water in that well, a phrase used by Selgauntan Harpers to solicit immediate privacy.[61]
  • Dove, which meant to take reconnaissance of an area.[61]
  • Maskertander, a nonsense word referring to cargo, used with "good" or "bad" to declare whether it could be utilized or should be avoided. [61]
  • Rolling heads, a term used in Cormyr and the Dales to convey the message that magic was not to be used. Conversely, wiser heads was used when agents had to prepare to defend themselves from impending magics.[61]
  • Salaeriko, the meaning of which was not entirely clear.[61]
  • Sarkyn, which identified others as Harper allies or otherwise trustworthy individuals.[61]
  • Taland, used by Athkatlan Harpers to tell others to go into hiding; also used by agents in Ormpur for agents to identify or otherwise reveal themselves.[61]

Some Harpers received magical tattoos of the group's harp-and-moon symbol to allow themselves to be clearly identified by allies. These appeared as innocuous, mundane tattoos at first, but transformed into the Harpers' symbol when the proper activation word was spoken.[62]

Base of Operations[]

By all official records, the Harpers organization maintained no real base of operations in the Realms.[24][29] The operations of the Harpers' eastern branch remained largely decentralized,[63] while the hub of its western branch, Twilight Hall in Berdusk, was the nearest thing the group had to a true headquarters.[5][6] Founded during a time when the Harpers were at war, Twilight Hall served as a reminder of the Harpers' origins along with the reasons for which all Harpers were willing to fight.[64][65]

Korinn's Keep was an island stronghold somewhere in the Sea of Swords that was used in the late 1400s to store an assortment of valuable jewels and powerful and dangerous magic items taken from the foes of the Harpers. Only a Harper, that is, a bearer of a Harper pin, could enter.[47][66]

Harper Refuges[]

In the hinterlands of the Realms, elven allies and devotees of the nature deities maintained safe spaces for their friends among Those-Who-Harp. Known as Harper refuges, these locations were kept secure and secret from non-Harpers and were protected by powerful magical enchantments.[67]

Regions[]

In the so-called "civilized world", the Harpers stationed agents in many prominent cities, smaller towns, and even isolated hamlets all across Faerûn and beyond. They operated mainly in north Faerûn, along the Sword Coast, within the Eastern and the Western Heartlands,[24][29] and the Dalelands.[11][63]

By the 15th century DR, the Harpers were active across all of Faerûn,[30] and beyond. They had even set up operations on other planes of existence, such as their place in the Radiant Citadel's Court of Whispers, within the Astral Plane.[68]

Heartlands[]

Kornah

Kornah "the Crazy", the Harper spy who braved the perilous streets of Zhentil Keep.

Harper agents were active in many cities across the Heartlands. The so-called Senior Harpers of the east operated out of Shadowdale town,[11][69] watching over much of the Dalelands[65][70] with agents in Mistledale. They helped maintain order in Cormyr, with agents in the cities of Arabel,[71] Marsember,[21][72] Proskur, the capital Suzail, Waymoot,[71] and formerly Tilverton (in the Whispering Witch inn prior to the city's destruction).[73][74][75] The House of the Harp in Elventree[71][76] and Harpers' Hill[77][78] were two of several secluded Harper safehouses situated within the great forest of Cormanthor.[71][79][80] Harper members were among the few non-elves granted safe passage through the ancient forest,[81] many of whom made pilgrimages to Harpers' Hill to take some time for contemplation and self-reflection.[82]

The western branch operated primarily out of Berdusk,[11] and maintained safehouses and conducted operations out of Drawn Swords,[83] Elturel, Hill's Edge,[84] Iriaebor,[85] Scornubel, Secomber, and Soubar.[86][71] They were freely welcomed in the elven city of Evereska, the sole remaining home city of Tel-quess during the Retreat.[87]

In the northern region of the Vast, Harpers operated out of Calaunt, Procampur,[71] and Tantras.[88][89]

The Harpers carried out operations in many cities in the political hotbed of Sembia,[90] including Daerlun, Ordulin, Saerlun, Selgaunt, Urmlaspyr,[91] and Yhaunn.[71][92] They were forced to take much caution when conducting business in the Moonsea and Moonsea North,[71] as those realms were home to the Zhentarim and were the center of the Banite and later Cyricist faiths.[93] They kept agents in the cities of Hillsfar, Melvaunt,[94] Mulmaster,[71][95] and at least one daring agent in Zhentil Keep itself.[96] In the overtly hostile Dragon Coast, Harpers operated out of Elversult,[97][98][99] Priapurl, Teziir, and the imposing port city of Westgate.[71]

Lands of Intrigue[]

As the Harpers were vilified in the nations of Amn, Tethyr, and Calimshan,[100][101] it was only fitting their agents remained alert and active, especially in the region's more influential and politically volatile cities. Harpers were known to operate in the capitals of Athkatla[71] and Calimport,[102] as well as the settlements of Nashkel and Riatavin.[71]

Sword Coast[]

In Waterdeep, the Harpers maintained a secret headquarters near the base of Mount Waterdeep known as Harpers' Hold. Throughout their history, the Harpers maintained anywhere between seven[8] and approximately 120 members within the city's walls at any time. The Harpers held significantly less influence in the City of Splendors following the formation of the Moonstars,[7] but did also operate in the subterranean city of Skullport, in the bowels of Undermountain.[103]

They had numerous agents coming in and out of Baldur's Gate, utilizing the Cup of Coins as their safe house within the city.[71][104]

The Harpers conducted a number of operations in and around Neverwinter over the years.[71] They became more active after the city was nearly destroyed in the mid―15th and were repeatedly imperiled by several warring factions.[105] Neverwintan Harper agents could find refuge within the House of a Thousand Faces, a tavern in the Blacklake District.[106][107]

They maintained another safehouse in the farmlands near Boareskyr Bridge,[108] and another in the form of The Way Inn, the famous way stop situated along the Trade Way.[71]

The North[]

