While we’ve spent a lot of time looking at what defines one nation vs. the others, there are some groups out there which transcend national identity, and flourish throughout the land. Some of them are out in the open, while others are a bit more secretive. I’ve broken them down into larger categories, as you’ll see below.
These organizations tend to exist primarily to make money in legal ways.
Adventurer’s Guild. Headquartered in Waterdeep, this group was originally known as the “Fraternal Order of Monster-Slayers”, though they adjusted their name as more women joined and they took on more complex tasks. This is a place to go if you want to post a “job” that needs doing (“Please rescue my daughter from the dragon.”) or (if you’re a member) where to find jobs to do. Membership is sold individually (50 gp/yr) or by party (200 gp/yr).
Brewmasters’ Association. An international group of dwarves and halflings that go around certifying different brews, putting their stamp of approval on those that are worth it. They also have a great number of gourmet chefs, and will also certify pairings of alcohol with food. A Brewmaster’s blessing is a big deal for any feast or gathering, so many hosts will pay top dollar to get one to certify the entire event, not just the alcohol. Many restaurants will also pay a yearly stipend to have a Brewmaster recertify them each year. And Brewmasters are always present at large alcohol-tasting events, like the Dwarven Brewers Finals in Alexandria.
Circle of Red. Whenever there is a large ritual that needs casting (like the strengthening of a city wall, or the enchanting of a dungeon, etc), many wizards will seek out help from the Circle of Red. Though they don’t typically advertise, should you be in a town and see a red circle on a doorway, chances are there is a wizard inside willing to sell his services. The Circle is headquartered in Thay, and its members are either actual Thayans or folks who have studied circle casting in one of Thay’s many excellent arcane academies. There are some (mostly paladins) who take issue with the connection to Thay’s necromantic ideals and won’t support a Red Circle with their money… but in most nations it cannot be proven that Red Circle members actually practice necromancy, and since their magical skills help the town and their taxes are paid like any other merchants, why should the government interfere? Red Circles are also often seen on magical shoppes, and it’s sort of the arcane equivalent of saying “we have a notary public on staff”.
Dragonslayers’ Alliance. Headquartered at a large fortress halfway up a mountain in Kislev, this group seeks to slay dragons and spread knowledge on how to slay dragons. Their symbol is a spear piercing a dragon’s head. While the idea of slaying the world’s most iconic monsters seems like a good thing, these guys are generally in it for the fame, glory, and money. You must have proof that you’ve slain a dragon to join. Also, it is rumored that some members might not always pay attention to what kind of dragons they’re slaying, which puts them at odds with worshippers of Bahamut (and most dragonborn). This group is largely human in membership, though anyone with a “dragon destroyed my village and set me on an adventuring path” stock back-story is welcome to join, regardless of their race.
International Cartographer’s Guild. Headquartered in Alexandria, this group also has branch offices in most major cities throughout the continent (with a few notable exceptions, though they’re always trying to expand). They also have a publicly-available teleportation circle site (actually it’s a network of 12 circles linked-together, so that if two people from different locations try to teleport to it at once, they’ll each be diverted to an adjacent circle… which is infinitely better than the alternative. While the Teleportational Location Key (TLK) for the Alexandria site is freely distributed, the Guild does charge hefty fees for the TLKs to permanent circles in their other branch offices [ARCANA CHECK: it takes 1 healing surge/day for a year-and-a-day to make a teleportation circle permanent, so the fees they charge for that investiture of time & effort make sense]. Certain destinations may also have local restrictions about what (or who) may be teleported (the branch in Pax Humana, for instance, severely limits non-human usage of their circle). In addition to teleportation resources, they also offer a great variety of maps of all sorts and locations. They will also pay top gold piece for maps of as-yet uncharted areas, or TLKs to permanent circles not yet listed in their network. They are especially eager to get TLKs to sites in other planes.
