The Heralds of Faerûn, or simply the Heralds, were a quasi-independent group of historians and heraldists that took on the responsibility of recording, preserving, and policing the coats of arms, flags, standards, shields, badges, mottoes, symbols, and sigils of the nobility of Faerûn. Over the years, they also became the foremost authority on courtly courtesy, inheritance, precedence, genealogy, correct armature, and general history. Their impartiality and neutrality earned them the respect of nearly every nation, kingdom, city-state, mercenary company, clan, and tribe in civilized Faerûn.
Organization[edit | edit source]
The organizational structure of the Heralds was fairly hierarchical with three levels of authority: the High Heralds, the Heralds Pursuivant, and the local or regional Heralds, plus numerous "court heralds" that served and represented their sovereign while trying to uphold the ideals of the Heralds.[note 1] The High Heralds debated among themselves and voted on official matters. The Heralds Pursuivant often served as personal assistants to, or itinerant representatives of, the High Heralds, traveling wherever they were needed to assert authority, deliver messages, or conduct secret or sensitive Herald business. This was part of their apprenticeship, along with learning the vast amount of lore required, to be eligible for a High Herald office should one become available. Between Heralds of equal rank, or between those with bonds of friendship, they informally addressed each other as "Brother" or "Sister". In a formal setting, Heralds addressed each other as "Companion"; and when addressed by the untitled, or when being introduced to an assembly, they were referred to strictly by their title prefixed by "Grand", such as Grand Falconfree of Waterdeep.
The local Heralds were scattered across Faerûn, usually based in cities, and each was responsible for their city and likely the surrounding countryside as well. New Heralds could only be appointed by High Heralds, though rulers and high priests could put forward their own candidates for consideration. They typically received training from the High Heralds and earned a charter to conduct Herald business. This charter declared the sigil of the office, usually referred to as its "sign", that was used on documents and communications.
Court heralds were generally loyal to their ruler but reported official business to the Heralds. It was up to the individual to decide how to walk the line between the two. A court herald was often sent as a messenger, envoy, or ambassador, which could be a dangerous job, venturing into unwelcome territory. Fear of reprisals from the Heralds and their Harper allies often kept a court herald alive in hostile situations.
Each Herald had an "office" that had a unique appellation they used instead of their real name when performing Herald duties. In the 1360s through mid 1370s, the High Heralds were Black Vizor, Crescentcoat, Old Night, Red Dragon, and Unicorn. Throughout the history of the Heralds, the office of Unicorn was considered the highest rank and had veto power (which could only be overridden by a unanimous vote of the other High Heralds). Each of the Heralds Pursuivant created their own appellation and heraldic charge as part of their training, but since the High Heralds were chosen from the ranks of the Heralds Pursuivant, the name and symbol were dropped in favor of the ancient and highly respected office when they ascended in rank. During this time there were over twenty Heralds Pursuivant of various races serving the High Heralds. The local Herald's office names were tied to their location. For example, Swanmantle was the Herald office of Eshpurta. The kingdom of Cormyr took this one step further and made the office name identical to the name of the city, village, or community in which the Herald dwelled. Ironically, the Heralds of Faerûn as an organization bore no symbol itself, in order to show that its heralds had no greater loyalties to the group.
There were two other offices, known as the Tabards (short for the Sun and Moon Tabards, a collective term for the two offices describing the tabards that they wore), that were almost equivalent to a Herald Pursuivant in rank but were appointed by the High Heralds for four-year renewable terms. Appointments or renewals of the offices of Gauntlet and Green Shield occurred just before Shieldmeet. These positions were usually filled from the pool of Heralds Pursuivant and they worked under the counsel and direction of Old Night.
If ever all of the High Heralds were deceased at the same time, the power to grant charters fell to the highest-ranking priest of Deneir in Faerûn, known as the Scrivener of the Stars, until such time as new High Heralds were chosen (presumably by the active Heralds Pursuivant).
