This time around, I thought I’d take a look at a type of Non Player Character that I employ a lot in my Realmsplay but that’s seldom seen in the published Realms, thanks to the story needs of a compact game adventure, a focused short story, or a novel with a linear tale to tell (if left to my own devices, my Realms novels would be a lot more like George R.R. Martin’s Westeros books in structure: huge, sprawling tomes that follow many, many characters at once, interweaving their unfolding stories—but down the years, long-suffering Realms book editors have had to trim back my endless thirst to chop down trees to make more pages, and more, and yet more, for my epics).
I speak here of remnant nobles: that is, either the last living members of their noble lines (we saw one, Lord Adarbrent, superbly portrayed by Rosemary Jones in City of the Dead) or nobles who’ve lost their status, either by being stripped of it, or through selling their titles to others.
Some of these “fallen” fade from view entirely, drinking themselves into oblivion or of grim necessity joining the ranks of everyday working folk, some use their shrinking fortunes to more or less buy guildmasterships, or purchase grand inns, and settle into a different sort of behind-doors power running guilds, luxury establishments, or even festhalls (brothels) . . . and some become “wastrel” (in the opinions of many) dabblers and meddlers, following their whims or eccentricities; the rich or grasping-after-becoming-rich-again loners who sponsor adventurers.
Yes, some of the patrons who hire adventurers to go out and collect live or dead monsters, or monster “trophies” (scales and eggs and tusks and the like), or kidnap or beat up that person, or rescue or safely escort this other person (sometimes themselves) are these “remnant nobles.”
Fallen nobles offer a DM a delightful opportunity to portray drawling, silly over-the-top monocled dandies or stammering upper-crust twits, but players should beware: many such “dandified idiots” are anything but: they are wily, shrewd, miss-nothing, calculating survivors who wear their frivolity like a mask, to deceive others into underestimating them.
Adventurers they have dealings with, who think they can be bullied, should consider that such a fallen noble may be the very sort of person who wears poisoned rings, or wields envenomed darts or swordcanes—and who has a hired gang of loyal bullyblades of the rough alleys at their beck and call. And to those who ask why a noble would ever be accepted by such “sharknecks” (a Waterdhavian or Marsembian term, not one used in Suzail, by the way), consider the usefulness of a well-spoken master of etiquette, socially connected, literate, and with the acting abilities that most nobles acquire just to reach adulthood without ending up jailed or worse, to backalley louts who must negotiate with guilds or the City Watch or swift-witted, successful merchants.
Yet treat a fallen noble fairly, and they will tend to be the most airy, witty, and jovial of sponsors, paying loyal adventurers handsomely to carry out a nigh-endless succession of occasionally kooky or frivolous, but almost always interesting missions, from safely procuring and conveying a rare sort of brandy from a particular shop on the eastern shores of the Sea of Fallen Stars all the way to Suzail or Waterdeep and into their hands, to safely escorting an old flame who’s sent them a pleading missive from somewhere afar from that distant place to join them, or hole up at their country place. Some of the darker-of-morals fallen nobles use adventurers to settle old scores, with thefts, kidnappings, and even assassinations—or send them to disrupt and ruin weddings or ceremonies or other “big days” of their rivals.