Society of Life. While any temple will happily take a donation to perform whatever healing rituals they can, there is a group of healers and academics known as the Society of Life who seek to enhance the methods of healing to extreme degrees. Originally started by a human Iounic Librarian named Hippocrates maybe 80 years ago in the nation of Borovia, the Society prides itself on having the largest collection of healing lore and artifacts in the known world (most of which is kept at its headquarters in Borovia, though copies of most texts are available at other Houses of Life). Outside of Borovia, the next largest House of Life is located in the Sankh Kingdom, near the curiously vibrant waters of Melora’s Womb. The Society may also rent out healers to adventuring groups, but oftentimes these are pacifists who won’t engage in actual combat much. Membership is pretty easy… you need only be trained in Healing and swear an oath (some call it the “Hippocratic Oath”, after the founder) to try and heal where ever you see injury, and to share any knowledge of healing, injuries, diseases, etc with the rest of the order as soon as you are able.
White Lantern Society. A collection of traders & merchants with great power in the southwestern region of the continent, White Lanterns can nevertheless be found all over the realms. They are known to be good at moving goods in and out of areas that are not easily accessible to everyone. They are often seen as rivals to the Cartographer’s Guild, because they physically ship things from one place to another, as opposed to the “cheating” that the Cartographers do with teleporting. The White Lantern’s sign is, not surprisingly, a white lantern.
While every town has groups of thieves, and some even have full guilds, mafias, and thieving crews, there are some criminal groups that traverse the land. Also of note is the nation of Travailia, which is, some say, entirely made up of crime families.
A.I.M. Advanced Idea Mechanics are a group of brilliant minds… arcanists, politicos, divinists, and others, whose sole goal is to acquire power. While it is true that many of these folks may end up working against one another one day, for the purpose of their participation in this group, they lend what aid they can to the projects of one another. And if one finds a part of an ancient artifact that he’s not particularly collecting, he may trade that piece for the rare other artifact piece that he needs. Sort of like that sharing thing on sesame street, but with evil people and items of deadly power.
Arkhosia’s Last. Sure, it was almost 1000 years ago that Arkhosia & Bael Turoth destroyed one another causing and/or suffering from the Great Cataclysm. However, there were a few dragonborn families that never got the message. Whether they were driven insane being so close to the Cataclysm, or whether they’re just awful racists, or whether they’re driven by some other force, the last Arkhosian Legion has interbred and continued the fight for the past millenium throughout the former Turathi lands. Typically they work in small groups of 3, which they refer to as “claws”, usually comprised of a warrior type, a holy person devoted to Bahamut, and an arcanist (usually a sorcerer). Of course, this groups existence has caused many other dragonborn in that region to be mistrusted, and often killed, but that only serves to strengthen the resolve of the actual members of the Last, who are happy to recruit the companions of any slain innocent dragonborn.
Bloodsail Pirates. It is said that in the days before the fall of Myth Drannor, when connections between the Prime Material plane and the Feywild were more common, there was a nation of elves who lived on the water. They sailed the many seas of the worlds, using imagination as their compass. But when Myth Drannor fell, and the Great Cataclysm tore the world asunder, these elves were scattered on far waves to distant seas. In the centuries afterward, stories of bands of pirate elves sailing on in the mists became common. Though information about whether or not they are undead remain inconclusive, what is always common are the red sails. Sails of bright red, bathed in the blood of their enemies. If you are at sea, and you see the red sails, know that death is coming for you, for the Bloodsail Pirates have found you. What is worse is that it is believed their ships can use the oceans of the Feywild to travel between oceans of this world, so no military force has yet been able to discern where their actual headquarters may lie.
Breggan D’Arthe. A secretive group (for reasons that should be obvious), this is a loose collective of Drow whose goal it is to make sure evil Drow don’t take over the surface. Of course, they do this by occasionally robbing, assassinating, and causing mine cave-ins, but if you want to stop the Spider Queen, you’re going to break a few eggs, right? Since they tend to have to hide from both surface authorities AND the many forces of the Spider Queen, the details about their organization and members are kept incredibly secret.