The Silver Marches was among the safest locales in the Realms for Harpers to stay. The city of Silverymoon was home to Starfall Pool, a favorite site of natural beauty among the Harpers,[109] and Harper Hall, a well-defended tower that served as one of the Harpers' few official meeting places.[110][111][112] They freely operated out of of Everlund,[113][71] home of the Harper stronghold known as Moongleam Tower.[110][114] It was within Moongleam Tower that the Harpers maintained a crucial teleportation circle that linked to additional circles in cities across the North.[115][116]

Harpers offered shelter and aide to travelers all across the wildlands of the North.[3] They also had agents stationed in the settlements of Amphail,[71] Bargewright Inn,[30] Mirabar, Sundabar, Triboar,[71] and Yartar.[53] They had a safehouse in Luskan, the Shieldstar House on Sharan Lane,[71] and a sanctuary in Mornbryn's Shield, beneath Caldreth's Pickles, Nuts, and Foods.[47][117]

Other Regions[]

Beyond these regions of major Harper activity, agents also conducted official Harper business in Telflamm,[71] maintained a pair of safehouses in the Thayan city of Bezantur,[118] and were rumored to hold an outpost in Dhaztanar, a Semphari settlement in the Hordelands.[119]

Possessions[]

Harper Agent 4e

A Harper agent blatantly and proudly displaying where her loyalties lie.

See this? It means I'm one of the good guys. Secret mission. Hush-hush.
— Stevie Nickelplate, aspiring bard and "agent" of the Harpers flashing her Harper pin.[120]

The Harpers organization was one with significant resources and a surprising amount of wealth. As a whole, they maintained financial investments in holdings and establishments across west Faerûn.[121] The collective network of artisans, craftspeople, and merchants within their ranks allowed agents of the organization to purchase valuable magical items at a significant discount, helping increase the chances of success for their missions.[27]

Harpers across the Realms could be identified by the small, treasured token that became a symbol for aiding the downtrodden: the Harper pin. Each of these badges proudly displayed a silver crescent moon and harp, and possessed potent magical powers,[122][123] but varied depending on its creation.[11][124] In broad terms, they were crafted in lesser and greater variations.[125] Pins were carried at all times, except during missions where the exposure of their identity might interfere with its success. However, they would only wear them openly[45] when needing to be recognized by other Harpers,[126] when at Harper meetings,[45] or when in Harper bases.[87]

Harper tokens were small pieces of jewelry that possessed minor enchantments, bestowed upon individuals that performed a service for the organization. Crafted from silver, gold, or other precious materials, they were often embossed with symbols favored by the Harpers.[127]

Traditionally, Harpers had no uniforms, both to maintain secrecy and to avoid needless pride.[45] However, by the 1400s DR, some Harpers donned dark blue-green hooded cloaks attached with their Harper pins over their armor for use within their bases or in situations where they needed, or wanted, to be recognized.[126][47][48][66]

Magic Items[]

Harpers crafted[56] and employed a variety of magical potions, scrolls, and other items that were invaluable in times of danger. Notable among these were philters of timely invulnerability, which helped agents withstand mortal wounds and escape unharmed,[122] and wandering stars, gems of illumination that were linked to a single individual.[128] Preferred weapons of the Harpers were implements such as staves of wanderers and the unique, Pheljara's wand,[129] along with shields of shadow,[128] and unique, Harper-crafted blades known as singing swords. When drawn, these enchanted greatswords let out resounding songs that bolstered the moral of their wielders and improved their combat prowess.[130][131] Some two-score Harpers across the North were bestowed powerful spell shields that were crafted by the one-time Harper and Open Lord of Waterdeep, Laeral Silverhand.[132]

A scroll of the Harpers was a magical scroll that caused Harper pins to magically transform into actual harps for a short duration.[122]

Over the centuries, Harper craftspeople and enchanters had made some of the finest instruments in the Realms, appropriately often in the form of magical harps. Notable among these instruments were Dunzrin's harp, Jolora's harp,[133] Murlyn's Harp of Charming,[134] Ruehar's flute,[135] and Tallar's harp.[136] Many Harpers' favored handharps, enchanted harps that could be held in one hand.[137][125]

Abilities[]

Harper Mage

A Harper Mage dutifully studying their spellbook.

Know ye, lad―some Harpers have powers granted 'em by the gods, they do. Ye'd best kill them quick, before they can remember just what those powers are...
— Gurth Aglathlyn, Biting Blade of the Council of Zulkirs.[38]

When Harpers were founded for the first time, several of those present were blessed by the Seven Gods of the Dancing Place,[20] deities that chose to manifest themselves on Toril on the momentous occasion. Later designated as the "Master Harpers", these select few were granted unique powers,[38] not unlike those bestowed upon the divine chosen,[11] each associated with one of the Harpers' patron deities.[138] Notable among those deities were Deneir, the Lord of All Glyphs; Milil, the Lord of Song; Lliira, the Lady of Joy; Mystra, the Goddess of Magic; and Tymora, the Lady of Luck.[38][25]

Later in the Harpers' history―sometime after the Time of Troubles―these boons became available to members outside the handful Master Harpers,[9] namely to Harper mages and priests. Notable among these powers were:[22]

  • Deneir's sight, which allowed a Harper to see through the magic of glyphs, symbols, and runes.[38][22][139]
  • Lliira's heart, by which Harpers could steel their nerves in the face of fear and dread.[38][22]
  • Mielikki's blessing, which bolstered the determination of the Harper to take action against their foes.[20]
  • Mystra's grace, the power to glean insight into the Weave to protect oneself from harmful magic.[138]
  • Oghma's insight, the hunger for greater knowledge and understanding in even the most esoteric of scholarly fields.[138]
  • Tymora's smile, which granted a little extra luck in times of need.[38][22][20][139]

Magic[]

Experienced Harpers learned how to move without leaving a trace, and do so once each day. As they furthered their career, they could perform the feat more often.[19]

Due to the bond formed with Mystra upon their founding, along with the numerous powerful archmages that held membership amongst their numbers, the Harpers possessed knowledge of numerous spells that were not commonly known by casters in the Realms.[138] Notable among these were delayed magic missile,[140] Elminster's multiple mouths,[141] Gamalon's fiery backlash,[140] Ottar's mask,[142] and starharp, among others.[143]

Relationships[]