These days, Mirt of Waterdeep could almost be considered a fallen noble, if he wasn’t so busy being a sort of roving secret agent for Laeral, but I have down the decades of Realmsplay employed several lesser-known remnant nobles. Here are two of them:
Lord Ashurdown Maeraphor Hardringstone: Imagine a tall, thin, graceful Vincent Price lookalike whose moustache is Salvador Dali length (and curled and waxed), and who has a pince-nez on a ribbon ready down the inside right breast of his richly-embroidered doublets (fine silken handkerchiefs and a trio of silver-plated throwing stilettos ride in the inside left breast). He glides through life smiling faintly, drawling oh-so-jaded observations (“Well, if you must, commoner. Practicalities bore me so.”) and tossing gold pieces out of his sleeve as “rewards” for cleverness or amusing him or because he sees a need (in his sleeve rides a leather flatpurse of six coins; a magnetic catch holds it closed—one of very few small, personal, portable magnetic catches currently to be found outside the most luxurious dwarven houses, or west of Durpar). “Ash,” as only about a dozen old Waterdhavian nobles call him, is the son of a loyal Cormyrean knight ennobled by King Foril of Cormyr for “gallant and vital service to the Crown” early in Foril’s reign. A knight who had no other offspring, so now Ash is the last living Hardringstone. When his mother fled the Forest Kingdom with riches of mysterious origin after some strife with Sembian spies in Suzail that claimed Ashurdown’s father’s life, she took her son to Waterdeep, where they lived in seclusion in modest South Ward rented rooms for decades. Only after his mother died did Ashurdown “reveal himself” to the city of Splendors, where he has “played the lord” ever since.
Ashurdown detests nobles who oppress, harass, or harm commoners almost as much as he hates government corruption and Watch thuggery; he will hire adventurers to thwart, play pranks on, or openly slap down nobles, lawkeepers, and courtiers who attract his ire. He also thirsts to see nobles using their wealth and position to do something creative that brightens lives in Waterdeep and elsewhere, and will send hired adventurers to aid them, goad them, manipulate them, and otherwise try to push them into such innovative actions. (Asherdown has been behind several successful Dock Ward “renewal” schemes, where nobles buy slum buildings, rebuild them better and larger, and rent them to the same tenants—whom they housed elsewhere during the rebuildings. As a result, an astonishing number of lowlives and alley toughs see him as a personal hero.)
Lady Tonthra Kothont: Expelled and shunned by her own family for sponsoring a band of assassins to try to eliminate her parents and siblings—they botched their assignments, obviously—Tonthra hired mages to change her appearance with magic, relocated to Castle Ward to earn a living as a courtesan, and only after she’d outlived her parents, older sisters, and brothers resumed her true looks and name. (There are still Kothonts, but they find it safer to simply ignore her, and she wants nothing to do with them or their city properties, nor to attend nobles’ feasts and revels, so she and her kin manage to peacefully co-exist.)
Today, Lady Tonthra is a supple, white-at-the-temples but still beautiful and agile woman who has a sharp beak of a nose but the attractive cheekbones and the strikingly dark eyebrows of all the Kothonts. She has a husky, purring voice, is given to sardonic observations in which she refers to herself or others as “one” (as in: “One finds it drafty in here, one does.”) and prefers to wear gowns or even leather armor that are always of archaic fashion; styles popular a century ago. She always wears expensive boots, and is always armed with more bladed weapons than the eye can readily see (usually having half a dozen or more throwing knives sheathed under clothing, all over her person).
Lady Tonthra craves entertainment—and luckily for herself and the safety of those around her, many things in life amuse her. Like many other bored nobles, she will set matters in motion, causing confrontations or minor crises, just to see what befalls.
When not slyly stirring up trouble, Lady Tonthra likes to seek out the company of adventurers and young outlanders visiting Waterdeep, usually in taverns and clubs, to hear their tales and to see if she can manipulate them into doing something bold or reckless, so she can watch the ensuing mayhem. She long ago found and plundered her father’s secret caches of money (that is, monies to support mistresses and shady ventures and safe houses that he kept secret from the rest of the Kothont family), and as a result is quite wealthy; she uses these funds to sponsor adventurers to undertake their own dream expeditions, particularly if these schemes will somehow embarrass or cause difficulties for this or that noble of Waterdeep, or any of the Masked Lords. And she likes to collect monster trophies, and will pay handsomely for dragon fangs or other visually striking “beastly bits.”
As you can see at a glance, these NPCs can be entertaining “plot movers” who stir up trouble with glee at any time, setting fun on fire around a gaming table. Happy moments of roleplaying arson!