Card and Coin Society of Gentlemen. While not exactly a criminal organization, this group is certainly populated by criminals. Basically it’s a worldwide gambling group that you must win your membership into. Most casinos and other large gambling houses are run or owned by members, and their many practices are not well known to the outside world. There are rumors of their oaths, though… that you must never call out another member on cheating (unless he’s cheating you), that if a member catches you cheating him, you must fess up, and that you’ll always be open to a massive scheme posed by another member, if the price is right. Most of these have been popularized in novels that have been printed over the past several years, equating the Society to the Ocean’s Eleven crowd. Whether the truth is as flashy as the fiction is unknown, but it’s a great story element.
Horned Alliance. You know those rumors about tieflings being demon summoners? Well, some of them are true. The Horned Alliance is a secret collection of demonologists and other abyssal-minded folks (most of whom are tieflings) who seem to generally want to command demons to do their bidding (and take over the world… though some members don’t immediately try for that ultimate goal). Rumored to be headquartered in Nueva Turotha, members of this group are also said to take pleasure in killing dragonborn (or, better yet, enslaving them to some demon prince). While each member probably has his/her own agenda, the Alliance’s general goals are to stop people who want to slay demons, and to put down any of that New Arkhosia nonsense. The fact that they refer to themselves as “The Alliance” makes them harder for authorities to catch and spy on, though, because maybe they were just talking about the Alliance of Eastern Nations.
The Graying Mist. Officially listed as a criminal organization in many nations, this group claims to have no “evil” agenda, but rather to desire the fall of extremism of any sort. So they will work against the overbearing theocracy in Dambrath, but they’ll also fight the overpowering ideologies of Pax Humana. Most governments list them as criminals out of fear that they might be working against their regime. Tactically, the Graying Mist is said to be subtle in their methods, seldom taking direct action. Though it is said that they work with fogs and mists quite a bit, to either dissuade invading forces or to even the odds in overwhelming situations. In places with unfair governments, peasants have sometimes found packages of food left for them when a mist clears, and so it is said that the Graying Mist cares for those who are oppressed, which could have made them folk heroes… except that there have also been gray mists seen around the burning castles of heroes who got too big. So in general, the public will think that the Mists are good, so long as they don’t hurt people I like.
Kargatane. Said to be a clan of assassins who live in the Shadowfell and once served a lich lord their (until they betrayed him), this group is one that is seldom mentioned, though they are widely known. Their head is a woman named Lady Kazandra, though rumors vary as to whether she is a Shade, Shadar-Kai, or some kind of elf. It is also said that members of this group can actually use shadows as launching points for attacks or teleport INTO their target’s shadow. Scary stuff. Rumors of this group’s larger agenda (beyond doing hits they’re paid for) are unconfirmed, though it does seem like they might have support from some Fey Lord, God, or Primordial, given their ability to never get caught.
Orginazitsiya. Essentially the Dragonborn mob. This group hates tieflings with a passion, and has been responsible for the high-profile deaths and low-profile “disappearances” of many prominent tieflings throughout the lands. While most governments and “good” dragonborn will shun their activities publicly, in private it’s hard to deny that there are many tiefling demonologists and infernalists these days, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Each region is said to have a “Dragon Head” who runs the organization, with other prominent positions held by folks called “Claws”, “Wings”, “Tails”, etc. If you take the “Yakuza” theme, you might actually be a part of this organization.
Scions of the Horned Empire. An almost exclusively tiefling group that seeks to recover all the powerful old artifacts from Bael Turoth, this group is only listed as a criminal organization because they have been known to steal said artifacts if they can’t acquire them legally. And if the occasional collector finds his household overrun with demons while a Scion walks off with his suddenly unguarded Turathi Implement collection, who’s to say it’s not just a coincidence? Their symbol is a pair of crossed horns.
Stronger Links. In most civilized nations, slavery is illegal. Nonetheless, it still exists in many places… even those that have allegedly banned it. That is the work of the Stronger Links, a loose collection of very wealthy merchants who make much of their extra money from dealing in the slave trade. Many have also taken cues from monstrous races that engage in slavery, using the mind-flayers’ rebellion-suppressing mental field devices, or the pain-causing collars that some of Torog’s minions employ. Though they are a secret group, some say that chains motifs may adorn the clothing of members. Of course, given that most jewelry is also made of things hanging from chains, this is hardly useful information for authorities.
Organizations for Good
These folks tend to generally try to do what’s right, regardless of what anyone else says.