The trouble with Harpers is they'll never stop talking, even when you desperately wish they would.
— Cormik, proprietor of the Prince and Pauper gambling den.[10]

Allies[]

The Harpers regularly worked alongside the Heralds of Faerûn to maintain the history and cultures of the lands they loved.[45] Strongholds maintained by the Heralds served as hubs of communication for the Harpers, being sites where they could safely leave mail for fellow agents to receive later on.[10]

The group known as the High Heralds was founded by former Harper Aliost Oskrunnar. He called together leaders of some major powers in the West to standardize their use of heraldic arms and prevent miscommunications that could adversely affect commerce in the region. The High Heralds remained staunch allies of the Harpers and worked alongside them on missions of shared interest.[144]

They counted among their allies some of the more prominent bardic colleges, including Fochlucan in Silverymoon,[145] and the College of the Herald in Herald's Holdfast.[12] They were also allied with many of the druid circles that established themselves across the North,[146] such as the Druids of Tall Trees.[147] Political bodies and military orders, such as the Lords of Waterdeep, the Lords' Alliance[148] the Knights in Silver,[149] and the Order of the Gauntlet, were aligned with the Harpers' mission to maintain order across the Realms.[50]

Other groups that the Harpers counted among their allies included the Fangshields,[150] the Fellowship of the Purple Staff,[151] the Sisterhood of Essembra, the Talons of Justice,[152] and even the galeb duhrs of Durgg-Gontag.[153]

Religious Organizations[]

Many gods supported the organization of the Harpers: the churches of Azuth, Deneir,[154] Eldath,[155] Lliira,[156] Mielikki,[157] Milil,[158] Mystra―including the Mystran Children of the Starry Quill and Guardians of the Weave[159][160]―as well as the churches of Oghma,[161] Selûne,[162] Shaundakul, Shiallia, Silvanus,[163] Tymora,[60] and the entire Seldarine all contributed clerics to become members of the Harpers and many of these also lent divine aid to members of the group on a regular basis.[164] This could cause tensions between individual clerics of different faiths but never between deities or between society as a whole and deities.[9]

Foes[]

Zhentarim Agents

For a time, the Zhentarim and Harpers were always at odds―the two groups fought each other in one battle after another for well over a century.

My hatred burns for those who harp
They work against me at every turn
And when I hear them harp at twilight
My soul in me doth burn.

— Excerpt from Chants to the Glory of the Dark Sun, by Doompriest Tuth Malgul.[165]

Powerful individuals supported the Harpers, but equally powerful forces opposed them. Among these were the likes of the Arcane Brotherhood,[3] the Dark Dagger,[166] the malaugrym,[167] the Rundeen,[168] the Kraken Society,[148][169] the Eldreth Veluuthra,[170] the Night Masks of Westgate,[171] the Twisted Rune, the Knights of the Shield,[148] the Iron Throne, the Red Wizards of Thay,[172][173] and the Shadovar of Thultanthar.[174][44]

The factions with which the Harpers were most often in conflict however, were the Cult of the Dragon,[16][175][176] the Zhentarim,[9][70][177] and churches of numerous dark gods, in particular the revived church of Bane.[11][23][178]

Moonstars[]

Main article: Moonstars

The one organization in Faerûn with the most complicated relationship with the Harpers was a splinter organization known as the Moonstars. Founded by ex-Harper Khelben Arunsun,[12] the sect differed greatly in their collective outlook on how to accomplish their shared goals,[179] but often still worked hand-in-hand with traditional Harper members.[12] On other occasions, the two groups operated as rivals of one another.[180]

The Moonstars nearly completely fell apart following the death of their founder, with only a few select members of their inner circle continuing their work in the subsequent decades. They experienced a brief, but astounding reappearance in the Realms during the events of the Second Sundering, before once again going silent.[12]

History[]

Dancing-place

The Dancing Place was the beauteous glade in High Dale, in which the Harpers-in-Twilight was founded.

There are many power groups, big and small, in Faerûn. Some aspire to conquest, and others long to defend the weak against such conquest. Of the latter category, I declare that none are as enigmatic (or as frustrating) as the Harpers.

Accurate knowledge regarding the founding of the Harpers was said to be rather nebulous, and the history of the order overall was so convoluted that Elminster referred to it as "The Hidden Tale".[1][30] The original concept of the the Harpers was first conceived in the fabled city of Myth Drannor, by elven military leaders that worked in collusion with a few trusted human rangers and druids.[1] The mage Dathlue Mistwinter agreed to lead such a group in the Year of Freedom's Friends, 324 DR,[13][16][181][182] at the head of a council that also included a (relatively) young Elminster Aumar. They took for their symbol Mistwinter's family crest—a silver harp between the horns of a crescent moon—and met at twilight at secret locations in the Elven Court, earning them their moniker: the Harpers at Twilight.[1][183]

The Harpers at Twilight dwindled in number over the next four centuries, victims of attrition at the hands of their enemies: bandits, slavers, drow, illithids, orcs, and evil spellcasters attracted to Myth Drannor's success.[1] The final blow to the fabled City of Song was struck in the Year of the Lost Lance, 712 DR, at the culmination of the Weeping War when the Army of Darkness overwhelmed the defenders of Myth Drannor. In just one battle, more than half their number was lost.[184][185][186][187] By the end of the conflict, Dathlue herself was slain,[164] killed alongside a dozen of her fellow Harpers-at-Twilight.[188]

First Reformation[]

On the 27th of Flamerule in the Year of the Dawn Rose, 720 DR,[189] a large congregation of dryads arrived at the Dancing Place druid grove in High Dale.[187] Their arrival occurred at a time when dusk fell earlier than it should have and a bright moon shone when no moon should have been visible. The dryads bid the druids welcome the prizests of many different gods who started to arrive before finally Elminster appeared to explain why they had all been called.[164][184]

The elves had called for the support of the priests assembled to help fight back against the faithful of Bane, Bhaal, Loviatar, Malar, and Myrkul, who were coming from the south and attacking the elves and performing abhorrent deeds.[164] The priests argued but their deities—Corellon, Mielikki, Mystra, Oghma, Selûne, Silvanus, and Tymora—directly possessed them and spoke through them, voicing their support in person and extending their blessings to this effort.[20][188][190] This night thus became known as the Gathering of the Gods.[188]

