The New Olamn Bard College
The Music of Waterdeep
To Storm Silverhand does Danilo Thann send greetings.
Esteemed lady, it is with great humility that I take quill in hand to address the legendary bard of Shadowdale. I am all too well aware of the irony inherent in this missive, which purports to instruct a lady whose knowledge of the bardic arts so greatly exceeds mine, Khelben Arunsun, the archmage of Waterdeep and my kinsman, has requested that I give you a full accounting of my recent visit to the bard college, New Olamn. Of course his slightest wish is my most urgent desire - or more to the point, writing this letter keeps my hands busy and lessens the urge to push my quill into Uncle Khelben's right ear and pull it out his left.
My most recent quarrel with the good archmage is this: He persists in regarding the restored bard college as a sort of stud barn established for the sole purpose of breeding his new brand on Harper. Since it would appear that he has had some success in this endeavor - and since "Harper" and "bard" are words so often spoken in one breath - I will address the Harper schism before moving on to such trifles as music, magic, and scholarship.
As you are well aware, Khelben leads a new Harper offshoot known as the Tel'Teukiira, an elven term translated as "Moonstars" or, less commonly, "Silverstars." The archmage's stated mission is to protect people against the myriad hidden dangers of life in Faerûn and to preserve the balance between nature and civilization - not, please note, a desire to meddle in political matters. Waterdeep is abuzz with political and social unrest, and I join those who wonder how long Khelben and his followers will be able to keep their fingers out of so tempting an assortment of pies.
Indeed, I suspect that the creation of the Moonstars - not to mention the rivalry between Khelben's agents and the Harpers who take directive from Berdusk's Twilight Hall - is partly responsible for the upsurge of interest in the bardic arts and, by extension, the rapid growth of New Olamn. I acknowledge the importance of this, despite my impatience with Harper politics, about which I've heard far too much. As I am staying in Blackstaff Tower, I've heard Uncle Khelben sing the Moonstars' praises until I was bleeding from both ears. (Fortunately, I am not speaking literally, for the archmage couldn't carry a tune in a bucket if the fate of Waterdeep depended upon it.)
I find that the Moonstars are almost unknown outside Harper ranks, despite the fact that this particular egg of Khelben's has been long in hatching. He created the Silver Safehold, an extraplanar clubhouse for himself and his followers, some three centuries past, and shortly thereafter linked it with his Waterdeep stronghold, Blackstaff Tower. Khelben's trial at the hands of the Harpers of Twilight Hall and subsequent resignation from the Harpers marked the official foundation of the Moonstars - assuming, of course, that any enterprise so secretive can be deemed "official."
Khelben exerts a level of control over the Moonstars that lead some to regard the group as his personal covert army. Nothing is done except by his express command. Every eight tendays, twelve senior agents convene in the Silver Safehold to report intelligence gathered from their underlings and to discuss matters of concern. These agents direct a second tier of Moonstars, which is divided into two functions: the thirty regional agents who gather news and the twelve field agents who implement actions decided upon by Khelben and his counsel of twelve. Lady Laeral has no official standing in this structure, but all Moonstars understand that she speaks with authority.
A small digression to matters of fashion: The Moonstars do not wear the Harper pin. They have replaced the traditional harp and crescent moon device with Teukiir badges, a magical device that grants access to the Silver Safehold.
Of all the bards affiliated with New Olamn, perhaps ten are either members of the Moonstars or are being groomed for membership. I was also able to confirm that one student, the daughter of a wealthy Baldur's Gate wine merchant, is acting as an agent for the Harpers of Twilight Hall. This spy is Sondaria Greenglass (NG female Tethyrian human Brd4), an unassuming young woman who plays the seven-stringed yarting with middling skill. She sings reasonably well and is not uncomely, but neither voice nor visage is remarkable. Indeed, I have never met a woman less likely to linger in memory. Her gift for fading into a crowd is extraordinary, especially for an aspiring bard.
