Candlekeep: Nice and Accurate Prophecies
Whether it be Earth, Greyhawk, The Forgotten Realms, or Wildemount, you’ll find the realm to be full of life, the vast countrysides dotted with settlements that hide their own histories and tales, bound in books or told by elders to the new generations around fires.
In Fourth Edition, one might have called these “points of light”. But in most places we have a simpler name for them.
Or “Tor”, “Thorp”, “Hamlet”, “Village”, “Stronghold”... really, the variety of names is bound only by the endless adaptability of the English language. And today, I, your ever faithful Loremaster, have the tale of one particular such settlement. A settlement that not only stores a vast archive of tales, but was caught in one of the greatest tales to reshape the very Realms themselves.
Down a lone road on a peninsula, atop a volcanic crag along the Sword Coast, looking out over the Sea of Swords itself, lays Candlekeep. Outwardly a mere remote fortress, Candlekeep is more than it seems; for inside the keep’s walls lies a library without parallel in all the lands of Faerun.
Within the walls lay the dozen towers of the library, the Great Library itself, and the Court of Air. The court is a cobblestone courtyard which houses a grand eating hall, a bunk room, and a temple dedicated to the Lord of Knowledge, Oghma. Beneath the structure lay the catacombs, and beneath the catacombs lay the vaults said to contain hidden and forbidden knowledge incomparable to any other on Toril.
Candlekeep by night.
Amusingly for a place that gathers knowledge, the origins of this fortress library are debated. This is due in large to the number of notable individuals who have called Candlekeep home throughout its storied history.
Notably, Alaundo the seer was one such figure. In fact, it is said by some - both in our world and Faerun - that Candlekeep originally rose up around the walls of his humble tower. These rumours, however, are just that. Rumours. Hearsay. Untruths.
As much as there are such things when it comes to a fictional setting, that is.
The truth is that Candlekeep was founded hundreds of years before Alaundo’s arrival. The details on its founding are scant, but what is known is the year. By the Dale-Reckoning (or DR for short) calendar, the library fortress was first settled in -200 DR. Whereas Alaundo would not settle within its boundaries until 75 DR; 275 years later.
Alaundo’s arrival was, however, the next event of note that took place in Candlekeep. The seer would become known for being the singular prophet whose predictions held true, whether they be as small as “A golden unicorn shall travel unmolested through the length of Waterdeep" or as grand as "White birds shall vanish from the North, and great evil shall die and be reborn".
But while his future would become known just as surely as he made the future itself known, Alaundo’s past was unknown even by those whom he lived with. It was believed by his colleagues that he had lived in a port city along the Sword Coast due to stray comments he had made, but given that there is no shortage of such cities in the region, this does little to pin down his origins any further than saying, “well, he probably came from Faerun.”
While Alaundo’s past was mysterious, his reasons to settle in Candlekeep were anything but. For his entire life, the seer loved books, so where better to settle than the greatest library in the realm?
But Alaundo’s presence brought a new purpose to Candlekeep.
In life, it was believed that Alaundo “dreamed” of events that were yet to come, and through multiple such dreams could weave together the events of the future to create his prophecies. The exact nature behind these dreams has been the subject of great debate. Perhaps they were inspired by the gods, or perhaps Alaundo was the avatar of a god. But this too is unknown.
What is known is that following the seer’s death, his citadel in Candlekeep became a place for his followers to venerate his prophecies and a place for the accumulation of all knowledge in the world. To this day, novice monks march through the halls and continually chant the prophecies. Every century their chant grows shorter as each foretold event comes to pass and is cast from the chant down into the annals of history. This chant never ends, not through any supernatural means, but merely by the monks working in shifts to ensure that the repetition of these prophecies continues at all hours.
All the cookbooks an adventurer will ever need. No, really.
Candlekeep as seen in Sword Coast Adventurer's Guide.
For most of its history, Candlekeep remained peaceful. The most contact its denizens had with danger and adventure were the many adventurers who would travel there to seek guidance and knowledge from the towers of tomes housed within.
Browsing, however, came with a strict set of requirements. First, visitors must arrive bearing the sigil, seal, or sign of a powerful mage of the realm who take responsibility for them, and must behave themselves as such. Even mages like Elminster can be put “on probation” by the monks within should those bearing their seals misbehave.
Like, say, starting up a mage’s duel in the reading room. Something that has put Elminster’s name in particular into something of a troubled position with the fortress.
Secondly, visitors must each donate a valuable book (10k gold or more) to Candlekeep’s collection.
And third, assuming that no wizard’s duels or thriftiness occur, visitors may only browse the collection for nine days and nine nights. No longer. On the morning of the tenth day, they will be given a choice: leave, or join the keep as an acolyte.
Other than granting access to the vast library within, Candlekeep offers other services. These include the advice from their staff of sages, copying books of both the regular and magical variety, copying maps, and putting together manuscripts from their vast collection of texts to be sold throughout the land.
The monks who inhabit Candlekeep are an order known as the Avowed. They are led by a Keeper of the Tomes, under whom serves the First Reader. The monks' higher ranks were filled in by the Great Readers, while the rest of the monks attended general duties underneath them.
Candlekeep is also defended by a dozen armed monks, commanded by the Gatewarden. There are an additional four Watchers acting as their officers, and the Keeper of the Emerald Door who enjoys a special role. Namely, the Keeper stays outside Candlekeep's walls as both sentry for the monks within, and concierge for would-be-visitors.