The remaining Harpers-at-Twilight set about recruiting new members and expanding their influence, though they did so very slowly and lost around twenty new recruits to conflict with their enemies.[188] Over that time though, these new Harpers established an incredibly effective information network, and earned the respect of religious leaders by using that network to help their causes. In return, they were granted the use of fortified temples and monasteries wherein members could train and recuperate between missions.[191]

Long Years[]

To be a Harper is to sacrifice a part of yourself for the greater good―to be the pebble in the charger's path, the knife that frays the hangman's rope, the barking dog that draws the hunter's eye. We do not act for glory, but for the good of all.'
— Anonymous.[30]

The next few centuries were known as the "Long Years" within the organization.[188] During late 9th century, in the Year of the Fell Firebreak, 886 DR,[192] the Harpers erected the wards around Hellgate Keep to prevent fiends from overwhelming the surrounding lands.[193][194][195] While the protections unfortunately lasted for only a few years,[196] the Harpers spread rumors that attracted local adventuring groups to help slay the fiends that made it out of the ruins.[197]

Some decades later, in the Year of the Sinhala, 916 DR, Harpers worked with clerics of Lathander to slay Sammaster, founder of the Cult of the Dragon.[192][198][199][200] The Harpers' increasingly public actions brought them into more frequent conflict with the church of Bane and the nation of Thay.[191][13]

In the Year of the Disfiguring Scar, 996 DR,[201][note 1] the Harpers founded the Heralds of Faerûn to prevent the unscrupulous from blaming others for their misdeeds. The Heralds also used their power to provide Harpers with cover identities.[191]

When the Harpers eradicated the Wearers of the Skull and drew the ire of the church of Myrkul, the Lord of the Dead's followers dispatched liches to seek out and assail the Harpers.[202] The undead spellcasters were turned away and subsequently destroyed. The church then raised armies to hunt down them and the remaining Harper agents. The Harpers were finally forced to go underground in the Year of the Howling Axe, 1021 DR.[191][189][13][note 2]

Second Reformation[]

After the loss of many members during the previous year, Elminster and Khelben "Blackstaff" Arunsun decided in the Year of the Wandering Wyvern, 1022 DR, that new recruits were needed and that the revitalized Harpers would be an "underground army of adventurers".[203][189][13][204] Recruits who met the pair's standards took time to be found, but eventually Elminster happened upon the Wanderers of Espar, a band of a dozen bards, druids, and rangers led by Finder Wyvernspur and Ulzund Hawkshield in Cormyr. Through a series of manipulations, these adventurers were introduced to surviving Harper veterans and ended up successfully battling many of the Harpers' enemies.[203]

The fates aided the Harpers in these efforts in the Year of the Watching Wood, 1065 DR, when they acquired significant treasure after successfully delving into the lair of the undead dragon Alglaudyx, and destroyed the mighty dracolich. They used their newfound riches to make wise investments, purchasing properties and buying up businesses in cities all along the Sword Coast.[121][205]

The group continued to be quietly manipulated by Elminster and Khelben, who appointed certain members as "Master Harpers". These Harpers received directions from the duo, via dreams bestowed on them by Mystra, that led them to a cache of Harper pins in Gochall's Tomb. Elminster then traveled across the Realms with two of Mystra's children, the sisters Dove and Storm Silverhand, to bolster the ranks of the Harpers. They posed as traveling minstrels, cultivated an air of mystique about the order, and attracted new members with their music.[37]

Over time, the Harpers re-established their information network but were drawn into ever more public fights with evil churches, the Cult of the Dragon,[206] and the nation of Thay, and other malign forces.[207] Casualties began to mount again and, to avoid a repeat of history, Khelben and Elminster had all senior Harpers go into hiding.[14]

At some point, the legendary Harper bard Finder Wyvernspur was corrupted by his own vanity and hunger for artistic immortality. The "Nameless Bard," as he was known, was put on trial before the Harpers, who found him guilty of allowing his pride to bring harm to others and imprisoned him within the Citadel of White Exile.[207][208][209]

In the Year of the Empty Scabbard, 1116 DR, seeing the Harpers no better than cultists of Bane, the Heralds decided that they could no longer be openly associated with the Harpers and split from them.[189][207][210][211]

Meanwhile, junior members grew tired of the new, low-key direction the group was headed in and started getting themselves killed in foolish fights. In the Year of the Tomb, 1182 DR, Elminster gave them a unified direction—by pulling them into his ongoing conflict with malaugrym, horrific shapechangers native to the Plane of Shadow.[212] The Harpers' ongoing secret war with the malevolent outsiders came to be known as the Harpstar Wars.[14] Only around forty of the Harpers involved in the war survived it and when they returned, they found their organization had strayed in a completely different direction.[213][214]

Corruption of the Harper King[]

A Harper bard named Rundorl Moonsklan had convinced himself that Elminster, Khelben, and the Harpers they'd taken with them during the Harpstar Wars had gotten themselves killed fighting on other planes and that senior Harpers in hiding had actually permanently retired. His ambition, therefore, was to replace the organization's leadership and reshape it to his own ends. He desired to be the power behind every throne in the North and while planning how to achieve this he happened to meet one Szass Tam, a Red Wizard of Thay.[213]

The two came to an agreement: Szass Tam would funnel Rundorl information on his rivals in Thay and Rundorl would gain prestige by sending Harpers to win victories over them. To justify this focus on Thay, a land previously neglected by the Harpers, Rundorl spread the story of "the spell of Undeath". According to information he'd 'discovered', the Red Wizards were developing a new spell capable of instantly turning the populations of whole cities into undead slaves with a single casting to quickly produce armies and threaten and enslave all of Faerûn. According to Rundorl, the only things stopping them were some issues in implementation—and the Harpers. The plan went perfectly, Rundorl led and sent his fellows into battle against those Red Wizards and even zulkirs whom he claimed had involvement in "the spell of Undeath" and both he and Tam advanced in power.[34][215]