At the very bottom of the organization were the "vigilants"—volunteers or hired eyes and ears that reported any event that could be of interest to a Herald, such as births, deaths, changes in marital status, affronts to etiquette, new blazons on houses or shops, or the discovery of a new artistic talent. Vigilants could be minstrels, servants, shopkeepers, social butterflies, snoops, gossips, or even streetwise children.
History[edit | edit source]
The Heralds of Faerûn organization was the brainchild of Harper Aliost Oskrunnar, who recognized some problems facing many leaders, armies, and countries of the time. First, miner guilds and settlements were placing metallic colors on top of one another in their coats of arms, which was forbidden in the rules of heraldry of Calimshan and other regions along the Sword Coast. Second, there were a number of heated arguments over who owned what symbols. Third, state-sponsored imposters had been known to foment unrest and put the blame on others. Bandits also took advantage by disguising themselves with the coat of arms of a legitimate lord or city. Finally, there had been some tragic accidental fratricides on the battlefield due to indistinguishable blazons in the fog of war. Aliost Oskrunnar proposed an organization to establish and enforce the Law of Arms, codify the chaos of the current heraldic emblems, and be independent of any political leaders or boundaries. He and the Harpers persuaded the rulers of Baldur's Gate, Calimshan, and Sundabar, and the leaders of various religions that supported the Harpers, to fund the creation of the Heralds of Faerûn. In the Year of the Watching Helm, 992 DR, nine High Herald offices were established, many of them filled by Harpers, but with the understanding that they were to be independent and neutral in settling matters of ownership, title, inheritance, enforcement, protocol, and legitimacy.
The nine High Heralds were responsible for west Faerûn from the Calimshan border northward; all the islands in the Sea of Swords; northwest Faerûn; and most of the interior. They started roaming the territory in conjunction with the Harpers and commissioning local Heralds and agents to gather information, such as histories, genealogies, and other important records. The men and women of the High Heralds were persons of integrity, but it soon became evident that the power of the position was a target for bribery and influence peddling. Early in its history, two of the High Heralds, Blue Blade and Starscepter, were judged irredeemably corrupt and had to be eliminated, and by policy the offices were retired also. The integrity of the Heralds was paramount, and this show of resolve made the Heralds a respected group to be entrusted with important keys to the stability of nations.
After 120 years, the Heralds were finding it more and more difficult to maintain neutrality and a balanced sense of justice as the Harpers pushed their agenda in the Realms, actively fighting overtly and covertly for changes they thought best for Faerûn. In the Year of the Empty Scabbard, 1116 DR, the seven High Heralds decided to break away from the Harpers, even though such luminaries as Elminster and Khelben "Blackstaff" Arunsun tried to persuade them otherwise. The split was ultimately a friendly one, and the Harpers continued to venture into dangerous places and travel far and wide for the increasingly desk-bound Heralds. In return, the Harpers were welcome in Herald strongholds to rest, recover, and be healed.
Over the next two and a half centuries, the Heralds' influence and recognition spread to cover almost every corner of Faerûn west of Thay, including the lands of the Vilhon Reach, the Dragon Reach, and the Moonsea. Local Heralds were established in most cities of reasonable size and the organization collected vast amounts of detailed records, magic items, and relics of powerful and historical significance.
In the mid–14th century DR, two more High Heralds—Huntsman and Manyshields—succumbed to corruption and had to be slain while their offices were eliminated. This left the leadership council at five members sometime before the Year of the Shield, 1367 DR. However, incidents of corruption continued to occur and to grow more numerous, even among the upper ranks. Since around the Time of Troubles of 1358 DR, five Heralds Pursuivant and a dozen local Heralds had to be ejected from their positions. In Ravens Bluff, the civic official who held the office of The Ravencoat was discovered to be hopelessly corrupt following his murder in the summer of 1370 DR. Quietly, it was rumored that a cult of Gargauth, the devil-god of corruption, had found purchase among the Heralds. Such a thing, if true, could ruin the honor and respect that the Heralds depended on. The problem of corruption was thus the major concern of the Heralds at the time.