Sondaria is universally described as "friendly," yet seems to have no close friends. Only by close magical observation was I able to link Sondaria with Eather Heilean (LG female Illuskan human paladin of Mill 5/harper paragon 10), recently dispatched from Berdusk to "restore order" among the Harpers of Waterdeep. It is my opinion that Sondaria reports to this Harper paladin, sharing observations about the loyalties and leanings of New Olamn's aspiring bards. Eather has begun to recruit "loyal" Harpers from among the school's graduates. She seeks to create distance between Those Who Harp and the Moonstars, and I fear that her efforts might undermine the effectiveness - and perhaps endanger the lives - of those bards who follow the Moonstar path. With this in mind, I am taking the precaution of naming some of the Moonstars of New Olamn in a separate message, which I will encode and protect with potent magical wards.
Now, on to the harding college itself New Olamn was reestablished in the Year of the Staff (1366 DR). Its original location was the guildhall known as the House of Song. Thanks to the patronage of several noble families, we were able to purchase two Cliffride villas, formerly known as Heroes' Rest and Stormwatch. The former has been renamed "Garnet Hall," in honor of Iriador "Garnet" Wintermist and as a reminder of the perils of forgetting the past.
New Olamn is perched high above the ocean and is accessible either by the Cliffride, a gravel slope that runs along the western edge of Mount Waterdeep's northern spur, or a tunnel through the mountain known as Mount Melody Walk. The former is used mostly for carting in goods and is the only accessible path for riders and carriages. Those who walk to New Olamn invariably take the magically lit and well-patrolled tunnel through the mountain. This is a pleasant walk, for the path is shorter and more level than reality would suggest possible. Soft music fills the tunnel at all times, thanks to the concert series known as the Neverending String of Pearls. A small alcove, curved like a giant oyster shell, has been carved into the rock walls of the tunnel, and bards and minstrels vie for the honor of performing recitals in this venue.
Both of these paths to New Olamn are well traveled, for many people come to study, attend concerts, or pick up news from traveling bards and minstrels. These itinerant performers are guaranteed a bed in the former servants' quarters of Garnet Hall, and, if their skills warrant, a chance to perform in one of the mansions' grand halls or smaller salons.
The college currently employs twenty-two faculty members. Hundreds of students pass through New Olamn. Most come to the college to learn a bit of lore or music, or to round out their education. Eighty-eight students are currently enrolled as Full Fellows. These are highly talented students accepted to a rigorous course of study that culminates in the title Master Bard and the degree Magnus Alumnae.
Studies at New Olamn
Bards have traditionally served kings and princes as advisors and, upon occasion, as the voices of conscience. A thorough knowledge of history, politics, and lore is required of all graduates. They also learn to influence public opinion through performances.
Students at New Olamn are expected to attain expert proficiency on their chosen instrument, as well as the ability to play two other instruments with competence. They undergo rigorous memory training and are expected to know hundreds of tunes and commit to memory many songs and ballads. Creativity is also prized, and bards learn to compose new music as well as new arrangements of familiar pieces.
Plans are underway for the first annual Newsong Festival, a competition for new bardic works. The prizes are lavish - in addition to heavy coin purses, the grand prize is siren strings, a magical harp fashioned by an eccentric elf. It is hoped that such inducements will attract bards from far and wide, thus enhancing New Olamn's reputation and bringing in new students and teachers.
Opportunities for Adventure
Life at New Olanm is not all study and practice. Thanks to the tunnel passage, all the wonders of Waterdeep are but a short stroll away. Students are encouraged to explore the city. They are required to perform at private parties, festhalls, and taverns, where they learn to deal with people from all walks of life. Those handy with sword and spell are frequently recruited by the glory-seeking noblemen and parties of adventurers they meet-in these venues. Indeed, spending at least one year on the road is a requirement of graduation.
The college sponsors expeditions to recover rare items, especially books of lore, magic instruments, and weapons fused with music and magic. Bronwyn Caradoon (NG female Chondathan human bard 7/harper agent 1), a Harper agent with considerable experience in this field, takes several students a year on these excursions. Students wishing to join a treasure hunt can leave a message for Bronwyn at her Waterdeep shop, The Curious Past. Alice Tinker, the gnome who presides over this collection of antiquities and oddities, is a shrewd judge of character and decides who among the many applicants accompanies Bronwyn on her next trip. Adventure-craving bards are advised to keep this in mind when approaching the little shopkeeper.