Eventually, though, more Harpers were dying than Thayans and Rundorl led a reluctant retreat out of Thay. His exhausted men were being assassinated and reanimated as undead, however, and Rundorl rightly suspected that Tam had betrayed him. Rundorl broke off the alliance, then appealed to another lich named Thavverdasz. He promised the Harpers' services in return for his help defeating his reanimated comrades. Thavverdasz agreed, but then dominated Rundorl's mind and read his thoughts, mockingly took for himself the name "Harper King" after learning of Rundorl's ambition, and made the man his undead minion. The undead Harpers were easily wrested from Tam's control but Thavverdasz betrayed his other allies, the Cult of the Dragon.[215]

It was this situation that the surviving Harpstar veterans encountered when they returned to Faerûn in the Year of the Horn, 1222 DR. The Cult of the Dragon had raised an army and sent it against Thavverdasz's Harpers while Szass Tam challenged the Harper King directly. Thavverdasz used a powerful magic item to defeat Tam, but Elminster surprised and assassinated the Harper King shortly thereafter.[64][121][216]

Third Reformation[]

Grimly, Storm and Dove set about replacing their massive losses while Khelben and the remaining veterans licked their wounds.[note 3] Elminster pulled strings among the Wychlaran in Rashemen to keep the Thayans busy and turned the lair of the Harper King into a deathtrap to destroy the inevitable Cult of the Dragon reinforcements. Luckily, the Harper information network remained intact and largely ignorant of the organization's recent corruption.[64]

In the Year of the Long Watch, 1230 DR, the Harpers helped defend the great city of Silverymoon, when it was threatened by a rampaging hoard of orcs.[196] An apprentice of the city's High Mage by the name of Sepur was appointed as Silvermoon's new ruler, but only served for two years before abandoning its people. Five years after Sepur's ascension, the Black Horde of orcs assailed the city, while warlords and mages vied for rule over the city. Master Harpers Storm and Alustriel Silverhand led the Harpers in a second battle in defense of Silverymoon and emerged as a heroes of the city. Alustriel was elected by the Silvaeren people to rule as High Lady Mage.[217][218]

In gratitude for the Harpers help in defending the city, Storm Silverhand was granted permission to build Moongleam Tower in Everlund. It was around that time that Storm took on leadership of the Harpers' eastern branch.[65]

Over long years, the Zhentarim became the main opposition for the Harpers, corrupting merchants and minor nobles across the greater Heartlands and becoming the prime force in the Moonsea.
— Asgir Lefrenn, Underscribe of Candlekeep.[219]

It was in the Year of the Moat, 1269 DR, that the Harpers first received intelligence about an emerging threat in northern Faerûn—the Zhentarim. Over the course of the next century, the Harpers and the Zhentarim would all but wage war on each other. Each faction seemed to gain an edge for a time, before the other struck back once again.[220] While Khelben took over as leader of the Harpers on the Sword Coast,[18] Elminster was left to counter the Zhentarim threat alone, engaging in a long-standing feud with Manshoon.[64]

However, in the Year of Chains, 1321 DR, Khelben sponsored the Harpstar veteran Cylyria Dragonbreast in her bid to become High Lady of Berdusk,[18] and gave over to her leadership of the western branch of the Harpers. The Harpers of Twilight Hall, as they were colloquially known, acted openly against the Zhentarim and Amnian interests and even came close to crippling the Rundeen.[65] While these actions brought on open hostilities against the city of Berdusk, they also attracted many folks to join the Harpers organization, swelling its ranks with new members.[33]

In the Year of the Bridle, 1349 DR, Harper agents managed to put an end to the Rundeen's financial stranglehold over Chult. They disrupted the organization's major operations in Calimshan and killed three of their leaders.[221][222]

They suffered tremendous loss a few decades later, however. In the Year of the Worm, 1356 DR, Syluné Silverhand―eldest of the Seven Sisters―and several Harpers were slain when a flight of dragons was called down upon Faerûn.[34] But her spirit persisted in the mortal world as one of the group's famed spectral harpists, and would appear when summoned to certain Harpers in times of peril.[19][223][224]

Early Era of Upheaval[]

Harpers banner

The Harpers of Faerûn have lasted the test of time.

Tis more important that the Shadowmasters have no benefit from what I've left undone than that the Harpers or Shandril―or Toril itself―gain strength by what we do.
— Elminster the Sage.[225]

In the Year of Shadows, 1358 DR, the Avatar Crisis struck Faerûn when the gods above were forced to walk the Realms as mortals. Amidst the numerous conflicts and catastrophes, the Harpers fought to defend Shadowdale against the invading armies of the Zhentilar, particularly in the Battle of Swords Creek.[226][227] Elminster and the spectral Syluné led a band of Harpers in a series of skirmishes against the Shadowmaster and his sect of the malaugrym.[224] These events however led to many deaths among the ranks of the Harpers. The aftermath of the crisis saw the return of Finder Wyvernspur to the Realms and his subsequent rise to godhood. It also led to much disruption among the Zhentarim, which brought enough of a reprieve for the Harpers to replace their losses.[33]

Over the following decade, the Harpers engaged the Zhentarim in skirmishes across Faerûn. They fought an open war against the Zhents in the Sunset Vale,[228] and helped unite the Bedine people against Black Network agents in the oases of the Anauroch desert.[229][230] A few years later, Harper agents were systematically tracked down and slain by an individual known as the "Harper Assassin". In time, the Harpers discovered the deaths were the work of a disgruntled sun elf who had been working in league with the Zhentarim.[231][232] Conflicts between the two groups broke out in cities across the Heartlands, from Iriaebor[233] to Hluthvar and even Baldur's Gate.[86]

While the Harpers remained engaged in conflict with nefarious groups, it was observed by some they had been failing in their role as lore-keepers for quite some time. In the Year of the Wave, 1364 DR, the disgruntled former Harper Iriador Wintermist―who subscribed to this belief―used a powerful magical instrument to curse the Harpers, altering the tales they told and ballads they sang. She focused her vengeance against the city of Waterdeep and its archmage, Khelben Arunsun. Fortunately for the storytellers and balladeers of Faerûn, her plot was foiled by Khelben and his Harper apprentice Danilo Thann.[234] As misguided as it was, Iriador's message was received in earnest by the people of Waterdeep. Soon after these events they refounded the bardic college of New Olamn in the City of Splendors.[235]