On the Feast of the Moon of the Year of the Tankard, 1370 DR, Thorn Tree, the Herald of Riatavin in Tethyr, disappeared hours before he was to recite the Bloodsong. This triggered a storm of controversy. First, there were rumors that the High Heralds had plans to expel Thorn Tree for corruption. Second, the rebel government of Riatavin had hoped to use the Bloodsong to assert their authority over the city amidst their secession from Amn to Tethyr. Third, some claimed that Thorn Tree had been working for, variously, Amn, Tethyr, the Knights of the Shield, or another faction of Riatavin. Thus, Thorn Tree's disappearance was expected to be powerful political ammunition for all these factions, further disrupting the secession.
In the Year of Rogue Dragons, 1373 DR, the High Heralds invited the bard and loremaster Ilvarthaele Everstone to join them and create a new High Herald office, the first around the Inner Sea since the Heralds' inception. She accepted the honor and established her office in the Stormspire in Songhal, Impiltur, calling herself the Silver Stag.
By 1374 DR, the High Heralds were activity supporting efforts to reestablish bardic colleges across Faerûn. They felt such colleges were vital for collecting and preserving oral and written traditions of the various cultures and realms.
Activities[edit | edit source]
From its auspicious beginning, the Heralds of Faerûn were the catalogers and keepers of heraldic devices, lore, and etiquette. As an adjunct to this, they collected and collated vast numbers of names, titles, genealogies, and historical claims, keeping detailed records for the preservation of history and arbitration of disputes. Based on their reputation of integrity, all Heralds served as emissaries at whatever level was requested: as a member of diplomatic missions between kingdoms, liaisons between nobles within a realm, and information brokers between bards and sages.
The Heralds were neutral to the point of stagnation, as they always sought to maintain the status quo rather than support changes or extensions of rule via conquest. Heralds serving rival rulers could find themselves on opposite sides of a conflict, and this was acceptable provided they remained impartial. Otherwise, they could advise their lords freely. In the event of a civil war, or when a royal succession was contested or in doubt, High Heralds were sometimes called upon to act as stewards or war commanders. They also occasionally served as regents for young rulers until they reached the age of majority. During these exigencies, the High Heralds were under strict rules of conduct. They were forbidden to make war upon another Herald, cause them any harm, or curtail their freedom, nor could they try to maintain their grip on power. Three times in the history of the Heralds of Faerûn this rule was broken, and each time the offending Herald was excommunicated.
Each High Herald had a distinct role in the organization and therefore their Pursuivant assistants generally took on those same roles by proxy:
- Unicorn had to be well informed on every issue in order to make sound judgments in case the High Heralds were split on a decision, or the righteousness of the Heralds was threatened. By tradition, Unicorn had the first right to cry and judge all contests, whether ceremonial, ritual, or personal single combat, except those involving horses or great cats.
- Old Night maintained the primary library at Herald's Holdfast and was responsible for training the Heralds Pursuivant and the Tabards, and generally ordering and organizing the heraldry of Faerûn.
- Black Vizor watched all aspects of politics and regularly took the pulse of the people—everything from attitudes, mores, court dynamics, and intrigues, to declarations of war, peace treaties, trade agreements, and the balance of power. This office required an enormous amount of traveling and communication, usually by magical means. In addition to collecting this information for the Heralds, Black Vizor kept the Lords' Alliance and the Merchant's League informed of the status of conflicts around Faerûn.
- Crescentcoat trained the local Heralds and was given the difficult task of investigating every issue brought before the High Heralds in order to ensure thorough debate, often taking up a contrary position just for the sake of argument.
- Red Dragon was primarily a diplomat and matchmaker, helping to arrange marriages between the hundreds of noble houses. This office also traditionally escorted supplicants, heirs, and honorees to ceremonies pertaining to the transfer or attainment of titles, positions, or awards of honor.
