Forgotten Realms: Dragon Queen Tiamat
The Harpers were a semi-secret organization dedicated to promoting good, preserving history (including art and music of old) and maintaining a balance between civilization and nature by keeping kingdoms small and the destruction of plant life to a minimum. They considered the elven empire of Myth Drannor shortly before its fall to be the pinnacle of civilized history and strove to recreate the world in that image.
Those Who Harp were led by a council of seven High Harpers, who were responsible for most of the group’s long-term plans and goals. High Harpers were elected through the means of secret ballots among the other High Harpers, with the criteria being long time service and extreme discretion in the implementation of their plans.
The Harpers have disbanded several times — but, after each time, they eventually reformed, one way or another.
The idea behind the Harpers was conceived by several Myth Drannan elven military leaders in collusion with a few trusted human rangers and druids. The mage Dathlue Mistwinter agreed to lead such a group in 324 DR at the head of a council which 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 would meet at twilight at secret locations in the Elven Court, earning them their moniker — the Harpers at Twilight.
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. The Weeping War decimated the remaining members of the group. By the end of the conflict, Dathlue was dead as were all but about a dozen of the Harpers at Twilight.
Six years later on the 26th of Flamerule at a druid grove in High Dale called the Dancing Place, a large congregation of dryads arrived when dusk fell earlier than it should have and a bright moon shone when no moon should have been visible. Clergymen of many different gods started to arrive before finally Elminster appeared to explain why they had all been called. 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. The priests argued but their deities directly possessed them and spoke through them, voicing their support in person. This night thusly became known as the Gathering of the Gods.
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. 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. It was during this period, known as the ‘Long Years’ within the organization, that the Harpers erected the wards around Hellgate Keep and helped to kill Sammaster but, less impressively, the imprisonment of Finder Wyvernspur in the Citadel of White Exile also happened during this time. The Harpers’ increasingly public actions also made them come into more frequent conflict with the Church of Bane and the nation of Thay. When the Harpers eradicated the Wearers of the Skull and thereby attracted the ire of the Church of Myrkul who sent liches after the Harpers, only to see each destroyed, Thay then raised armies to hunt them down and the remaining Harpers went underground in 1021 DR.
In 992 DR 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. In 1116 DR however, the Heralds decided that they could not be openly associated with the Harpers and split from them.
After the loss of many members during the previous year, Elminster and Khelben Arunsun decided in 1022 DR that new recruits were needed and that a revitalized Harpers would be an ‘underground army of adventurers’. Recruits who met the pair’s standards took time to find 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 Harper’s enemies.
The group continued to be quietly manipulated by Elminster and Khelben, who appointed certain members as ‘Master Harpers’ and supplied them with harper pins while the sisters Dove and Storm Silverhand posed as travelling minstrels to attract new members with their music.
Over the next two centuries the Harpers re-established their information network but were drawn into ever more public fights with evil churches, the Cult of the Dragon, Thay and others. Casualties began to mount again and to avoid a repeat of history, Khelben and Elminster had all senior Harpers go into hiding.
When junior members grew tired of the new, low key direction the group was headed in and started getting themselves killed in foolish fights, Elminster gave them a direction: by starting the Harpstar Wars in 1182 DR. Only around forty of the Harpers involved in the war survived it and when they returned, they found their organization had strayed into a completely different direction.
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 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 organisation’s leadership and reshape it to his own ends. He desired to be the power behind every throne in the north and happened to meet Szass Tam while planning on how to achieve this. The two came to an agreement: Szass Tam would funnel Rundorl information on his rivals in Thay and Rundorl would gain prestige by concocting a story of a new spell capable of turning thousands into undead slaves with a single casting. The plan went perfectly, Rundorl led his fellows into battle against those whom he claimed had knowledge of this “Spell of Undeath” and both he and Tam advanced in power.
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 however and Rundorl rightly suspected that Tam had betrayed him. Rundorl appealed to another lich named Thavverdasz. He promised the Harpers services in return for his help defeating his reanimated comrades. Thavverdasz agreed, mockingly taking for himself the name ‘Harper King’ after learning of Rundorl’s ambition. The undead were easily wrested from Tam’s control but Thavverdasz betrayed his other allies – The Cult of the Dragon.
It was this situation that the surviving Harpstar veterans returned to in 1222 DR. The Cult 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.
Grimly, Storm and Dove set about replacing their massive losses while Khelben and the remaining veterans licked their wounds. Elminster was left to counter the rising star of the Zhentarim alone, beginning a long-standing feud with Manshoon. He pulled strings among the Wychlaran 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.