That same year the Harpers were forced to face off with the Cult of the Dragon yet again, in a series of engagements that culminated in a massive battle in the city of Elversult.[236][237] They struck out against the cult a few years later, working to prevent the cult from establishing a dracolich as the monarch of the politically unstable nation of Chessenta.[238]

With the downfall of Bane and the rise of Cyricism―and its subsequent entanglement with the Zhentarim―new foes developed evil plots to which the Harpers could not ignore. Harper agents acted against the followers of the Dark Sun as they sought after murderous artifacts on the Sword Coast,[239] and chased down Cyric's chosen in order to bring him to justice.[240][241]

In the Year of the Gauntlet, 1369 DR, the Harpers were able to put an end to a major threat that imperiled much of the North. Their members utilized powerful magic to destroy Hellgate Keep, and send back to the Hells nearly all the baatezu that remained within.[242][243][244][245][246][note 4]

Harper Schism[]

My most recent quarrel with the good archmage is this: He persists in regarding the restored bard college as a sort of stud barn established for the sole purpose of breeding his new brand of Harper. Since it would appear that he has had some success in this endeavor and since "Harper" and "bard" are words so often spoken in one breath―I will address the Harper schism before moving on to such trifles as music, magic, and scholarship.
— Danilo Thann, in a letter to Storm Silverhand, speaking of Khelben and the Moonstars.[180]

The Harpers were not safe from strife, however. In the Year of the Tankard, 1370 DR, investigators discovered evidence that implicated Khelben in the theft of an artifact, the Scepter of the Sorcerer-Kings, which had then found its way into the hands of the Zhentarim. Khelben admitted to all of the charges set against him. Khelben and Laeral both left the Harpers,[247][248][15][12] along with Alustriel, who felt she could not uphold her commitment to the group, as High Lady of the Silver Marches.[247] and many of Khelben's closest friends and allies, founding their own group: the Moonstars.[12][180]

The government of Waterdeep refused to help the Harpers of Twilight Hall prosecute Khelben, so the Harpers proceeded to ward their stores against Khelben and Laeral, while Khelben erected a ward that prevented any Harper from approaching Blackstaff Tower. Influenced by Bran Skorlsun, the Harpers of Twilight Hall went on a witch hunt to purge their ranks of perceived traitors while Storm's eastern branch tried to carry on with their business regardless of events in the west.[247]

When the church of Bane reformed with the Zhentarim—following the wane of Cyricism and the return of Bane to godhood―the Harpers were once again targeted by agents of their longtime foes.[11]

The Harpers were overwhelmed as a whole during the Wailing Years, a series of disasters that followed the Spellplague that wracked the Realms in the Year of Blue Fire, 1385 DR. Many Harpers died while others vanished. Those who survived were cut off from one another, so they focused solely on the perils that menaced their homes and neighbors. While the original organization was divided and its members scattered across the continent, the hope of returning the Harpers to their former glory didn't die.[30]

Fourth Reformation[]

Yet I very much doubt it will surprise any of you to learn that the Harpers did not, in fact, cease to exist. An extremely secretive, underground fellowship of some two dozen Harpers continued―as they do to this very day.

One bastion of Harper strength remained, however: Moongleam Tower. As of the Year of the Empty Necropolis, 1419 DR, Eaerlraun Shadowlyn re-founded the group as the "Harpers of Luruar" to secretly counter the forces of returned Netheril, hoping to keep the Harper ideals alive.[2] Following their example, other Harper cells formed throughout the Realms. Some of these groups were collectives that adopted the Harpers' name and traditional ideology, while others comprised former Harpers that had survived the collapse and had gone underground before returning to action.[123][250] Notable among the latter were the "Harpers of Waterdeep" and Storm Silverhand's "Harpers of Cormyr and the Dales", which many felt were the spiritual successors of the original organization.[30]

Several other groups who called themselves Harpers appeared in the following years. The "Harpers of Athkatla" worked against the Council of Five and other Amnian authorities, but although they claimed to share the ideals of the Harpers of old, they did not and merely claimed to in order to gain support. The "Harpers of Selgaunt" and the "Harpers of Ormpur" were also rebels who did not really cleave to Harper ideals.[250] These new Harpers brought with them enemies of their own, such as the Abolethic Sovereignty, Szass Tam's Thay, the Zhentarim, and the Warlock Knights of Vaasa.[30]

At some point, Harpers seem to have acquired or stolen[speculation] the horn of beckoning death that had been used by Szass Tam to turn much of the population of Thay into undead servants some years before[47][66]—not unlike the false "spell of Undeath" story spread by Rundorl Moonsklan before the rise of the Harper King.[215] They stored it within the vault of Korinn's Keep, far from the lich's reach.[47][66][note 5]

By the Year of the Final Stand, 1475 DR, the "Harpers of Luruar" had managed to cripple the efforts of the Netherese in significant ways.[30] Unfortunately, Eaerlraun was killed by shadovar assassins and the Harpers were forced to act in complete secrecy to prevent the loss of more members.[2]

Within four years, the Harpers of Waterdeep were led by a Harper agent known as Aron "the Fisher" Vishter, who was actually a double agent working for the Zhentarim to undermine Harper operations. Although Tam Zawad and other Harpers were able to bring the Fisher to justice, he did great damage to the Harpers of Waterdeep. Even after seven years, Zawad was still dealing with corrupt Harpers within his Harper cell.[30]

The Harpers of Neverwinter also suffered a devastating blow that same year. The group's leader Cymril was in the middle of aiding the Sons of Alagondar openly oppose the rule of Dagult Neverember. Cymril was slain when her group was ambushed by Mintarn Mercenaries. After the attack, it was revealed that she was also working for Neverember.[123] After her treachery was revealed, the reputation of the Harpers of Neverwinter significantly tarnished for some time.[251]

