The Soft Claws

The ancient steel dragon Zundaerazylym has more secret schemes and hushed achievements than most dragons can imagine. Zundaerazylym follows a bright dream: She wants dragonkind to live in harmony with humanoids. This situation, she believes, would result in happier, better lives for all. To see such ambitions come to fruition, she has employed a small corps of agents who operate throughout the North, from the Sword Coast east to the borders of Anauroch and Cormyr, and from the Silver Marches south to the northern fringe of the Greenflelds. These agents, who secretly know themselves as the Soft Claws, perform covert operations on Zundaerazylym's behalf, furthering her dream of seeing dragons and the civilized humanoids living together in harmony. The work is dangerous, often taking agents into the frontier, but the rewards are high, for Zundaerazylym makes sure to take care of her own.


Zundaerazylym has historically observed two great dangers to the North: the harsh climate and the orc hordes. The first must be endured (magical attempts to meddle with the weather, in her opinion, lead only to disasters), but the Laughing Wyrm has always believed she could do something about the orc problem. Orcs are fecund, and periodically they grow too numerous for their homes in the labyrinthine mountain-heart caverns of the North. When this happens, they boil forth and sweep down on all surface settlements and creatures in their path, pushing onward (usually south, toward warmer, more lush lands) until they are eventually destroyed, leaving great devastation in their wake.

Some forty years ago, Zundaerazylym began to hatch a plan. She believed she might be able to manipulate the most evil, hungry, and aggressive dragons into relocating their lairs into the paths of the emerging orc hordes so that one was forced to fight the other. In addition, she began to develop through alchemy the means for the more sensible dragons to coexist with the civilized humanoid races. However, she recognized that such goals were both ambitious and perilous, for there were many who would love to either steal away the fruits of her labors or stop her outright. Thus, she created a secret identity - Amundra Nelaerdra, a plump, gossiping, happy laundress and seamstress who resided and worked at the Moonstone Mask, the most famous inn, restaurant, and festhall in Neverwinter, the City of Skilled Hands.

Through her alter ego, Zundaerazylym began recruiting agents to serve as her experts abroad, traveling where she could or would not go and carefully planting legends and rumors about lost dragon hoards and vacant dragon lairs that slowly offer magical powers to wyrms that dwell in them, then returning with news, goods, and missions accomplished. Her first accomplices came from the ranks of local traders, woodcarvers, and failed adventurers who either needed a boost up from their present existences or simply showed the pluck and promise necessary to carry out her schemes. Zundaerazylym named her fledgling organization the Soft Claws, and though the group's accomplishments were initially modest, little by little it grew in numbers and power, broadening its territory as well as its talents and acumen.

The Soft Claws Today

The Soft Claws currently number more than sixty humans, elves, halflings, and half-elves. These agents operate as far east as Suzail and as far south as Baldur's Gate. They are loose-knit in structure and organization, keeping abreast of the steel dragon's grand schemes and their roles in it by relying more on chance meetings and distant signals from Zundaerazylym than on formal gatherings and direct orders. There is little hierarchy in the group, which suits both the dragon and her agents just fine.

The Soft Claws have many duties. They try to "relocate" active dragons by improving or even creating lair-caverns in desired locales (remote northern mountains perilously close to orc colonies); daringly planting maps (usually in the packsacks of "recovered" treasure) near known dragon lairs; or even posing as adventurers and using far-hailing spells to talk to one another about rich dragon lairs they're heading for, so that a dragon in its lair "accidentally" overhears them. They also plant rumors in the ranks of the Cult of the Dragon to manipulate the activities of that evil organization into venturing in directions away from the true purposes of the Soft Claws.

Members are frequently called upon to gather strange ingredients for Zundaerazylym's secretive experiments. She has begun developing numerous substances that would benefit dragons in various ways. For example, she hopes one such concoction will serve as a new source of food for the more good-aligned dragons, eliminating their need to feed upon civilization's population or its livestock. Another is a bath of such potency that dragons might heal more quickly while in its embrace, allowing them to battle more fiercely with swarming orc populations. Both of these substances require unusual ingredients, which must be gathered under the utmost secrecy lest others glean their purpose and steal them for themselves.

The Soft Claws' Foes

The two most obvious enemies of the Soft Claws are the orcs of the mountains and the dragons that are unwittingly being relocated. Although the orcs are rarely blessed with leadership bright enough to see beyond the immediate threat of a dragon in their midst and thus to recognize the machinations that brought the beast there, the dragons most certainly are, and more than a few agents have lost their lives in too daring a ploy. The Laughing Wyrm also suspects both High Heralds and Harpers to be members of the Soft Claws, but she worries more about infiltration by the Cult of the Dragon, the Arcane Brotherhood, or mages bent on gaining power over dragons: This concern has deepened in recent years, since more than one of her agents have gone missing - and their nevertokens with them. While she is mistrustful of both the Harpers and some of the Chosen - suspecting that one or both groups might at any time seize the fruits of her labors for other purposes - she recognizes the other foes as more immediate and potentially deadly threats. The Cult of the Dragon would find Zundaerazylym's efforts a potential rushing blow to its influence over dragons and certainly a threat to its cause, and the Arcane Brotherhood, should it ever unearth evidence of her deeds, would want such power for itself.

The Soft Claws' Allies

By necessity, Zundaerazylym has not revealed her true nature or her grand schemes to many folk. There are few she trusts, and fewer still whom she believes she could count on to maintain her secrets and the identities of her agents. One such person is the owner of the Moonstone Mask, the sorceress Ophala Cheldarstorn. Ophala and Zundaerazylym are fast friends, and the sorceress knows Amundra Nelaerdra's true nature. Ophala aids the steel dragon from time to time with her spells, and she keeps Zundaerazylym's hoard magically hidden in an undisclosed place. It is not buried underground, in the Mask, or in Nelaerdra's Bright Weaves Laundry.