- The Silver Stag office was not given any specific duties beyond those of a High Herald. She was charged with supporting the heraldic traditions already established and upholding the Law of Arms in northeast Faerûn, and administering heraldry in the lands east of the Sea of Fallen Stars. It is unknown what traditions and lore grew out of Ilvarthaele Everstone's tenure.
The Tabards also had very specific and unique duties:
- Green Shield presided over the quadrennial Shieldmeet festival, being responsible for the rituals, organization, scheduling, security, diplomacy, and logistics of the events of the day while the High Heralds attended the Heralds' Round—an open court held each Shieldmeet wherein the High Heralds publicly spoke and voted on various matters. After this, they held court over numerous presentations, investitures, charters, and entitlements, all shepherded by Green Shield. For the next four years, Green Shield followed the business conducted that day to ensure proper resolution and prepared for the next Shieldmeet. The term of this office was frequently renewed.
- Gauntlet was tasked with keeping track of non-state militias, mercenary companies, and adventuring groups, particularly their strength, efficacy, who was leading them, who was contracting them, what allegiances they held, and where they were operating. Kings, queens, and other rulers often had Gauntlet issue charters and patent letters for these groups to prevent counterfeiting. Gauntlet also had the authority to enforce the Warriors' Code where necessary. (The Warriors' Code dealt with the treatment of prisoners, the wounded, peasants, crops, land, and natural resources, which were often casualties of conflict.) This office was never renewed out of concern of corruption. Rarely, a former Gauntlet could serve a second, non-consecutive term.
The local Heralds were most often employed in bureaucratic positions where they had access to news and information, for example as court scribes or clerks for land deeds and titles, tax collection, in the census office, or in a genealogical registry. When required, they designed heraldic devices—making certain they were unique and distinguishable within the geographical area of exposure—and collected registration fees, commissioned artists, and imposed fines on violators. They were also the criers at jousts, tournaments of honor, and festivals. In Cormyr, as of the Year of the Ageless One, 1479 DR, all armed groups were required to carry a written charter, which could be obtained from any local Herald simply by requesting one.
Heralds had a number of duties on the annual Feast of the Moon, when the dead were traditionally honored. Prime among these was to perform the Bloodsong ceremony, at which a Herald publically recited the genealogies of each noble family in the area. In this way, the Heralds reaffirmed a noble family's traditional authority and status, as well as the respect accorded to them.
Tactics[edit | edit source]
The primary weapon of the Heralds of Faerûn was peer pressure. By rigorously guarding their integrity, they held the respect of most political, social, and military leaders throughout the land. Nobles (some grudgingly) accepted their authority because the Heralds were the architects of the social system in which they moved. Bribing, threatening, harming, or trying to influence a Herald was punishable by censure or losing one's rank and title. Other entities would not negotiate with, treat with, contract with, invite, or recognize a censured noble until they received a pardon from the Heralds, which usually required apologies, penance, and compensation. Likewise, legitimate mercenary companies would never attempt to deceive anyone by wearing counterfeit colors or blazons for fear of being labeled outlaws by the Heralds.
The Heralds almost never used force to achieve compliance with the Law of Arms. If a self-appointed lord displayed a standard that was in violation of the rules, the local Herald would form a group of influential people in good standing and pay the lord a visit. The group usually included a Harper, a priest of Oghma, several knights of realms that were not hostile to the offender, and perhaps a foreign merchant to represent the business community. This group served as both bodyguards and credible witnesses to the negotiations with the rule-breaker. The Herald typically explained the breach of blazon boundaries and gave the lord a choice: either immediately replace the offending coat of arms with a simple escutcheon with a single, unique charge, or petition the Heralds for a professionally designed, approved, and registered blazon (and pay the required fee).
They excelled at acquiring and using information, but only passed it up to their superiors, seldom acting independently or alone. They were known, however, to nudge adventurers along a path that suited the Heralds' goals.