In the time of Mystra's Return, in the Year of the Ageless One, 1479 DR,[252] Storm Silverhand began to revitalize the Harper organization in Cormyr. She sought out people from all walks of life: smiths, merchants, leather workers, and even those who worked in brothels. Her revitalizing actions were known and tolerated by the War Wizards of Cormyr.[17] The Harpers prevented the assassination of King's Lord Lothan Durncaskyn who was sheltering Mirt's lady, Rensharra Ironstave.[253] Since then, the Harpers became an active organization across the Realms again.[254]

Second Sundering Era[]

In the years following the Second Sundering—which occurred over the course of the 1480s DR―the Harpers bolstered their numbers, recovered their resources, and once again embarked upon secret missions to better the Realms.[255] The network of spies and adventurers held no leadership as before, but remained scattered across the breadth of Faerûn. They focused their efforts on their long-standing mission to oppose tyrants and other purveyors of injustice.[256]

The Harpers in the Moonsea region began investigating a series of raids and kidnappings in Hillsfar and the surrounding farmlands.[257] They successfully helped foment rebellion in the city, to overthrow its cunning First Lord, Torin Nomerthal.[258] Meanwhile, in Hillsfar, they became aware of strange happenings in the Underdark.[259] They helped forge an alliance between the people of Hillsfar and the drow of Szith Morcane to meet the emergent danger of Graz'zt and other prominent demon lords, all appearing on Toril at once.[260]

Yet other agents began looking into rumors circulating about a new iteration of the old Cult of the Dragon.[261] Rather than worshiping dracoliches, the new dragon cult devoted itself to Tiamat, the evil Queen of Dragons. When the cultists attempted to bring their goddess to the Material Plane, in the 1480s DR, the Harpers were among the many factions who rose up to oppose Tiamat's attempt at freedom. Their agents tracked cultist activity across the Sword Coast,[262] gathered leaders of the free cities in the Council of Waterdeep,[263] and fought alongside their allies in the final assault of the Well of Dragons fortress.[32][264]

During their involvement with the Dragon Cult's schemes, the Harpers began to keep a closer eye on its strongest allies: the Red Wizards of Thay. The Red Wizards had made strong inroads into the North and the Sword Coast during their alliance with the Cult.[265] On one mission in the mid–1480s DR,[note 6] a trio of Harpers captured a Red Wizard in his treasure-stuffed lair. Among them was the recent recruit Edgin Darvis,[47][48] who stole a gold token, little thinking it might be magically marked. By tracing that gold,[47] four Red Wizards rode into Targos seeking revenge and murdered Edgin's wife Zia. Afterward, Edgin blamed himself, abandoned his oath to the Harpers, and burned his book of the Harper Code upon Zia's funeral pyre.[47][48]

Some years later, the cults of Elemental Evil arose in the Dessarin Valley and the Moonsea, and were a threat to the people in and around those lands. The Harpers were among the factions of the west that acted against the cults, working against the Cult of the Black Earth in Mulmaster and their activities in nearby mines.[266][95]

When the ordning of giant-kind was abolished in the latter half of the 1480s DR and giants of all kinds ran amok in the North, the Harpers went on alert to protect the towns and cities they called home.[32]

Some years later, the death curse struck the Realms, and divine magic could no longer bring back the souls of the recently deceased and restore their bodies to life. Around that time, the Harpers of Port Nyanzaru in Chult worked alongside the Ytepka Society to uncover a hidden foe within their city.[267] Working with other groups, they established a base of operations in the jungles of Chult and began to investigate a possible source of the curse.[268][269] They finally determined the curse originated from an unholy and otherworldly artifact known as the Soulmonger, hidden deep within the jungles of Chult.[270]

They once again took actions against the ever-meddling Red Wizards of Thay, who had uncovered an ancient Abeiran city that was infused with the dark energies of the Far Realm. The Harpers set up a secluded safehouse within the city's ruins, and collected intelligence by spying on the malign spellcasters from Thay.[271][272][273] Harper agents successfully freed the many slaves the Red Wizards used to uncover the lost city, and uncovered their plot to take control of the Supreme Forge within.[272][274]

Korinn's Keep break-in

"To be honest, there were times when I began to question the 'ask nothing in return' part of my Harpers' oath."
— Edgin Darvis

In the mid-1490s DR,[note 6] ex-Harper turned thief Edgin Darvis betrayed the order by leading a band of thieves, including himself, Holga Kilgore, Simon Aumar, Forge Fitzwilliam, and Sofina, to Korinn's Keep to steal its reaches. For this robbery, he donned his old Harper uniform and Harper pin. They triggered an alarm and fought with Harper guards, but Sofina betrayed the thieves and escaped with her prize—Szass Tam's horn of beckoning death. Edgin and Holga were left at the scene of the crime and captured by the Harpers, convicted of crimes of skullduggery and grand larceny by the justice of the Lords' Alliance, and incarcerated in the Revel's End prison.[47][66] Two years later, Sofina would be revealed as a Red Wizard of Thay and servant of Szass Tam, and used the horn of beckoning death in an attempt to transform Neverwinter's population into undead servants of Szass Tam, but was thankfully foiled by Edgin and his thieves.[47]

Members[]

Harper Recruiter

A Harper agent recruiting new members.

What makes a Harper? Well, different folk'll tell ye a lot of high and grand things, but t'me it seems the only crucial talent―the one they all have―is the ability to turn up at the wrong time in a place where they're neither wanted nor expected, and plunge right into whatever trouble's afoot...
— Darblin Melorinrose.[9]

While the Harpers regularly sponsored adventurers looking to prove themselves, the group maintained high standards for accepting full-fledged members.[40] Admittance into the Harpers was more often initiated by the group rather than the individual,[30] requiring sponsorship by a member in good standing,[24][275] and approval of the High Harpers.[22][27][138] Recruits would be assigned a first mission, with silent accompaniment by a senior member, who did not make their presence known to the prospective agent.[19][40]

Members could quit the Harpers and foreswear the Code if they wished, such as after a loss of faith in its ideals,[47][48] though the organization still kept tabs on ex-members, as they would under the Code.[47][117] A career in the Harpers was never expected to last long, however, often being cut short by retirement or a more unfortunate fate. It was not unheard of for dying Harpers to bestow their final, incomplete quest upon a trusted ally or new friend. If that ally successfully carried out the dead agent's last quest, they were brought into the Harpers as a full member in good standing, without argument or trial.[40]

