Common folk across the Realms are vaguely aware of the formal treaties and pacts between nearby lands and city-states, and slightly more aware of the blood ties forged by marriages among nobility, rulers, and wealthy and powerful families. They know the traditional alliances and hatreds. For instance, it is widely known that there’s no love lost between Cormyr and Sembia, or between Cormyr and Westgate, but that Cor¬myr has always allied with any of the Dales that wanted such friendly relations. It is also known that Archendale has never wanted Cormyr’s friendship, Scardale recently repudiated Cormyr, and Harrowdale and Featherdale have increas¬ingly slid under Sembian sway and become cooler to Cormyrean offers and embassies. Also, it is widely thought that Cormyr’s overtures to the Dales are meant to keep Sembia from swallowing all the land between the Thunder Peaks and the Dragon Reach, and thereby controlling eastward overland trade. General truths aside, in any open conflict commoners are often surprised at the alliances and agreements their rulers make—sometimes breaking with tradition, making foes into allies or at least neutral parties, and rebuffing friendly realms, and complicating everything. The wealthy and powerful, who have trading partners, kin, agents, and spies in distant places whom they can afford to communicate with often, have always known more of trends and forth¬coming policies than the everyday shopkeeper or farmer. However, the steady increase in reach, wealth, and traveling of merchants over the last five centuries has elevated some heads of caravan costers and guildmasters to the level of the nobil¬ity in terms of influence and awareness. There have always been dynastic families seeking to hold onto thrones, and there have al¬ways been rivals seeking to supplant them. For example, in Cormyr, the Obarskyrs have been challenged for centuries by the Bleths, the Cor- maerils, and others. Cormyr has one of the very few ruling families that have clung to power in a nigh-unbroken line; most lands in Faerun have suffered usurpers and heirs-in-waiting vying with rebels and rival claimants—both real and false— for the throne. There are also very wealthy, sophisticated, highly educated families, such as the Moareldril in Amn, and the Cathmalar in Tethyr, who have never wanted a throne or to stand behind one. These families have always preferred to keep a much lower public profile and manipulate rul¬ers from the distant shadows, to their own great benefit. Inevitably, those who desire to exploit or ma-nipulate humanity to their own benefit—notably doppelgangers, illithids, and beholders—have covertly sought out such families. An incursion starts with the monsters seeking to ally with the corrupt families, and ends with them slowly tak¬ing control of the families, making them their  human agents just as the families themselves use others as their own human agents. There are almost always layers upon layers, and intrigues within intrigues. As Piergeiron of Waterdeep once said, “Matters of rulership in the Realms are never simple. If ever you think they are, there’s something you’ve missed. Look behind you quickly, and if no dagger’s coming at you, turn back and look again. Harder.” Adventurers are often used as the “extended arms” of those who want to reach over the line of law or treaty and do something a pact or contin¬ued good relations constrains them from doing. At the same time, it behooves wise adventurers to know key details of pacts and alliances relevant in the territory in which they’re adventuring. For example, the Lords’ Alliance has come to trade agreements with every land along the Sword Coast trade roads to let caravans travel those roads without hindrance. Which means a caravan under attack from brigands or outlaws can expect armed law keepers to ride to their aid, and caravan masters can expect border searches and even confiscations or arrests if certain things are found. Caravan masters can also expect that borders will not be closed arbitrarily, and that favoritism will not be shown to wayfarers of one land or coster or faith over another. Law keepers are pledged to help merchants get their beasts and conveyances through a territory unscathed, and they are not allowed to damage or seize (as op¬posed to detain for investigation) such property. For instance, even if locals are angry about or frightened of a wagon that has heavily armed or armored half-ore guards, law keepers are to keep the peace, not themselves burn the wagon and fight with the half-ores—as often happened as re-cently as the 1200s DR, in Amn and Tethyr. These agreements are collectively known as the Hand of the Open Road, and merchants are quick to notify innkeepers, tavern masters, local law keepers, and soldiers of the Hand of the Open Road if they think they are being mistreated. Quick-thinking adventurers who get themselves hired as caravan guards, or acquire a wagon and portray themselves as merchants, can call upon law keepers in the name of the Hand of the Open Road, too. Merchants engage in some speculative forays entirely because