The Argentum Alliance. An order of dragonborn dedicated to the ideals of justice, protection, sacrifice, and the defeat of evil. The order is based out of a tall mountain in the mountains north of the former nation of Arkhosia, and is headed by an ancient silver dragon named Sephitherax, who judges any hero who climbs the mountain to seek membership in the order. While they accept all classes of hero, only dragonborn are welcomed into their midst. There are many stories of the heroic deeds of the Agents of Argentum, though many are so overblown that they must be exaggerations.
The Burning Pages. This is a much more secretive group than most, composed of tieflings who study demonology in the abstract for the purpose of learning how to stop tieflings who worship demons. Composed entirely of Iounic Scholars, this group (understandably) keeps its member lists very secret (and, in fact, probably never writes down lists of members). Mostly active in Nueva Turotha, but also with members throughout the world, where ever demon cults need to be stopped. It is rumored that the famous tiefling warlock (currently also the Magister: the highest mortal authority on magic) Mestiza Ferana (from Ionia’s Wheels of Progress) is either a member or one who gives support to this group. Of course, with all this secrecy, there’s the danger of temptation from Vecna, and with all the demon knowledge, there’s the temptation that members will start summoning and worshipping demons themselves, so it’s a suspicious lot that joins this group.
The Council of Wyrms. Though their location is unknown, there is supposedly a council of metallic dragons, dedicated to Bahamut (of course), who meet to discuss issues of import to good dragons. Some say they meet in the mountains of Kislev or Norsca, or other large mountainous regions across the globe. Others say they live on a mysterious set of islands known as the Io’s Blood Isles far off in the eastern sea. They are often referenced in literature of the church of Bahamut, though, and even the highest of cleric in that faith only considers himself the “highest humanoid authority” for the faith, and will always give deference to a any metallic dragon cleric who arrives. The Council is more of a myth, but a good one, for it gives hope that there are huge, massively powerful, majestic creatures out there plotting to do good and to thwart evil.
The Gnarly Rangers. A band of elven rangers who are seen along the edges of many forests. No one knows exactly how many of them there are, but they seem to be sort of peace-keepers for matters too small for larger forces to deal with. Their chapter houses are always in, near, or around incredibly gnarled trees, and they are known to seek out sources of corruption of the natural world (like demons), which they slay. There are tales of Gnarly Rangers in many nations, but it seems like their headquarters is probably in Tethyr somewhere, with smaller chapters functioning in other forests around the world. They are each fiercely devoted to Corellon, which makes it likely that their home base is somewhere near The House of Corellon and Sehanine, a massive opera house/temple to the chief Elven deities in Tethyr. But regardless of where they’re headquartered, if you find a dead demon pierced by arrows of gnarled wood that are somehow straight, you can be sure it was the Rangers who took it down.
The Harpers. Founded 50 years ago by an adventuring band known as the Forest-Runners, this organization is founded on the idea that evil is bad and should be stopped. Simple as that. The Harpers are a force of “good” in the world, and their members often go on quests against evil forces and do what they can to stop the overall spread of evil and destruction of the world. Because pretty much every evil group on the planet wants to destroy the Harpers, their leadership is not widely known. The titular head, known to members as “The Wise Auntie”, is Lady Azalea Moonbow of Waterdeep, an elderly Elven female who was one of the original Forest-Runners and a founder of the Harpers… but these days she spends her time teaching at a women’s etiquette school, and is likely not involved in the active actions of the Harpers.
The Mithral Arm. In the days after Io was killed, while the Dawn War still raged on throughout existence, a group of five young mithral dragons gathered together in a secret council to discuss what to do about chromatic dragons. They knew from that early time that chromatics would be a problem, and over the next centuries, they were a secret cabal that worked against the plots of chromatic dragons. Rumor has it that they have existed since then, up through the present day. Whether it is the same pentad of mithral dragons (who would be impossibly ancient by now) or a membership that has passed down to younger members over the millennia is unknown, though it is said that there are always five of them. It is also said that a very few dragonborn work as agents of the Mithral Arm, though they are tight-lipped about the details of their employers.