More than a few students at New Olamn are agents for various governments and secret societies, so the bard college is also a training ground in the art of espionage. Much of this is harmless gathering of information, but a young bard runs the risk (or the opportunity) of being drawn into deadly intrigues and entanglements. Agents of Twilight Hall, the Kraken Society, and the Zhentarim are thought to walk the halls of Stormwatch and Garnet Hall.
A rapidly growing aspect of New Olamn is the research into new music-related spells and musical weapons (see "Songsabers of Waterdeep"). Testing these magics, both in development and in the field, provides opportunity for adventure. Particularly intrepid students might volunteer to test new varieties of singing swords in combat. Other bards explore the possibility of combining the enhancements of multiple harmonizing weapons (Melee weapons crafted to accompany a bard's song, granting a +6 bonus on Perform checks that involve singing. Weapons with this enhancement also extend the effects of bardic music for a number a rounds equal to the bard's Charisma modifier). Bards train in groups of two and three with weapons harmonized with each other as well as their wielders. Early successes are inspiring people to wonder how else music might be used to combine the power of certain spells and magical items. This is well and good, but I would not like to see such weapons become plentiful and widely known. In particular, I shudder to think what might occur if the Red Wizards of Thay devoted their efforts to the crafting of harmonizing weapons.
Antharissa Nimesin (CG female gold elf Ftr12/Brd10), is currently investigating the possibility of training elven bladesingers at the college. This is a controversial topic among the elves, who for many centuries have traveled to Evermeet to learn this most elven form of magical swordplay. Other elves, however, point out that the Retreat is over, and argue for the return of all aspects of elven culture to the mainland. Another point of contention is the training itself for it is traditional for an aspiring bladesinger to train with a single master. Many elves consider the notion of a "bladesinger school" ludicrous. A delegation is being formed to make the trip to Evermeet to take this matter before Queen Amlaruil, and perhaps to recruit master bladesingers to the ranks of New Olamn instructors.
If bards from other races have been vastly encouraged by this debate, as well as the gnome devices played by Vanista Valebright. As a result, there has been an upsurge of interest in the music and legends of halflings, dwarves, and many lesser-known races. Students at New Olamn are increasingly electing to travel to such places as Lurien and the Great-Rift to study the music and lore of other peoples.
What New Olamn Means to Waterdeep
The restoration of the bard college is matter of great pride to Waterdhavians. It has had a mild effect on commerce and a much greater impact on Waterdeep's cultural life, not to mention its prestige in the eyes of other, less mercantile cultures.
One aspect of the college worth watching is its impact on communication. For the first time, Waterdeep has a central source of information concerning the musical, intellectual, and social life of the city. Anyone wishing to publicize a concert, lecture, or tavern performance, a theatre troupe, private recital, or even a street performance can send a message to New Olamn. Rare instruments, musical weapons, books of lore, and other items related to bardcraft can be advertised, and those who wish to hire bards are welcome to post notices. All this information is consolidated and made available to the citizenry at twelve small plinths newly erected in public areas throughout the city. These are manned by students, all of whom are required to spend a minimum of two bells a day at one of the plinths.
Anyone wishing to plan an evening's entertainment can see at a glance what is available throughout the city, but many other uses can be made of this information. Street vendors routinely check the plinth roles to ascertain the most profitable spots to set up shop. (Outdoor performers might find, to their dismay, that over-ripe fruit is in plentiful supply.) Because of the frequent updates, plinth roles provide a popular method to send hidden messages, to trace the whereabouts of rivals, and - unfortunately - to plot crimes. For a while, false information poured into New Olamn as various factions sought to cover their tracks and confound rivals, but more stringent requirements have cut down on this flow of disinformation. As a result, the plinth roles are rapidly becoming one of the most trusted sources of information in the city.