one’s guildmaster (or simply a friendly guildmaster) has come to an agreement with a guildmaster at a shipment’s destination. On the other hand, merchants should beware of covert agreements between guildmasters to shut out, underbid, or refuse to buy certain wares, a tactic often used to try to keep independent traders away from a lucrative market. Adventur¬ers frequently find themselves hired to represent merchants when such trouble is suspected—so that it will be their necks, and not the merchants’, if swords sing out or daggers are thrust in dark alleys. All rulers twist the intent of pacts and alliances to their advantage if they see more benefit than loss in doing so, but they rarely out-and-out break such agreements unless desperate. Such despera¬tion might be the result of an ore horde coming, the mountains suddenly erupting, or something equally realm-shaking. Some rulers, notably Alustriel in Silverymoon and later the Silver Marches, Piergeiron in Wa¬terdeep, and Azoun IV (and Vangerdahast and Alusair the Silver Regent) in Cormyr, have long memories and cold dealings for rulers who break pacts. Which is why Calaunt, Hillsfar, Mulmas¬ter, and Zhentil Keep were isolated for so much of the 1300s DR. They broke pacts, so no one would trust them, leaving them on their own—at least until their rulers died or were replaced, and those successors reached out with fresh offers, prom¬ises, and reparations. It’s important to bear in mind that most rul¬ers and other powerful folk like to “drink their tankard and see it still full.” As such, many covert trading deals and ongoing relationships break pacts, with everyone involved turning a blind eye. For instance, most Calishite satraps have renounced slavery so as to deal with Athkatla, Baldur’s Gate, and Waterdeep, all of which of¬ficially refuse to trade with slavers and those who harbor slavers. However, almost all of those same satraps sell persons who cross them into slavery and trade in slaves through so-called “outlaws” whom they bankroll. To avoid having Calim- shan erupt in civil war and establish feuds that could last for centuries, satraps who find them¬selves in fierce disagreement with each other fight duels by pitting their “staff adventurers” against each other. Most successful merchants know about such deviations—or survive learning about them the hard way. Traders daily worry about the shadowy  web of far smaller but more numerous pacts: the quiet agreements that have been reached between various small local cabals and independent mer¬chants and larger, regional cabals. These pacts run along the lines of “No one shall bid on the ferry contract for the Dawndeeping Stream ex¬cept a merchant of the Blue Stone” or “Where offers are substantially the same, House Hardusk- ing will prevail over House Rathrune,” to use two west-country Sembian examples. Crown Agents Every ruler has formal envoys and ambassadors who travel the Realms constantly, engaging in formal diplomacy. Almost all rulers also have un¬official representatives, investigators and “trouble fixers” who do the daily (and nightly) dirty work to keep the ruler on the throne. Every city-state or ruler employs more than just outside-the-law hired agents such as outland adventuring gangs, dupes, scapegoats, and armed “heavies.” They also employ ongoing, loyal se¬cret agents who investigate murders, conspiracies, crimes, and incipient treason. The Highknights and the War Wizards of Cormyr are famous ex¬amples, but even as small a place as the way-town of Tagarath has its secret agents. Tagarath stands on the trade road between Ri- atavin and the Vilhon, right where the road fords the Shining Stream, and is too small to appear on most maps. Tagarath has a “crownar” (mayor a council made up of the eight most powerful local merchants; and a police force, the Riders, who pa¬trol the town and its environs and jail drunkards and those who do violence. Yet it also has seven elderly retired local women who seemingly sit and do nothing all day but are actually the paid “watchers” of (spies for) the crownar. Crownar Orth Haelen is old, fat, and infirm, and for the past decade, his daughter Alaya has seen to the daily running of Tagarath. Alaya is both cynical and a keen observer of the world, and long ago she decided to put her three boy¬friends and two younger sisters on the public purse as the “hand behind her back.” They regu-larly slay Zhents or other agents who try to linger in Tagarath, peer into what merchants who stop over are carrying, steal (or steal back) items when it becomes necessary, eliminate doppelgangers and other sinister threats to the local population, spy on potential Rider recruits to learn their true character, and deal with adventurers—to make sure those who think they can easily overwhelm the Riders and rule by the sword think again. Tagarath and many other places in the Realms have tax spies and tax collectors, the first of which peek and the second of which come to collect, ac¬companied by trained war dogs for defense and for catching those who prefer fleeing to paying. The War Wizards of Cormyr The Forest