Lore-Win: The Blackstaff of Waterdeep
In any world, you’re almost guaranteed to find at least one notable individual with a title named after an item. “The Hammer”, “The Boulder”, “The Rock”. Whoever they are, they tend to carry a certain level of respect.
At least, within a certain organization.
But for some, their respect spread wider. The title is a mark of power, one that leaves their very name enough to send ripples up and down the Sword Coast.
A title like The Blackstaff, for example.
Welcome to Lore-Win, the Dungeons and Dragons lore series. I, as always, am your humble Loremaster, Sokar. Today, we shall be delving to the center of one of Faerun’s greatest cities to look at a legacy title that holds great power in name, and in the arcane. Not into the earth where the devious Halaster dwells, but up, into a spire at the heart of the city where a more public-facing figure resides.
Before The Blackstaff
So, the question begs, “Who or what is the Blackstaff?”
Well, Blackstaff is a who, a what, and a where. All three of which are interconnected.
It's also a Legendary Artifact.
The Blackstaff is a powerful artifact, a staff wielded by a powerful mage. It is the holder of that staff. And it is a tower that is the home of the mage who is master of the staff itself, and Archmage of Waterdeep as a city-state.
The first such mage was Khelben Arunsun, a human mage born to a half-elf noble named Arun Maerdrym and a human ranger named Arielimnda. Khelen’s father hailed from the ancient city of Myth Drannor, the former capital of the elven empire of Cormanthyr. In fact, his father was the first half-elf born to a noble elven family of that ancient city.
Khelben was born in 414 DR, and unlike many powerful human wizards, he would live a normal human number of years. At least, the first time he would.
After working himself hard to make a name for himself and prove himself in the eyes of his elven peers, Khelben’s death would come when he was only 50 years. Of course, given that no blackstaff has come into existence thus far, it is obvious that like so many other heroes, this death would prove to be less definite in nature than to most mere mortals.
In 464 DR, Khelben came across his father in the desert of Anauroch— formerly the lush plans of the Netherese Empire. Here, his father had been escorting his then-wife and children, and here his father encountered the phaerimm.
Remember these things?
Source: Nethril: Empire of Magic (2e)
The phaerimm attacked, and Khelben’s father battled the leech-like creatures. Khelben joined in the combat and both fought until their spells ran low and they were forced within a protective sphere.
With no escape in sight, his father struck a magic staff with a magic axe and caused an explosion that killed them both and turned the sand to glass.
And then, Khelben lived once more.
The mage had managed to gain the attention of the goddess of magic, Mystra. His selfless sacrifice resulted in her saving him from death, and resurrecting him as her chosen.
And it would still be nearly 700 years before he would arrive in Waterdeep.
In 1150 DR, Khelben traveled to the city of splendors and constructed his tower, then named Arunsun Tower. In 1179 DR, he, the great mage Elminster, and others were forced to defend the tower from a shapeshifting race known as the malaugrym.
But it is not Khelben that was granted the title of Blackstaff, but instead that of his grandson.
Or, well, kind of.
Khelben’s grandson, Khelben the Younger, did as young mages do and took to the planes, disappearing from Faerun. Khelben thus took the place of his grandson and assumed his role in life, little to the knowledge of anyone outside a few trusted individuals.
And he gained the title thanks to the powerful staff he held. It is said that each time he left the tower he chose a different staff. Yet all shared the same colour.
Khelben himself played a large role in Waterdeep, taking part in the Time of Troubles and even serving as a Masked Lord of the city. However, this is a story for another time, for this is not the tale of Khelben, but of the Blackstaff overall.
Source: Descent to Undermountain
Khelben’s time as Blackstaff came to an end with the end of his second life. In the year 1374 DR, the original Blackstaff sacrificed his life. Though he never truly left Blackstaff tower, his spirit returned there even after his sacrifice to guide future occupants of his home.
The second Blackstaff was the half-elven sorceress Tsarra Chaadren.
Tsarra had been an apprentice at Blackstaff Tower and had been orphaned during the Time of Troubles. She adopted the other inhabitants as her family. When Khelben died, not only did she take his position as Blackstaff, but she also assumed his identity.
Tsarra used an illusion to appear as Khelben in public and consulted his spirit for advice. When the Spellplague struck, she was able to defend Waterdeep at first, but when it rose from the Undermountain it overwhelmed her and broke her illusory disguise. As a result, Khelben’s enemies struck at the city, only to be struck down by the Blackstaff.