Speaking of the Emerald Door, the gate into Candlekeep is more than just a simple gate. It’s also part of the many wards that guard the library within. Besides its natural defenses, being atop a crag facing the sea and the walls that enclose it, the main gate is made of a black metal impervious to lightning and divination magic.
In addition, Candlekeep has other, magical defenses. One of these is the Ghost Dragon, Miirym, who guards the catacombs where past sages of the Avowed lay. In addition, the library has a number of wards defending the buildings and items within. These include defenses against fire, for obvious reasons. One of the greatest defenses wards is the Great Shield, a magical shield which repels or incinerates those who intend harm to the library and its inhabitants. However, calling upon this is a more complicated process for the monks. Complicated enough, say, to be a large group-play module requiring at least four parties.
For much of Candlekeep’s history, however, nothing so exciting as to warrant the Great Shield occurred.
That boring history would take a turn over a thousand years after Alaundo’s death.
The events should not have been a surprise, especially to those learned in Alaundo’s prophecies. The seer himself saw what was coming, and so predicted:
“The Lord of Murder shall perish
But in his doom he shall spawn a score of mortal progeny
Chaos will be sown from their passing
So sayeth the wise Alaundo”
Of course, what a mortal seer knew, so too did Bhaal, the Lord of Murder himself. Bhaal had seen his death approaching, and so took to the lands of Faerun to plant heirs. These heirs were known as the Bhaalspawn. Each was a demigod with a piece of their divine father's power. A piece of Bhaal's power that his cult planned to return to him. They planned to slaughter the Bhaalspawn and release his essence, to raise him once more.
The Harpers uncovered this plot, among them a sage named Gorion who lived in Candlekeep between his adventures. Gorion and his companions learned of a dark ritual planned at the Temple of Bhaal in the Forest of Wyrms. There, they found many Bhaalspawn who were intended for sacrifice. Many Bhaalspawn - and Gorion’s former lover, Alianna, who was a priestess of the Lord of Murder.
In the battle, Alianna was slain, but Gorion brought two Bhaalspawn back to Candlekeep. One - the player character of a little title called Baldur’s Gate - who he raised as his own, and the other, Imoen, who was cared for by the innkeeper, Winthrop.
However, another Bhaalspawn learned of his divine heritage and had a darker goal. Sarevok Anchev set out to slay his siblings and inherit the power of the Lord of Murder for himself. Sarevok learned of his sibling in Candlekeep and sent assassins to deal with the Bhaalspawn within. But they failed, leaving Gorion and his ward to flee, and Imoen to follow them.
Pictured: Sarevok, not the friendliest guy around.
As any who have played Baldur’s Gate know, Gorion would not survive the adventure and would never return to Candlekeep.
In the course of his schemes, Sarevok destabilized the iron market around Baldur’s Gate and brought the city of Baldur’s Gate to the brink of war with the city of Amn. In an effort to stop this, members of Sarevok’s organization, the Iron Throne, traveled to Candlekeep to negotiate a treaty with the information dealers, the Knights of the Shield.
Sarevok, however, had sent many of his doppelganger agents to Candlekeep to pose as its inhabitants. Then, when his siblings returned home, he framed them for the murder of those negotiating (assuming the player didn’t actually do it), leading to their arrest. However then-First Reader, Tethtoril, aided the Bhaalspawn who escaped to thwart Sarevok’s plans.
The unfamiliar and extremely unwanted excitement in Candlekeep did not end there. As the ages ticked from the Time of Troubles into the Era of Upheaval, or "from 4th to 5th edition" as we know it on Earth, an army under the command of Asmodeus' chosen besieged Candlekeep, as depicted in the module Confrontation at Candlekeep.
Thankfully for the Avowed, this assault came as several bands of adventurers were visiting in search of knowledge. Unfortunately for them, the besieging army had agents within the keep already. These spies disabled wards, summoned demons, and obstructed access to those components needed to activate the Great Shield.
In the end, the adventurers managed to protect the monks as they called upon the shield and repelled Asmodeus’ forces.
But Candlekeep had yet more excitement to suffer through, as described in Ed Greenwood’s novel, The Herald. Infiltrated by the agents of the gods, and the Shadovar, Candlekeep’s wards are threatened yet again by the lich Larlock who seeks to drain the protections of their magic and become the new god of magic.
Thankfully for everyone who doesn’t want someone with the title of The Shadow King as god of magic, he failed. Though given that Elminster was one of the chosen who infiltrated the library, this should be no surprise.
Don't let the hat fool you, this is one of the most powerful beings in the Realms.
Taken from Realms of Magic cover.
In more recent times Candlekeep has eased its requirements for entry, to the relief of those seeking knowledge. Now a visitor need only donate a book, no longer needing the backing of a powerful mage.
To the relief of the Avowed, Candlekeep has since been quiet. The only excitement they've seen recently was in Descent Into Avernus. There, a group of adventurers stopped by for advice on how to open an infernal puzzle box. A much more welcome, and familiar task to the monks within instead of dealing with sieges, assassins, and murder.
The future of the greatest library in Faerun is uncertain with the announcement of a new Candlekeep book. Well, besides the DM. And really, what better kind of adventure module to set within than an anthology? Be sure to pre-order your copy today at The Wizard’s Tower.
But, before I sign off for this article I would like to keep my trend of tying the lore of Dungeons and Dragons to the real world in some way, for Candlekeep is also a fansite devoted to the Forgotten Realms setting, and to providing references and material to its fans.
Until our next tale,