The Wandering Outcasts. It is said that the harshly landscaped nation of Embria is a land where none wish to go. However, it is also a place where those with nowhere to go can be welcomed. As a condition of living there, though, citizens must devote at least a year to traveling the world, searching for other outcasts that need asylum. Often they travel in large horse-drawn wagons that can house those who oughtn’t to be seen (think gypsies). While many treat Wandering Outcasts like criminals, they are not a criminal group, and in fact seek to do good for those who need it most, those without any other friends. And if that occasionally means they pick up a murderer or other criminal fleeing his past life, so be it. If he’s willing to put aside his old ways, he’ll be welcomed in Embria. Though public consensus often skips over the “put aside his old ways” part when talking about the Outcasts.
Organizations for Evil
Oh, come on, you didn’t think that only the good guys got together in clubs, did you?
Ashmadai. A large cult dedicated to worshiping Asmodeus, the Lord of the Nine Hells, this group is more popular in the northwest of the continent (around Neverwinter), but has cells all over the place. Devils are tough, because unlike the raw destruction that demons often represent, devils tend to prefer contracts and “deals” that seem beneficial on their face. Many an Ashmadaian has thought he would gain ultimate power and the ability to control greater devils, only to find his soul at the end of a chain and his life in ruins. Whether the Ashmadai have a larger agenda is unknown, as they tend to operate in independent cells. Their symbol is 3 triangles, placed in such a way to look like a devil.
Blades of Shadow. In the days of Nerath, there was a militant order of warlocks who specifically set up shop in the Shadowfell so that they could hunt and kill the extraplanar creatures living there. It was sort of a “most dangerous game” scenario, where they got bored with hunting “normal” things with their awesome warlock powers. However, spending 100% of their time in the Shadowfell took its toll, and stories say that they fell to infighting and/or corruption by some of the darker energies of the demi-plane. When they died, so the stories say, their souls remained in some sort of nethermantic shadow version. These days, if you find anyone using the title “Blades of Shadow”, you should probably run, because they probably represent the worst aspects of the Shadowfell merged with a sociopathic hunter mindset and a lot of warlock power.
Circle of Nine. More of a rumor or token villain in bard’s stories, this group is supposedly a collection of Asmodeus’ devil lieutenants in mortal form. Their goals vary from story to story, but they usually involve somehow linking the nine hells with the prime material plane, bringing the entire realm of mortals under the sway of Asmodeus. Comical bards have given the nine names similar to Snow White’s seven dwarves (usually there’s a Bitey and a Scratchy to round out the nine), but their actual identities (if they even exist) are unknown. If they do exist, they are master deceivers and shapechangers, hiding their devilish natures under guises of mortals. Some say that each mortal form they inhabit must invite the devil soul into him, likely through some deal that went awry, and that the Nine themselves are powerless when they do not have physical forms to inhabit, though they can never die and will carry their knowledge on to the next form when their current one is killed.
Cult of… Whomever. There are cults to all sorts of awful things out there. Many are evil, though some are just misguided offshoots of a larger religion (like the Cult of the Spear, which is an offshoot of Kord’s church that thinks spears are the greatest weapons ever, and will fight you if you say or wield otherwise). Many so-called cults are just kids hoping to gain some kind of power, but occasionally these folks will actually attract the attention of some demon or devil or evil god and will end up with more than they bargained for. Oftentimes these cults end up serving evil ends without actually being 100% on-board with it themselves, so many good heroes have found that outright slaughter may not always be the best solution to a local cult. Other cults (detailed below) are a bit more troublesome, and tend to require a stronger hand…
Cult of [Insert Primordial Here]. The primordials lost the Dawn War with the gods, and were either killed or imprisoned or banished. Any cult that seeks to raise/summon/free a primordial is bad news, as these creatures were on-par with the gods in terms of power. Sure, there are some sorcerers or wizards who channel the elemental power of trapped primordials without actually seeking to free the creatures, but as the power gets greater, that slope gets slipperier. These cults are often populated by those who feel that the gods have failed them in some way, and are seeking a “better option”.