In closing, I would like to extend an invitation on behalf of New Olamn. We would be grateful and honored if the Bard of Shadowdale would see fit to grace the Newsong Festival with her presence, both as a judge of new competitions and as a guest performer. Long years have passed since Storm Silverhand has been heard in concert and so glittering a prospect would draw many eyes to this new event.
Lord Khelben has entered the room, and, as is his wont, has been reading over my shoulder these last few pages. He advises me to close this missive ere he is obliged to call in the Stablemucker's Guild to shovel out the knee-deep flattery. Lady Laeral also sends her greetings, and asks for your condolences. I trust you require no explanation of her meaning, as you and Khelben are well acquainted.
Ever yours in service to music and Mystra,
Garnet and the Riddle Curse
The half-elf bard Iriador (an elven name that's a close variant of the word for "garnet") Wintermist would have been remembered for her bell-like soprano and her heroic involvement in two centuries' worth of Harper causes, had she not had the misfortune to outlive her normal lifespan - and, alas, her sanity. She lived to see the bard colleges close their doors and the Harpers drift away from their commitment to bardcraft. Her sadness became anger and then obsession, spilling forth in a series of strange attacks centered on the sites of the old bard colleges, connected by a complicated riddle and an obscure form of elven spellsong. Although defeated, Garnet won an unexpected victory. Many bards, sages, and even merchants saw the germ of wisdom in her mad vengeance and began to plan the reestablishment of the barding colleges.
New Olamn Patrons
The college has several sources of income, but one guild and five wealthy families were largely responsible for founding the college: the Council of Musicians, Instrument-Makers, and Choristers and the noble houses of Crommer, Estelmer, Majarra, Melshimber, and Thann.
In general, the guild is exceedingly pleased by the reestablishment of the bard college, which has caused its membership to soar and its coffers to over-flow. The recent death of the long-time guildmaster, Kriios "Old Leatherlungs" Halamabar, has created an opening temporarily filled by Maxeene Rhiosann (NG female Tethyrian human Exp12). The Lady Voice of the Council holds that position until the next election in the Year of the Haunting (1377 DR). This position also carries the title Master Musician, an honor that the leadership of New Olamn would like to incorporate into the bard college. This is a matter of increasing tension between the guild and the college.
Two of the noble families include instrument making among their businesses. House Estelmer deals in brass instruments and has long held the monopoly on horns used by the Watch and City Guard. Brass instruments are usually associated with the fanfare of state occasions or tournaments and are seldom heard in Waterdeep outside of Piergeiron's Palace or the Field of Triumph. The Estelmers see the college as an opportunity to expand their business and they are actively recruiting brass players and calling for new musical compositions. Open-air concerts are regularly held in the garden of Garnet Hall, and the popularity of such instruments as cornello, glaur, gloon, and sackbut (an early form of trombone) is on the rise as scores of schoolboys eagerly set aside harps and lutes in favor of the more military sound and connotations of brass.
The Majarra family deals in silver and the making of silver instruments. Their flutes, longhorns, and bells are played throughout the Northlands, and they are particularly famed for their Tocken, sets of tuned bells mounted on frames and played with small, round-ended mallets. The popularity of this instrument is rising, for at least two Tocken concerts a day greet those who traverse Mount Melody Walk. The Majarras also deal with harping and harp training, and several members of the Family hold teaching positions at New Olamn.
The Melshimber and Estelmer families deal in sage-lore and heraldry, providing information for a price. Both houses are well represented among the instructors of New Olamn, and the college also provides a second place of business, since travelers seeking knowledge often inquire at the bard college. House Estelmer has also been a leading force in the creation of the Font of Knowledge, the new church of Oghma. They donated many books and scrolls to the temple's Great Library, the greatest collections of books found in the City of Splendors.