Kingdom is famous—and widely feared—for its state force of wizards, which de¬fends and informs the Dragon Throne. The War Wizards are the ultimate “not-secret” police, a self-governing force that spies on everyone in Cormyr, from the Obarskyrs to night-soil carters, to try to uncover threats to the throne before they truly imperil the stability of the kingdom. Cormyr is thought of by many in the Realms as a shining bulwark of peaceful, law-abiding pros¬perity. It certainly strives to be, but behind the bright exterior of green forests, verdant farms, fluttering banners, and Purple Dragons in shin¬ing armor are dark and ever-present threats. Arabel and Marsember are both conquered cities that frequently stir into near rebellion, and nobles all over Cormyr test the authority of the ruling Obarskyrs all the time. Without the Wizards of War—and an ener¬getic, wise, strong-willed person at their head, like Vangerdahast—Cormyr would have been plunged into civil war scores of times, or (in the words of the sage Alaphondar) “leaped into civil strife with savage eagerness, and never left that bloody state until no one was left who could stand and swing a sword.” In Cormyr, nobles personally swear loyalty to both the sovereign when they come of age, by name, and in the presence of the monarch and the Crown, pledging their persons to the defense of the realm. Purple Dragons, lesser courtiers, and minor officials of the realm swear to the Crown and the Dragon Throne before no less than three ranking courtiers and the Royal Magician, or a member of the Obarskyrs plus a court sage. In time of war, battlefield oaths are acceptable be¬fore three serving Purple Dragons and a Purple Dragon officer of the rank of ornrion or higher. Oaths are sworn when entering service, and might  be redemanded (“reconfirmed”) at any time, at the pleasure of the monarch or regent. Highknights and courtiers of rank take per¬sonal oaths to the sovereign in the presence of the sovereign; a priest of the swearer’s primary faith; the Royal Magician; another member of the Obarskyr family; or failing that, two persons of royal noble families, a court sage, and a court scribe. All of these oaths are renewed when a new sov¬ereign or regent takes the Dragon Throne. War Wizards swear before the Mage Royal, one War Wizard, and a court scribe or a member of the Obarskyr family. However, they can swear before the second-in-command of the War Wizards, three other War Wizards of at least twelve seasons of service, and a court scribe. When the Mage Royal and the Court Wizard are separate persons, either will suffice. In the event that both offices are vacant, any nine long-service War Wizards— so long as either one of the two highest-ranking surviving War Wizards is included—can receive the oath of loyalty. This oath of loyalty is informally and univer¬sally known as the Handflame, because someone accepting the oath before the court often con¬jures up illusory flame around his or her hands for dramatic effect, transferring it briefly to the swearer’s hands as the accepter clasps the hands of the swearer. This formality is usually dispensed with in private. A War Wizard’s oath is taken only once. Dismissal from the organization, for rea¬sons of age, ill health, loss of desire to serve, or unfitting conduct, is referred to as “release from the oath.” The Handflame is always spoken from memory, not recited by the accepter or a prompter and repeated by the swearer. Its words are as follows. I, [insert full formal name, without titles but in¬cluding all given used names and aliases, and truenames if the oath is taken in private], give my service unfailingly loyal to the Mage Royal of Cormyr, in full obedience of speech and action, that peace and order shall prevail in the Forest Kingdom, that magic of mine own and others be used and not misused. I do this in trust that the Mage Royal shall unswervingly serve the throne of Cormyr, and if the Mage Royal fall, or fail the Crown and Throne, my obedience shall be to the sovereign directly. Whenever there is doubt and dispute, I shall act to preserve Cormyr. Sunrise and moonfall, so long as my breath takes and my eyes see, I serve Cormyr. I give my life that the realm endure. All personal oaths and many noble oaths of Cor¬myr include variant flowery language, if approved beforehand by both independent heralds and the accepters, and there’s no reason why War Wizard oaths cannot also have embellishments, as long as this core is retained. In one instance, a War Wiz¬ard was recruited quite informally: Vangerdahast said, “Well enough, I accept your service. Swear to serve?” and received a response of “Uh, yes.” Whereupon Vangerdahast replied, “Right, you’re in. Now, I order you to . . .” Most Wizards of War would privately agree that no one really leaves the organization except by dying. There is rarely true retirement, but rather reassignment to do sedentary spying work or magical maintenance work. The force is the envy of many lands, and has survived in part be¬cause of the covert support of Mystra.

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