Cult of Carnage. This group is interesting simply because they don’t actually have a god or being that they follow. They simply wish to promote wanton destruction throughout the world. Oh, and they’re usually crazy, too. Barbarian hordes who eat the wrong mushrooms sometimes turn into one of these cults, with many other members being soldiers who have seen too much battle and just snapped. While these guys aren’t likely to wield complex magical powers (usually just a mob of sword-wielding crazies), what makes them dangerous is that beings that feed on that particular flavor of insanity (like some Aboleths, demons, and spirits of destruction) are attracted to these groups, and may bolster them or “help” in their quest to destroy everything.
Cult of the Dragon. This group (also called the “Keepers of the Secret Hoard”) venerate undead dragons (dracoliches), and consider it a religious transcendence when a dragon becomes a dracolich. They are likely responsible for much of the proliferation of information on how to become a dracolich. The process usually involves bathing in virgins’ blood, consuming children, etc… and the cultists are known to do a lot of kidnapping to provide their draconic gods with the needed materials for the transformation. Some believe that this cult actually worships Io, the original dragon god, in the belief that only when a dragon transcends life can it become a true god… and that Io himself is a great dracolich who will return one day to purge the world of all who do not recognize the power of dracoliches as the ultimate authority.
Cult of the Elder Elemental Eye. The details of this cult are often difficult to pin down (and sometimes contradictory), because (as near as scholars can tell) the Elder Elemental Eye is some kind of super-primordial that embodies Chaos and is worshiped by many powerful (yet insane) creatures in the Elemental Chaos. It is generally thought that the Elder Elemental Eye is either trapped or dead or departed, as many of the cults try to free or revive or recall it to destroy this world and all the gods. There are other scholars, however, who believe the EEE doesn’t actually exist, and that some other deity of chaos or lies is simply using the cultists as a way to sow chaos in the world without having to take responsibility for their actions. The cult has been known to use elementals, demons, and the abyssal plague in its rituals and plots, though, so most good folks try to snuff these guys out whenever a new chapter rises up.
The Devil’s Chosen. While Demons love carnage and chaos, the creatures known as Devils are more into the details of evil. If you become one of the Devil’s Chosen (though there are many devils to whom you might actually be pledging yourself), you’ll gain all sorts of cool powers in this life, so long as you do the general things that devil asks of you. The only cost is your soul upon death. And who can prove such a thing even exists? It’s like paying for something valuable with play-money… clearly you’ll not find a better bargain anywhere. But if you think that your chances are better taking an oath of poverty and praying every day to one of those so-called “good” gods who won’t even speak to their followers directly… well, that’s your choice.
Society of Walking Bones. Among necromancers, there are many ways to gain your skills. Apprenticing to a master (living or dead), dealing with some dark entity, wandering through the Shadowfell, opening books and reading at random… but in the past fifty years a particular method has gained popularity: mail-order lessons. There is a thaumaturgical address in Thay that has been widely distributed throughout the lands. A mage who wishes to learn the basic skills of necromancy need only perform a Page Sending ritual (a fairly common lvl 2 ritual) with that magical address at the top, and send an oath dedicating oneself to completing the course. One must also spend an extra 500 GP in residuum while casting the ritual… which presumably gets transferred to the headmaster of this “school”. Lessons will be delivered by shadow servant on a monthly basis after that. Of course, there are rumors that folks who don’t complete the course are eaten by awful things from the darkness… but those are just rumors. When you complete the course, you get a laminated card marking you as a member.
The Wings of Tiamat. Just as there are rumors of the Council of Wyrms, there is also a much more sinister rumor about their opposite, the Wings of Tiamat. Whereas the Council is a unified group for justice and order, Tiamat’s chaotic nature means that dragons who follow her don’t always get along. As such, there are actually 5 different Wings of Tiamat, one for each primary color of chromatic dragon. So the Red Wing of Tiamat probably meets in the volcanic regions near Nueva Turotha to discuss how they’ll scorch the earth, while the White Wing meets in the far frozen North to discuss freezing everything. Stories of these meetings also suggest that they might also be bragging spots… where each dragon can show their latest gains and tell tales of the villages they’ve burninated, etc.
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