Moonstar Agents at New Olamn
(NG male Illuskan human Brd10). Lord Evenmist is a minor noble from the Moonshaes who took his bardic training from a succession of private tutors, a path commonly employed after the closing of the old barding colleges. Despite his rank, knowledge, and age - more than forty winters - he enrolled as a student at New Olamn in order to gain the traditional title of Magnus Alumnae. He is extremely well versed in the lore of his native islands, and is a teacher in this specialty as well as a Full Fellow in pursuit of the title Master Bard. His knowledge of ancient cultures and languages drew him into sympathy with the Moonstars' goals. He has taken to wearing no other color than pale gray, a visible tribute to the nearly invisible silver-moon-and-star device tattooed above a pair of remarkably red and bushy eyebrows. Khelben is grooming Lord Evenmist for a high position in the Moonstars, in hope that he will gather the Harpers of the Moonshaes under this new banner.
(NG male Tethyrian human Brd3). Young Lord Hawkwinter has a passionate fondness for old tales, an extensive personal library, and, I might add, admirable fashion sense. He has not yet allied himself with the Moonstars, but Khelben has privately expressed interest in recruiting this young nobleman. Taeros is not a Full Fellow, but he is keenly interested in the lore taught at the college, spending many hours at New Olamn and in the library of the new church of Oghma. Taeros is something of a scribbler and his satirical commentaries on all things pertaining to Waterdeep are circulated on broadsheets and posted in popular taverns. Rumor credits him to be the author of Deep Waters, a popular collection of Waterdeep tales dedicated to the young King Azoun V of Cormyr. He is also notable for his close friendship with a certain rising young politician, and for his remarkable cloak woven from threads magically spun of amber and gold. He has been entrusted with a slipshield, a rare elven magic item that allows him to trade shapes with any sentient being. This magic item is nearly impossible to detect or trace. Created to protect the royal family of Evermeet, several came to Waterdeep after the sahuagin attack, a gift from the elven queen to Piergeiron. They add yet another layer of secrecy as to the identity of the city's hidden rulers. No more than a dozen people in Waterdeep know of their existence, so Taeros's possession of a slipshield marks him as someone the hidden powers of Waterdeep consider worthy of trust and destined for greater things.
(N male half-orc Rog5). Xingrum is, depending upon one's point of view, a stunningly handsome orc or a "ruggedly attractive" human. He has a fine baritone voice, but is better known for his athletic ability and enjoyment of an invigorating brawl. Tall and muscular, he is surprisingly light on his feet and is particularly at home in and around water. An expert swimmer, he's also an odds-on favorite in hippogriff water polo - one of the exotic spectator sports currently fashionable among coin-heavy Waterdeep gamblers. His chiseled features and lantern jaw have aged well and still catch many a feminine eye, and he has perfected the art of closing the deal by flashing just a hint of tusk in a bad-boy smile a vampire might envy - always delivered with a bard's flawless timing. His minor fame makes him a sought-after drinking companion to wealthy young Waterdhavians and something of a hero to the city's orc-blooded sell-swords and ruffians, so he's able to insinuate himself into nearly any bit of ongoing mischief.
(NE female gnome Rog4). One so seldom encounters an evil gnome that Vanista would be remarkable for that fact alone, She is known for her performances on complicated and occasionally eccentric musical instruments of gnomish design, and is a virtuoso hurdy-gurdy performer. Her primary claim to fame is the acerbic wit that has made her a popular guest at festhalls and private parties. Engaging her in conversation is like dancing on the edge of a volcano - no one knows when the lava will spew forth or whom it might scald next - but people take great delight in her biting comments. She is adept at gathering information as many Waterdhavians whisper secrets about their rivals in her ear, hoping she'll make bitter use of them, Vanista is so small and slender she is frequently mistaken for a halfling, but woe betides anyone who voices this observation in her hearing. With her fresh-faced beauty, apple cheeks, and glossy, nut-brown hair, Vanistra has the appearance of a miniature milkmaid, Her dainty appearance and amusing conversation are misleading, for her small hands have been bloody more than once. Despite the cruel streak that emerges through her witticisms, only paladins and the very perceptive are likely to perceive her dark nature. Vanista is a passionate advocate for her fellow gnomes, and she supports the Moonstars because she considers them to be far more aware of and responsive to the needs of Small Folk than any other society or government. Her evil nature is a detriment to her becoming a Moonstar, but she could become a valuable contact.