Storm Silverhand had come to lead the so-called ‘eastern branch’ of the Harpers. These senior members operated mostly in the lands east and north of the Dalelands and were based, unofficially, in Shadowdale. When Alustriel Silverhand rose to power in 1235 DR after three years of chaos since Sepur of Silverymoon abandoned the city, Alustriel and her followers were aided by her sister Storm’s Harpers against the orcs of the Black Horde and the mage Shallos Ethenfrost. In return for their help, Storm was allowed to build Moongleam Tower in Everlund. Khelben led the Harpers on the Sword Coast over the next century but sponsored the Harpstar veteran Cylyria Dragonbreast in her bid to become High Lady of Berdusk in 1321 DR, giving over leadership of his Harpers to her. Cylyria’s Order of the Silver Moon and Harp was much more regimented than the eastern branch, who functioned much like they always had since the Harper King was destroyed. This also freed up Khelben for other things, like rescuing Laeral Silverhand from the Crown of Horns in 1357 DR. 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, which brought open hostilities against Berdusk itself. The move also brought many volunteers who wanted to join the Harpers however, swelling their ranks with new members.
Time of Troubles and the Harper Scism:
The Time of Troubles caused many deaths in the Harpers but it’s aftermath saw the return of Finder Wyvernspur and his rise to godhood as well as massive disruption among the Zhentarim which brought enough of a reprieve for the Harpers to replace their losses.
The Harpers were not safe from strife however. In 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 against him and he and Laeral both left the Harpers, as did Alustriel (who felt she could not commit to the Harpers as the leader of Luruar) and many of Khelben’s closest friends and allies.
The government of Waterdeep refused to help the Harpers of Twilight Hall prosecute Khelben so they proceeded to ward Harper 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.
The Harpers were said to be ‘overwhelmed’ by the Spellplague. Its most powerful members were drastically weakened by Mystra’s death and the group disbanded. One bastion of Harper strength remained however, Moongleam Tower was run by Eaerlraun Shadowlyn who tried to keep the Harper ideals alive and circa 1419 DR, refounded the group as the Harpers of Luruar to secretly counter the forces of Netheril. Unfortunately, Eaerlraun was killed by shadovar assassins and these Harpers were forced to act in complete secrecy to prevent the loss of more members. Harper agents in Neverwinter also suffered a devastating blow when an ambush by Mintarn Mercenaries resulted in the death of their leader and all official connection with Moongleam Tower.
Several other groups called themselves Harpers: 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 didn’t and merely claimed to to gain support. The Harpers of Selgaunt and the Harpers of Ormpur were also rebels who did not really cleave to Harper ideals.
In the time of Mystra’s Return, Storm Silverhand began to revitalize the Harper organization in Cormyr. She sought out people from all walks of life from smiths, merchants, leather workers, and even those who worked in brothels. Her revitalizing actions were known and tolerated by the War Wizards of Cormyr. The Harpers prevented the assassination of King’s Lord Lothan Durncaskyn who was sheltering Mirt’s lady, Rensharra Ironstave.
Currently, the Harpers are one of the many factions rising up to oppose Tiamat’s attempt at freedom.
Many gods have supported the organization of the Harpers. Azuth, Deneir, Eldath, Lliira, Mielikki, Milil, Mystra, Oghma, Selûne, Shaundakul, Shiallia, Silvanus, Tymora and the entire Seldarine all contributed clerics to become members of the Harpers and many of these also lent divine aid to the members of the group on a regular basis. This could cause tensions between individual clerics of different faiths — but never between deities or between the society as a whole and deities.
Powerful individuals have supported the Harpers, but equally powerful forces oppose them. Among these have been the likes of the Dark Dagger, the Malaugrym, the Rundeen, the Eldreth Veluuthra, the Twisted Rune, the Knights of the Shield, the Iron Throne, the Cult of the Dragon, the Red Wizards of Thay, the Zhentarim, and many of the churches of dark gods, in particular the revived church of Bane. The Harpers have consistently opposed any who would forge an empire through conquest or use the Weave without thought to the consequences.
- Harpers work against villainy and wickedness wherever they find it, but they work ever mindful of the consequences of what they do.
- All beings should walk free of fear, with the right to live their lives as they wish.
- The rule of law aids peace and fosters freedom, so long as the laws are just and those who enforce them lenient and understanding.
- 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.
- Whatever it takes, a Harper will do. Pride never rules the deeds of a true Harper.
Freedom is a multiversal right, though Harpers can spare themselves less freedom than those they work to protect when the need presents itself.
- 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.
- Without a past, no being can appreciate what they have, and where they may be going.
“What it is to be a Harper”
- Mirt the Moneylender explaining the Harper’s purpose to Shandril:
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 desire 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.”
“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 the Moneylender in Crown of Fire (pages 173-174)
The Harpers have operated mainly in the North Færûn, along the Sword Coast, the Western Heartlands and the Dalelands. The group itself has been extremely decentralized and the nearest thing they had to a base of operations was Twilight Hall in Berdusk. An often employed means of achieving their goals has been assisting adventurers on quests that would further Harper interests.