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How and where and when did the Forgotten Realms start? What's at the heart of Ed Greenwood's creation, and how does the Grand Master of the Realms use his own world when he runs D&D adventures for the players in his campaign? "Forging the Forgotten Realms" is a weekly feature wherein Ed answers all those questions and more.
Adventurers all across Faerun have become familiar with ruins and lost cities as places to explore for possible treasure. Even wizards' towers are numerous and swiftly spring to mind, though many would judge trying to plunder such abodes foolhardy at best.
Yet what many adventurers don't realize is just how many "hidden holds" (retreats that can readily be lived in year round) have been built in various backcountry and wilderness places in the Realms, or in rarer instances, "hidden in plain view" by being built within existing warehouses in the seedy mercantile hearts of bustling cities such as Waterdeep. The builders include ambitious rising Sembian millionaires, Cormyrean nobles upset about the armed strife in and around their kingdom, and all sorts of deposed local rulers or retired and unpopular officials who just want to disappear from public view and live quietly. Here are three such hidden holds.
In the woods just north of Moonever (a fishing village on the coast of Cormyr, east of Marsember) stand the ruins of what was once a large fortified castle owned by the Merendil noble family. After their exile in 376 DR, Draegur High (named for Draegur Merendil, who'd first started building it almost a century earlier) was seized by the Crown and its walls breached in many places so it couldn't be used by Merendils sneaking back into the realm, other traitors, and brigandsall of whom were active and dangerously plentiful in the area at that time, or were seen as threats that might recur. Reduced in this manner to three towers and lines of rubble that were soon overgrown by the forest, it was never rebuilt thanks to fears at Court that it might be taken by, and become a stronghold for, Marsembians rising into rebellion for independence.
The War Wizards took over one surviving tower of the castle to use as a waystop shelter and local base, and they hold it to this day. It's referred to in Court records as the Moontower, and at any one time is usually home to two or three War Wizards, as many apprentices (Wizards of War in training), and two to four Purple Dragons, who double as handyfolk, cooks, and bodyguards.
The other two towers were leased to Mooneven merchants. One was used as a rental-space storehouse (its owner allowed dozens of local merchants and families to store belongings or goods in crates, casks, and strongchests, charging them by how much space they occupied), but over the years was struck by lightning several times (locals swear flashes of "weird magic" were seen coming from it during the mid-1200s DR) and during the later 1400s fell into great disrepair. Today it is a toppled, overgrown ruin.
The other tower was used to raise wing-clipped doves (pigeons) as food birds, for sale in Marsember and in local markets. This was a successful business for centuries, but had faded away and left the tower empty when in 1456 DR the noble Asgeleth Ridinghound successfully (and secretly) petitioned King Foril for permission to purchase that tower from the Crown for use as a private residence. It now serves as the country retreat of the Ridinghounds, and Vornar Ridinghound largely uses it for a tenday at a time to relax and write his memoirs and a family history of the Ridinghounds. The local War Wizards are under orders from the Lord Warder to covertly scry the tower to make sure that Vornar Ridinghound isn't up to anything else when thereand that no one else is using the tower for other purposes, with or without the knowledge of the Ridinghounds. Aside from a few one-time trysts involving handsome young Ralaskor Ridinghound and various noble ladies, nothing else seems to be occurring in the tower.
The War Wizards have recently noticed some covert digging by local Moonever lads near the ruined tower, but their undercover inquiries suggest this is due to rumors of treasure making the rounds in Moonever. Both the mages and Court officials who've been notified are convinced these rumors are false.
The area around Marpeth's Fang, a distinctively narrow column-like peak among the Stormhorns overlooks the High Road midway between the Greatgaunt trail and the Bridge of Fallen Men, has a hidden hold of its own. Among the pines and duskwoods on the tree-cloaked lower slopes of Marpeth's Fang stands a modest stone fortress shaped rather like a flat-topped pumpkin. One visitor described its interior unkindly three summers after it had been completed, saying it looked like "four floors of chilly, gloomy, damp stone chambers; a proper labyrinth of odd-shaped and -sized rooms, that seem chiefly devoted to growing wild molds." It has a crenellated-edged roof that leaks copiously, but no towers, and its low silhouette and the abundance of conifers makes it hard to see among the trees, even in the leafless depths of winter.
Though it is weathered and looks old, Marpethgates is of fairly recent construction, built during the 1430s and 1440s DR by the rich former Amnian merchant Uldros Marpeth as his retirement refuge. Marpeth had no ambitions to rule anyone; shaken by the loss during the chaos of the Spellplague of much of his wealth, buildings, and the younger kin who worked for him, he retreated to several remote places before deciding to build his own fortress in the Stormhorns.
He died in 1462 DR of natural causes, aged ninety-six, and brigands soon decided to take the fortress by forceonly to discover the hard way that Marpeth had enjoyed an unusual "share a home" relationship with a variety of monsters, and they were still in residence and were eager to fight and slay to remain so. They fought off not only brigands and opportunistic adventurers, but several forays by Purple Dragons out of High Horn, led by War Wizards, until Ganrahast and Vainrence conducted a thorough scrying of the place and decided to leave the residents of Marpethgates alone. These creatures are led by "some sort of shapechanger that usually takes the shape of a goliath, or perhaps a goliath that has mastered magic enough that it can readily and repeatedly change its form." Despite their battle losses, the group still includes at least two cyclops, three or four doppelganger sneaks (who impersonate various creatures to best dissuade would-be intruders), many kenku, and several trained spiretop drakes.
Many trails wind west out of Everlund into the Silverwood, for westernmost Everlund consists of wooded hills into the slopes of which are tucked many mansions large and small, with gardens, private groves, small ponds, and meandering lanes aplentyand most of these lanes eventually become trails for hunters and woodcutters that run deep into the Silverwood.
Far into the Silverwood, in its heart due west of Everlund, is a ramshackle wooden house of many gables and rooms that thrust out at wild angles. This weathered house fills the space between three shadowtops that grow close together and climbs them for a dozen levels in one place and sixteen in another. The sprawl looks to the eye to have grown in random directions and shapes, as if it was a living tree itself. It is messy and moss-covered and looks ruinous in places, but it's also at one with the deep forest rather than being carved out of it or an outland intruder into the woods.
This is Farl's Haven, built by the Harper ranger Farl Thornmantle over three decades (1346 DR to 1374 DR) ago to retire to. He married, raised a family there, and lived to see great-grandchildren in the Haven, before dying in the hard winter of 1396 DR. By then, the Haven was home to six married couples and their children, all of them Farl's descendants.
Over the years since, Harper foes have found and invaded the Haven several times, many of Farl's kin have perished or relocated far across Faerun, and other Harpers have come to live in the Haven. It is now seen as a Harper communal home and refuge by Those Who Harp; many Harpers have lived out their graying years in it, and been buried "wild" (laid out on the leaves in the forest) in a hollow just west of the home.
Farl's Haven is decaying and in a constant state of repair and rebuilding; its various rooms are all of wood, but their styles, and the materials of "their" sections of roof, vary widely. Inside, the Haven is a maze of short stairs, little rooms with round windows, rope elevators and ladders connecting various levels, and clotheslines and "swing lines" connecting to nearby trees in the forest.
Harper lore says many Harper secrets are hidden in or near the Haven ("near" meaning in various of the surrounding trees), but these are thought to be lore and written records and healing potions rather than arsenals of enchanted weapons or more powerful magic.