Elminster's Guide to the Realms

The Shunned Street

by Ed Greenwood, illustrated by David Day, (Dragon #289)

Long before they began establishing trading enclaves outside of Thay, the Red Wizards maintained a web of undercover agents throughout Faerûn. Such local eyes and ears aided the Thayans by assisting with their slaving operations, finding and seizing powerful magic, and gathering information. They still do.

Although open trading enclaves ultimately proved more effective, the Red Wizards initially used these agents to establish hidden locations in many cities. Secretly, they meet, work shady deeds, and store goods and currency. The alley in the Sembian port Urmlaspyr known as "The Shunned Street" exemplifies these hidden Thayan safe houses. Despite the recent a establishment of open enclaves, these safe houses still exist.

The Red Wizards hide their safe houses in plain sight. Many are stables and other utilitarian buildings, a few are ruins, some are warehouses, and a surprising number are alleys like The Shunned Street.

To establish such a place, the Red Wizards find an alley or lightly used street lined with buildings - one that has a bend or two in It. They purchase the buildings adjacent to the bend, eliminating or driving out owners who refuse to sell.

One building has a well-oiled, extra-wide door (that opens inward, away from the alley) in its back wall. This door is usually locked and concealed from prying eyes by an illusory wall. The door opens into a long, shallow room that runs along the back of a warehouse. This room is separated from the rest of the building's interior by a solid wall. The left-hand end of this area is for storing captives (a crate equipped with gags and manacles is chained to the wall), and its central expanse is for storing contraband and supplies.

A support pillar in this secret room sports a concealed drawer that holds a small cache of items. The cache includes three potions of cure moderate wounds and arcane scrolls of magic missile, obscuring mist, rope trick, screen, and wall of stone.

A few paces to the right of the pillar stand two 5-foot-tall stout wooden crates firmly bolted shut (but not locked) They contain undead - skeletons that will attack anyone opening the crates.

Medium Skeletons (8): hp 6 each; Monster Manual page 165.

Beyond the crates, the right-hand end of the room terminates in what looks like a filthy, cobweb-shrouded stone wall. In truth, it's another illusory wall.

Behind the illusory wall is the true right-hand end of the secret room. Its wall sports a portal that allows access to Thardaunleiyar, a citadel in the Thayan countryside. Thardaunleiyar is typical of such portal keeps. It's co-owned by several Zulkirs and staffed by crossbow-armed guards, low-ranking wizards, and caged monsters. These defenders are ready to battle invaders who might appear through the portal, Their main function is to aid traveling Red Wizards.

The active area of the portal is 1 foot deep and looks much like a normal open doorway. This is a two-way-portal, requiring no key to operate from the Thayan side, but operating from the Sembian side only for persons who hold or carry a piece of green glass (there is a tiny pile of green glass shards in the corner at the other end of the wall where the portal stands).

The building on the other side of the alley also has an alley-access door concealed by an illusory wall. This one isn't locked and opens into a 10-foot-square cubicle with another door in its back wall.

The door frame of the first, outer door contains several rust-hued (but not really rusted) metal door stops in the shape of stylized spiders, with a long, flexible chain joining each to a second spider.

Such objects are common in Calimshan, Tharsult, and other Shining Sea areas, and they are becoming increasingly popular in ports everywhere. They're used to prop open doors for loading and unloading, the varying "widths" between legs used to catch a door-edge between them, or jammed into a hinge angle of an open door to keep it open. A single person can take a door-spider away (allowing a door to slam shut) by kicking or pulling at its second spider. Double doors can be propped open with a pair of these. Rather than carefully stepping over the chain stretched between, the last person through drags a foot to catch the chain and drag both spiders away from the doors; doors constructed with weights so that they'll swing closed unless held open by some means are common in the warmer, more insect-infested realms.

These door-spiders have been enchanted into animated constructs that obey the commands of any Red Wizard.

Animated Door Spiders (Tiny animated object) (6): hp 2 each.

The second door, at the back of the cubicle is false (the wall is solid), as is the floor of the cubicle (it's another illusory wall, covering the open top of a 10-foot-square, 60-foot-deep spiked pit trap).

Illusion over Spiked Pit Trap (60 ft. Deep): CR 4; no attack roll necessary (6d6), +10 melee (1d4 spikes for 1d4+5 points of damage per successful hit); Reflex save (DC 20) avoids; Search (DC 20); Disable Device (DC 20).

A pace further along the alley from the illusion-hidden door (in the back alley wall of the same building) is a quite visible, broken door that opens into a wall, where a former opening into rooms beyond has been bricked-over.

The door, although make to look broken, is actually made of very stout metal. The door is fashioned so that it seems stuck to the wall, and opening it is difficult. Releasing the door requires a successful Search check (DC 20) followed by a successful Disable Device check (DC 20). The door can be simply forced open with a successful Strength check (DC 30). The door is actually a false door, and once opened it reveals a powerful magical trap. The wall behind the false door bears a carefully inscribed symbol of death. The symbol is triggered whenever anyone opens the door and reads it.

Symbol (Death) Trap: CR 10, death to 150 hit points worth of creatures; Fortitude save (DC 22) negates; (DC 33); Disable Device (DC 33).

The Shunned Street has a final defense - a network of arcane mark wards. In their dealings with others in the city, the Red Wizards always attempt to place an object marked with an arcane mark into the hands of those they're dealing with. Items from Red Wizard trading enclaves are so marked, as are most of a Red Wizard's personal belongings. The Thayans are firmly dedicated to getting marked objects into the hands of their foes. So much so that they will often self such items for less than they are worth.

All Red Wizards in the city are required to maintain an arcane mark ward in or near the Shunned Street. This network of wards at least partially ensures that the Thayans are apprised of the movements of powerful individuals near the alley. Any time a marked object or person gets too close to the Shunned Street, one of the Thayan wizards in the city alerts his fellows of the intrusion. The mages maintain the arcane foci necessary to cast scrying on those who have brought the marked objects too close to the hidden alley.

Between the Thayans dedicated distribution of objects bearing arcane marks, the arcane mark wards, and diligent use of scrying, the red Wizards are rarely surprised in their hideout.

Elminster's Notes:

Know ye that this particular street gained its name among beggars and street thieves first, undoubtedly because of the high probability that folk sleeping or lurking in it often disappear.

It represents the most basic of the Red Wizards' covert rendezvous points (little more than portal defenses, in truth): many I've seen are far more elaborate than this one. Yet the simpler and lower-profile installations seemed to work the best: others allowed their Red Wizard users to indulge their love of nasty traps and grand defenses, but these were inevitably discovered and disposed of. Passing unnoticed is always the best armor. I've heard of angered local thieves driving Red Wizards out of alleys like the Shunned Street by firing crossbows from one direction while sending burning carts crashing into the alley from the other direction. If the Thayans retreat into their hidden warehouse rather than giving battle, the thieves stop the carts by the illusion concealed doors, smoking the Red Wizards out of hiding. Once the Thayans retreat through their portal, the thieves hastily strip the area of valuables and flee, leaving traps behind.

For obvious personal reasons. I cannot endorse the general populace's low opinion of wizards, but in the case of the Red Wizards, I understand the feeling all too well.

When I discover one of these secret areas, I switch the portal to a more appropriate destination (like ten or more feet above the poisoned blades of their own pit trap, for example). Life should be rich in such simple amusements.

Elminster's Guide to the Realms