Before the Heralds split from the Harpers in the Year of the Empty Scabbard, 1116 DR, some High Heralds would use their speak with dead power, granted by Oghma, to summon an apparition of a deceased ancestor to visit a noble that needed extra convincing to acquiesce to the demands of the Heralds. Of course, the Heralds had records of which ancestors would be amenable to the cause and/or have particularly strong influence over their descendant. The visit usually took place at a dramatically late hour, waking the lord or lady abruptly in shadowy darkness. This tactic was highly effective.
Bases of Operations[edit | edit source]
By 1370 DR, the Heralds could be found operating across the north, north-west, west, and central parts of Faerûn. Regions where they were active included the Vast, Impiltur, Damara, and the Moonsea in the central north; Luruar and the Sword Coast cities in the northwest; the Western Heartlands, Amn, Tethyr, and Calimshan in the far west; and the Lake of Steam, Erlkazar, the Vilhon Reach, the Dragon Coast, Cormyr, the Dalelands, and Sembia in the interior.
The Heralds had offices in most cities or regions of Faerûn, but there were two notable, well-protected redoubts, a satellite library, and a publicly acknowledged festhall.
- Herald's Holdfast
- Approximately 30 mi (48 km) west of Silverymoon, just north of the River Rauvin, was the main repository of history, heraldic artwork, and artifacts of the primary races of Faerûn. Its custodian was Old Night.
- The Map House
- Located in Silverymoon, in the tower that formerly held the Vault of the Sages, the Map House was bought by the Heralds in the Year of the Purple Basilisk, 1247 DR, and converted into a more convenient location for the public to access copies of historic records, genealogies, and geographic maps. It was also known as the Heralds' House.[note 2]
- Herald's Hall
- The secret headquarters of the Heralds was located deep beneath Mount Sklagarra in the western Troll Mountains on an island in the middle of a subterranean lake called Swordsmere. The opulent mansion was the home of Unicorn and sat on top of vaults holding mighty relics, weapons, and spellbooks from all across Faerûn spanning much of known history. Swordsmere could only be reached by portals from Athkatla, Baldur's Gate, Beregost, Eshpurta, and Murann. [note 3]
- Herald's Rest
- This luxurious and exclusive festhall was located in Berdusk in a fortified home. Three past High Heralds were enamored with the place and offered to buy it but were turned down. Eventually they came to a business agreement and since then Heralds and Harpers have been able to take refuge or hold meetings, negotiations, or parties there. Discretion could be assured for those willing to pay for use of portals to Ardeep Forest near Waterdeep, Silverymoon, and Twilight Hall in central Berdusk.
The various homes of the High Heralds were also firm strongholds of the organization.
Possessions[edit | edit source]
A Herald's badge of office was an ornamental curved horn that was enchanted to produce a particular distinctive note that was easily recognized across most of Faerûn. It was heard at the start and finish of hunts, tournaments, jousts, and other formal contests where a Herald served. Each Herald also had a unique tabard that they wore over their regular clothing for ceremonies and events.
The organization was in possession of numerous artifacts, relics, weapons, spellbooks, and a vast number of books, scrolls, runestones, and other records of historical significance. Although knowledge was their most potent weapon, each High Herald and Green Shield carried a rod of office and/or possessed an article of armor or clothing that was usually a powerful magic item. They used these items primarily for emergency defense, or in the case of Black Vizor, for carrying out the duties of the office.
Relationships[edit | edit source]
The Heralds' dedication to neutrality and impartiality paid off, and they had almost no feuds or rivalries with other organizations. However, from time to time, their work drew the anger of certain resentful rulers. For those who opposed the Heralds, they proved a frustrating foe. Heralds operated in the open, but as the advisors, clerks, and scribes of dozens of rulers and lords, and so difficult to act against.
Although they split from the Harpers, the Heralds had a close working relationship with them, relying on the well-trained group for escort, defense, courier service, fee collection, information gathering, and as a credible threat to recalcitrant nobles. In return, the Heralds provided Harper agents with shelter and sustenance at their strongholds. They maintained the same relationship with the Moonstars, a splinter organization of the Harpers.