Zundaerazylym often helps out Ophala in return. In addition to an occasional night spent in more attractive human guises - taking the shape of a sick or weary staff member at the Mask, for example, the "Laughing Laundress of Neverwinter" has more than once smuggled prominent guests out of the Mask in her gigantic baskets of laundry, enabling them to avoid embarrassing confrontations with rivals, murderous foes, spouses, superiors, or admirers. She has also, on several memorable nights, flown important agents and members of the Lords' Alliance out of Neverwinter on her back when they needed to be elsewhere in a hurry.

The Soft Claws and their patron also maintain a loose alliance with the all-female adventuring, band known as the Galadran Company, based out of Waterdeep but with agents ensconced in numerous other cities of the North, including Neverwinter. Zundaerazylym considers Galadaeros, a mature adult male copper dragon of unusually gentle and humorous character - and a patron of sorts of the Galadran Company - to be a staunch ally. As Amundra Nelaerdra, she is on particularly good terms with the Galadran agent in Neverwinter, a quiet, always calm man named Alasturan Malatheer. He runs a shop on Hindalos Street where he sells maps, charts, and floor plans of castles, mansions, lands, and seas of Faerûn. The two organizations have aided one another from time to time, and even occasionally engaged in joint ventures for brief periods.

Membership in the Soft Claws

Though in recent years Zundaerazylym has stepped up her recruiting efforts, the steel dragon is still quite cautious and choosy when selecting prospective new members. She must be absolutely certain a potential agent is trustworthy and reliable, able to comprehend the delicate and risky nature of the work before even being told the whole truth of the matter. In this effort, Zundaerazylym relies on Ophala to assist her, having the sorceress utilize her magic to suss out true possibilities and eliminate threats and spies. Any new recruit is always given a test assignment or two before being fully admitted into the group. In fact, until such time as the candidate is deemed completely trustworthy, he or she often believes the work is being done for the recruiter directly.

Because the work is varied, members of every talent are needed and welcomed in the Soft Claws. Quests to find and subtly relocate dragons, hunt for alchemical components, and spy on orc activity require a wide assortment of skills useful in numerous climates and terrains. Adventurers often work together in typical groups composed of members with complimentary talents.

The Soft Claws use the Moonstone Mask as their primary covert rallying place and regard the Laughing Wyrm as a kindly mother. This is fitting, when one considers that she nurses them back to health, occasionally comes winging to their rescue, arranges careers for them, and dispenses advice as well as unofficial salaries. These payments come irregularly but often; Zundaerazylym is never short of money thanks to her trading acumen, the efforts of the Claws on her behalf, and the legacy left to her by the last of the Mritavvalan clan, whom she rescued from family foes and guarded for the last three decades of his life. She always has time to sit with her agents and discuss their own dream and goals.

Soft Claws (Standard Mercenary): AL LN; 30,000 gp resource limit; Membership 62; Mixed (humans 24, half-elves 18, elves 12, halflings 7); Salary 50 gp/level/month.

Authority Figure: Zundaerazylym (LN female ancient steel dragon).

Important Characters: Bruldin Oldturret (NG male Illuskan human fighter 6; a trader of plain appearance, stolid expression, and wide knowledge of northern forest trails and backlands), Tamaer Shiversword (CG male half-moon elf fighter 9; a flamboyant failed adventurer with a knack for mimicry and a love of pranks, bold gambles, and disguises), Jhavaerra Erbrand (CG female Tethyrian human rogue 4; a well-traveled "finder" or talent scout for the Moonstone Mask who serves the Claws by establishing trading contacts among merchants in distant cities, gathering information on dragons and the Dragon Cult, and so on), Iorl Skyndul (CG male Calishite human rogue 6; a thief, smuggler, and fence of stolen goods who delights in all the minor magics Zundaerazylym has given him over the years and the deceptions he can accomplish using them).

Associated Classes: Fighter, rogue, wizard, cleric.

Associated Skills: Bluff, Diplomacy, Disguise, Forgery, Knowledge (geography), Survival.

Requirements: In order to become a member of the Soft Claws, a character must be a non-evil human, elf, half-elf, or halfling. In order to earn a salary in any given month, a member must devote at least half of that month to furthering the ends of the Soft Claws. Such efforts are usually informally coordinated with Zundaerazylym beforehand and can include mapping a region, scouting orc warrens or dragon lairs, planting false evidence to coerce a dragon to relocate, or gathering alchemical components for Zundaerazylym.

Favored in Guild Benefit: If you have the Favored in Guild feat, you gain a special benefit for belonging to this group. You receive lodging at the Moonstone Mask for half the normal rate. You also receive free healing sufficient to return you to full hit points after one evening's lodging. In addition, you receive a nevertoken as a symbol of your affiliation with the group and as a tool for your work. Nevertokens are magical recognition badges carried by all Soft Claws, given to them by Zundaerazylym. She has a cache of identical items, for the entire cache of Halruaan family trading-tokens was given to her in the Year of the Watching Cold (1320 DR) by Ensible Mritavvalan, the dying last member of that family.

Finally, there is a percentage chance equal to your character level (or that of the highest-level character in a group of Soft Claws) that Zundaerazylym will come to your rescue during a dire situation should you somehow manage to contact her. The steel dragon will only perform this heroic service once during your stint of duty with the Soft Claws. Subsequent requests are politely declined, with the dragon citing her own safety and anonymity as reasons for her refusal.

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