Membership could be revoked from any member if they violated the Harper's code, purposefully or negligently endangered a fellow agent, or willfully turned away from the organization. Readmittance into the Harpers was possible if an individual personally petitioned the High Harpers and agreed to undertake a quest of great importance, as well as completed some manner of divine atonement.[22][276]

You may have foresworn your oath, but your oath hasn't foresworn you.
— Harper ally Xenk Yendar to ex-Harper Edgin Darvis[47][117]

Demographics[]

Harper adventurers came from many walks of life.[30] They held nearly every profession, though more than a few lived as merchants or courtesans,[45] and served at any age, young or old. Harpers could be of any sex or gender,[9] and of any race.[123] It was noted that more women than others were found among the ranks of the Harpers. Humans, elves, and half-elves were the most commonly represented races, but some gnomes, halflings, and dwarves, and even woodland folk like dryads and centaurs also joined.[9]

Most members of the Harpers lived their lives as resourceful rangers[9][277][278] or captivating bards,[279].[280] though some dashing rogues,[24] mighty wizards,[50][56] stalwart fighters and clerics of benevolent deities served as well.[9][19] Throughout the Harpers' history, numerous spellsingers had also joined its ranks. These unique spellcasters had the power to tap into the Weave through song or dance.[281]

Priests could follow any faith; Azuth, Deneir, Eldath, Lliira, Mielikki, Milil, Mystra, Oghma, Selûne, Silvanus, Tymora, and the Seldarine were all represented. This caused no issues of faith, though there was some friction with upper ranks of clergy. Druids, particularly of the North, tended to be their willing allies rather than members.[9]

Notable Harpers[]

We fight, we die, and we just hope that when our time comes, there is someone else to take our place.
— High Harper Jaheira[282]

Former Harpers[]

Rumors & Legends[]

One of the more decisive battles fought during the Weeping War came to be known as Twilight's Falling. While nearly all the information regarding the fighting was kept hidden as Harper lore, it was believed that nearly seven out of ten Harpers in Twilight Hall were slain during the length of the two-day battle.[185]

The "High Harp" badge of High Dale referred back to the founding of the Harpers at the Dancing Place.[335]

During the mid–to–late 14th century DR, there persisted rumors about a second Harper Hall that was to be founded in Ravens Bluff, called "Ravens Hall".[331]

Appendix[]

Notes[]

  1. Power of Faerûn and The Grand History of the Realms both state this occurred in 992 DR.
  2. Code of the Harpers makes no reference to Thay being the source of the army but rather intimates that it was also the Church of Myrkul. Spellbound and The Grand History of the Realms explicitly states Thay was responsible.
  3. According to Hall of Heroes and The Seven Sisters, Storm helped Syluné found the Harpers in the 13th century DR.
  4. While the Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting 3rd edition states this occurred in 1368 DR, Lost Empires of Faerûn, Silver Marches, the blurb for the Hellgate Keep adventure, and The Grand History of the Realms all state this occurred in 1369 DR.
  5. From Honor Among Thieves, it is unknown how the horn managed to pass from Szass Tam's possession and into the Harpers', and when this occurred. Most likely, they stole it to prevent him using it again. While speculative, the event is included here for context.
  6. 6.0 6.1 The Honor Among Thieves movie and its tie-ins are as yet undated. As discussed here, from the condition of Castle Never and Dagult Neverember's reign, this wiki estimates a date of the late 1490s DR for the main events of the movie. Prequels and flashback scenes are set up to 11 years before this.

Appearances[]

Adventures

Novels & Short Stories

The Howling Delve • Shandril's Saga (Spellfire • Crown of Fire • Hand of Fire) • The Finder's Stone trilogy (Azure Bonds • Song of the Saurials) • Avatar series (Shadowdale • Waterdeep • Prince of Lies • Crucible: The Trial of Cyric the Mad) • The Shadow of the Avatar Trilogy (Shadows of Doom • Cloak of Shadows • All Shadows Fled) • The Alabaster Staff • Windwalker • The Harpers series (The Parched Sea • Elfshadow • Red Magic • The Night Parade • The Ring of Winter • Crypt of the Shadowking • Soldiers of Ice • Masquerades • Curse of the Shadowmage • The Veiled Dragon • Stormlight • Finder's Bane) • Songs & Swords (Elfshadow • Elfsong • Silver Shadows • Thornhold • The Dream Spheres) • The Mage in the Iron Mask • Baldur's Gate • Baldur's Gate II: Shadows of Amn • The Lost Library of Cormanthyr • Under Fallen Stars • Silverfall • Easy Betrayals • Shadow's Witness • Evermeet: Island of Elves • Return of the Archwizards (The Summoning • The Sorcerer) • Sage of Shadowdale (Elminster in Hell • Elminster's Daughter • Elminster Must Die • Bury Elminster Deep • Elminster Enraged) • Farthest Reach • Blackstaff • The Knights of Myth Drannor trilogy (Swords of Eveningstar • Swords of Dragonfire • The Sword Never Sleeps) • Brimstone Angels (Brimstone Angels • Lesser Evils • Fire in the Blood • Ashes of the Tyrant) • The Sundering (The Adversary • The Herald) • Death Masks • Honor Among Thieves: The Junior Novelization • The Best of the Realms III: "Knights of Samular" • Realms of Mystery: "Lynaelle" • Elminster at the Magefair • A Slow Day in Skullport • The Bargain • Speaking With the Dead • Never a Warpig Born • Sembia: Gateway to the Realms: "Resurrection"
Referenced only
Elminster in Myth Drannor • The Temptation of Elminster • Crypt of the Moaning Diamond • The Jewel of Turmish • Twilight Falling • Midnight's Mask • Heirs of Prophecy • Forsaken House • Son of Thunder • Elminster's Jest • The Eye of the Dragon • The Grinning Ghost of Tilverton Hall • The Night Tymora Sneezed

Film & Television

Comics

Referenced only
Tyranny of Dragons

Video Games

Board Games

Card Games

Organized Play & Licensed Adventures

External Links[]

Further Reading[]

Gallery[]

References[]

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Connections[]

The Five Factions
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