When Tsarra was killed in 1399 DR, she was succeeded by a friend to both her and Khelben.
Kyriani Agrivar, a half-drow wizard and long ally to Khelben took over where her friend left off.
Kyriani before she became Blackstaff.
Source: Waterdeep: City of Splendors (3.5)
Kyriani’s story is a long and complicated one. Her split lineage was occasionally more literal, occasionally appearing as two separate beings. When her friend Tsarra died, Kyriani retrieved her Blackstaff and returned it to the tower of the same name.
There, she was named the third Blackstaff and gave a speech atop Blackstaff Tower. This became a tradition for every successive Blackstaff.
Only a year later, the fourth Blackstaff was named. Krehlan Arunsun, the son of Khelben. Little is known of him, besides that he was the child of two chosen of Mystra, yet was not one himself. He had silver hair. And he died in 1424 DR.
The fifth Blackstaff was a half-elf sorcerer named Ashemmon. Appointed in 1424 DR following Krehlan’s death, Ashemmon had been a close friend of his predecessor.
One of Ashemmon’s greatest strengths was not in magic, but instead in matters of Statecraft. He is recorded as outshining all others—besides the thousand-year-old Khelben—in the matter. In his life, he mentored a human wizard named Samark Dhanzscul.
And it was Samark who would inherit the role of Blackstaff following Ashemmon’s death. As sixth Blackstaff, Samark met a young sorceress-turned-wizard named Vajra Safahr. Vajra had come to the city to learn magic foreign to her homeland, and in Samark she eventually found both a mentor and a lover.
The Seventh Blackstaff
It was not to last.
Being the Blackstaff gains one enemies, and Samark had a rival in the wizard Khondar Naomal. Khondar was master of Waterdeep’s guild of wizards, the Watchful Order of Magists and Protectors.
But as mages often do, he wanted more. He desired to seize control of all of Waterdeep. For this, he needed to enter Blackstaff Tower. To aid in this, he had his son murder Samark, and had Vajra captured, to be tortured for information.
Meanwhile, Khondar’s son, Centiv, masqueraded as Samark using illusion magic—a theme that seems to come up often in regards to the Blackstaffs.
When Samark had been killed, the power of the Blackstaff flooded Vajra and overwhelmed her, leaving her only semi-conscious and delusional, leaving her easily captured by Khondar. The wizard wanted to take control of Blackstaff Tower, and to do this he forced information from Vajra as to how to enter the Tower.
Vajra as Blackstaff.
Source: Waterdeep: Dragon Heist
Of course, just because you get inside doesn’t mean that you can actually take control of the place.
Wizards have a nasty habit of putting things like protective wards on their property. The more powerful the wizard, the more likely that these wards are dangerous and deadly. Blackstaff Tower had been home to no less than six powerful wizards, some of whom still inhabited the structure in spirit.
Others, only seemingly so. Blackstaff Tower had been imbued with the power of a magical artifact that took imprints of those who inhabited it. These imprints, or “templates” as they are known, could communicate with others. They could also act against intruders.
So it shouldn’t be a surprise that they didn’t take kindly to Khondar and his son bursting in. Khondar fled, leaving Centiv to be torn apart by the spirits of Blackstaff Tower.
As for the seventh Blackstaff, Vajra was freed from captivity by a group drawn to her by her screams for help and left to take her rightful place of Blackstaff.
We have briefly covered the person, the title, and the tower. What about the staff itself?
The Blackstaff is a magical artifact, namely a powerful staff that is black in colour, as the name may imply.
As an artifact, it has all the powers of a staff of power and has a +4 enchantment on it. When it strikes anything magical in nature, it dispels that magic. For items, this means dispelling magic cast on them, for people, this means causing spellcasters to forget prepared spells. It can even affect the minds of psion, and drain life from living beings.
The Blackstaff, meanwhile, cannot be dispelled. Its powers can also not harm its user.
Only those who have been named Blackstaff or Blackstaff’s heir may use the artifact, though only in Dungeons and Dragons proper.
When it comes to Magic, you may wield it as your own thanks to Adventures in the Forgotten Realms. If you’d like to add the Forgotten Realms to your deck, be sure to get yours at the Wizard’s Tower.
Until next time, may fortune favour you.