In Cormyr, the Heralds were an integral part of the government. Each local lord was required to have a trained herald to assist and advise them, to serve as clerk, record-keeper, and general "right hand", as well as examine any deeds, contracts, and written agreements for legality and completeness, and to report any unusual stipulations or lack of necessary documentation. Impiltur had a similar arrangement with the Heralds. A few other countries did also, to a lesser degree. In Ravens Bluff in the Vast, the heraldic office of The Ravencoat was only one of the responsibilities of the Regent of City Works, a civic official position. These heralds owed their allegiance first to their lord and to the crown, but they were responsible for passing relevant information to other heralds.
In countries such as Calimshan, Cormyr, Impiltur, Sembia, and Tethyr, with long-established noble lines, heraldry was woven into the fabric of society and given great respect, whereas Amn and Waterdeep viewed coats-of-arms as status symbols for the newly wealthy. For centuries, the Amnian and Waterdhavian heraldic catalogs grew by leaps and bounds with little regard for the rules followed by the more traditional realms. The Border Kingdoms and Sembia were particular headaches for the Heralds because of the plethora of petty lords, barons, dukes, kings, and even emperors who claimed a parcel of land and declared themselves nobility. Fees where higher and payable up-front in those regions, and were partially effective in separating those of real means from the riffraff. Many of the newly noble had no coats-of-arms at all or used a single device on a plain escutcheon as a badge, and this was allowed, but adding a second device or a field was enough to warrant a visit from the Heralds.
Locations where Heralds were not welcome included Amn, which traditionally frowned on anything promoted by its rival, Baldur's Gate, and Hillsfar under the dictatorship of Maalthiir. In these places, the local Heralds were treated as rivals to local rulers, and they disputed with authority as much as they could without getting arrested.
Members[edit | edit source]
Rumors and Legends[edit | edit source]
- Some personality and other traits were generally attributed to certain High Heralds. For example, Unicorn was held to be the highest rank of all. Old Night was the most well known of the High Heralds among common folk, and had a reputation as an ancient, powerful wizard.
- The office of Old Night, often held by an ancient wizard of great power, ensconced in an impenetrable hidden fortress, and rarely seen in public, was the subject of idle speculation in some circles. Since Old Night maintained the heraldry and history of all the sentient races, including demihumans such as orcs, goblinkin, giants, lizardfolk, centaurs, satyrs, and korred, it was whispered that Old Night had an agenda to promote those folk. (In truth, all were generally treated as equally as possible.)
- It was thought that a child born in the presence of a Herald would become a great hero, warrior, or politician. The chances were thought to be even greater if the Herald were allowed to choose the child's name.
- The "Dark Herald" of Tethyr died in infamy (by assassination) a year into his rule after usurping authority from a fallen royal family.
- The legend of the Lost Herald was known to fighters in many parts of Faerûn. It was said that after sundown on the night before great battles, the Lost Herald could be heard announcing the names of dead warriors that would lead them into battle, if only they could.
- The rumor that a High Herald could talk to one's dead ancestors was true. Oghma gave each High Herald the power to speak with dead three times a day by merely calling out the name of the deceased within 100 ft (30 m) of his or her grave, even if the remains had been removed. A ghostly apparition of the deceased would appear, able to move, gesticulate, and answer up to nine questions.
Appendix[edit | edit source]
Notes[edit | edit source]
- The court herald was a prestige class in v.3.5 described in the Power of Faerûn sourcebook on pages 108–111. Players were strongly discouraged from joining the Heralds because of the lack of adventure in the life of a Herald, but a court herald traveled and could see some action.
- The placement of the apostrophe in the various "Herald" names is not consistent. The North: Guide to the Savage Frontier sourcebooks use both "Heralds' Holdfast" and "Herald's Holdfast" with the latter version occurring the overwhelming majority of the time. For "Heralds' House", since it is the only reference to an alternate name for this location, I'm leaving it as the source printed it.
- Similarly, this base is rendered as either "Heralds' Hall" or "Herald's Hall". The latter title is the most recently used.
Gallery[edit | edit source]
References[edit | edit source]
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