In the second part of this month's roundtable, the discussion turns to prestige classes and their relationship to organizations. We've already seen the Harper prestige class. We asked the team, "Will it be possible to join other secret societies in the same or a different way?"
Rich Baker: Most organizations and secret societies actually don't require you to take a corresponding prestige class. For example, the Harpers undoubtedly include a number of characters that have chosen to take a level or two of the Harper scout prestige class we included in the new rules. But the Harpers also include many bards, rogues, wizards, and clerics who don't have any levels in Harper scout. Similarly, the Fire Knives include a number of characters with levels in assassin, but they're not composed exclusively of such characters.
Sean Reynolds: While prestige classes are neat, too many can become cumbersome, and I actually prefer to show interesting ways you can put together a character with the base classes before falling back onto a prestige class. For example, the Zhentarim are backed by the church of Xvim, and the Zhentarim clerics have a habit of being strong combatants in the field. That could be done with a Xvimlar warrior prestige class, but it can just as well be handled by a fighter with a few levels in cleric of Xvim. I save the prestige classes for when I want to do weird stuff that can't otherwise be done by the regular classes.
How much influence/presence do these secret societies have on the Realms?(Are some of them mostly just fighting amongst one another? Are they more behind-the-scenes? Are they virtually unknown?)
Rich Baker: It's pretty clear that the Zhentarim, despite their obvious and spectacular failures in previous Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting campaign setting products, have somehow managed to amass quite a number of successes off-camera. Zhent agents control half the Moonsea, part of Anauroch, and several cities in the Western Heartlands -- and their influence is growing. Despite the opposition of the Harpers, the Zhents are changing the political landscape of Faerûn every day, and that only stands to become more dangerous as their power grows.
One secret society that's not really so secret is the Red Wizards of Thay. They are the biggest and most aggressive power of the Inner Sea, and their system of enclaves and concessions exacted from other cities in the area means that the Thayans can exert influence or pressure (diplomatic, economic, or magical) virtually anywhere they choose.
Skip Williams: One might even suspect that the sly devils have gone out of their way to publicize a few defeats just to disguise their most important recent successes.
Sean Reynolds: It depends upon the group. The Zhentarim are a large shadow looming over the Dales, especially now that they've got their act together. The Red Wizards are everywhere, using their mercantile power to leverage politics in remote cities. And groups like the Emerald Enclave are very powerful within their sphere of influence. Other groups, such as the Iron Throne, have a more limited scope (arms trading in the Heartlands), and many people live their lives under the noses of a secret society without ever being affected by it.
At the same time, some of the groups are forming alliances, and others are bitter enemies. For example, the Cult of the Dragon probably would be interested in trading magic with the Red Wizards, as both have access to strange and powerful magic, but the various evil religions are often the worst foes. The church of Cyric is so evil that they can't operate in the open, and so is the church of Xvim (except in the Moonsea, of course), but you'll never see the two groups cooperating, and they're usually at each other’s throats when they meet.
This doesn't even begin to count the many organizations that exist only in one city, such as the Night Masks in Westgate, which have little influence outside of their territory but within it hold more relative power than the Zhentarim or Red Wizards. Just because you don't see people marching around in red robes or wearing the badge of the Black Network doesn't mean you're not in terrible danger.
Go to the March Realmswatch main page for more of information about secret societies in the new Forgotten RealmsCampaign Setting or the Forgotten Realms main news page for more articles and news about the Forgotten Realms game setting.