Marshals and Heralds in the Realms

From: Power of Faerûn

Almost every city and market town has its lawkeepers (the "Watch" locally garrisoned soldiers, or both), but what of the countryside - the open road and meandering backcountry lanes, haunts of outlaws and brigands? Patrols upholding law and order can't be everywhere at all times, and Faerûn never seems to know shortages of cutpurses, thugs, or prowling monsters. How can society prevail against them and make every road safe enough for locals to walk alone to market, to say nothing of outlander peddlers, pilgrims, and lone-wagon merchants?

In many wilderlands, of course, swords and spells are the only law. Even large armed bands are regarded as food by lurking beasts. Yet claimed lands (realms) should be safer than that, and usually are. Not through smiles from the gods or some magic emanating from every border-cairn, but because of hard, diligent work in all weather done by gamekeepers, foresters (many of them rangers expert in the territory over which they range), traveling Harpers and other bards (who gather information and pass it along to the authorities, innkeepers, tavernmasters, and folks who shelter them for a night), and armed patrols of lawkeepers.

Among those lawkeepers are marshals (called "king's officers" in some places and "lawswords" in others) and heralds. The former are government officers, enforcing the law of the land. The latter are government-sponsored but quasi-independent neutral arbitrators of etiquette, whose actions reduce deception and encourage certain laws and customs to hold sway from realm to realm.

Long Arms of the Law

Marshals and heralds contribute to local maintenance of law and order in very different ways. Marshals wield the authority of the ruler or government they represent, often commanding others and using the sword and the threat of force. Heralds wield the authority of "the Heralds" across Faerûn, and their weapons are social censure and the power to fine offenders and to insist on proper courtesies. Both might be called on to act as witnesses or even criminal investigators - and if wise, they work together, maintain cordial relations, and take care to understand the rights, purview, and limitations of the other.

What Marshals Do

A marshal might or might not have a badge or a uniform, but does bear something (perhaps just a belt buckle or tattoo of particular design) identifying her as an officer of the ruler or government, charged to uphold and apply the law. Marshals investigate, arrest/and "show the flag" (encourage law-abiding behavior by their visible presence, reminding folk that even a distant throne or ruling council has eyes, ears, and a ready hand right here). In some cases, marshals serve as judge, jury, and executioner. In others, they take prisoners and convey them to magistrates or other officials for trial and sentencing.

Marshals are usually responsible for a place or district, or are sent forth on a particular mission ("Find and bring back Orgroth the Damned, dead or alive" or "Find out who's taking slaves in the backlands and stop them"). They are usually mounted and well-armed, might be armored and provided with funds, and almost always have the authority to commandeer resources (such as food, funds, horses, armories, and the use of warehouses, homes, or cages) and government personnel (local Watch officers, soldiers, and tax or other officials). Sometimes they have authority over other folk, from militias to local gentry and nobility. These powers - and how they use them - tend to make them respected, feared, or hated.

A marshal observes, learns, hunts down, arrests, kills or fights, threatens, and gives orders, in the name of enforcing a government's laws and its policies (expressed as decrees and sometimes also as secret orders). She "wears authority like a cloak" as one long-ago anonymous Tethyrian clerk put it. Most people understand all too well what a marshal is, and is likely to do.

Heralds: Quieter and More Mysterious

Heralds tend to keep lower profiles than marshals, and their roles, nature, and duties are far more often misunderstood. Properly understanding what a herald is and does requires some slight familiarity with heraldry.


In Faerûn, heraldry is a practical matter, not class snobbery or exclusion. Nobles might have haughty mottoes, elaborate blazons, and intricate rules of social etiquette, but on the battlefield simple badges must be visible - and recognizable - on shields, breastplates, and fluttering pennants, or friends might kill friends (or even kin) unintentionally. As the local herald Artrumpet (of Hawkhill in northeastern Amn) put it, "Blazons keep you from gutting your own father - unless you're planning to."

Led by the nearly legendary High Heralds, heralds across Faerûn administer strict rules of heraldry independent of the whims of rulers, proud pretensions of noble houses, and deceptions of those pretending to be noble.

Many books of real-world heraldry are available to gamers interested in creating blazons (coats-of-arms) and simplified badges for armigerous folk (such as royalty, nobility, and knights). Such details aren't delved into here,* beyond noting that Cormyr and most other realms of Faerûn follow the "classic" rules of real-world British heraldry as administered by the College of Arms. Notable exceptions include Waterdeep, which breaks the heraldic rule of "no metal on metal" (in heraldry, metallic hues such as gold and silver are metals, whereas blue and red are colors). Also, in real-world heraldry, many women use lozenges and other "nonshield shapes" to display their arms rather than the shields men use, but females in Faerûn use shields.

Most folk "know" the Heralds stop people copying other people's shields too closely or exactly, and rule on who's really noble and who isn't, who outranks whom, and "matters like that."

The real daily activities of the Heralds (since they decided to stop trying to decide or influence who sat on what throne, and split from the Harpers) are much broader and more influential. As the sage Amaundur wrote in 1269 DR, "The Heralds are the walls of civility between us that keep every realm from raiding and skirmishing with its neighbors. They make possible trade, prosperity, and all that is civilized in Faerûn today."

What the Heralds Do

The most simple and frequent everyday work of any herald is to govern heraldry very strictly (at least, the display of anything more elaborate than a personal badge consisting of a single charge or device). If you proclaim yourself "The Dread Baron Bluto" and dress your followers in scarlet tunics with a yellow gauntlet making a fist on it, you can do so freely - but if you add a hunting horn (a "second charge") or a motto, or display the horn and gauntlet on a shield-shaped field so the result resembles a formal coat-of-arms, expect to soon be visited by a herald.

If you have a plain orange shield and paint a boar's head at its center, that head is one charge (and the Heralds will leave you alone, even if you then use that same boar's head as a badge on the armored breasts, backs, and shoulders of your men-at-arms for battle recognition). But if you then think your shield looks rather plain and add a horizontal sword beneath the boar's head, that's a second charge - and the local herald comes calling. (If you change the boar's head to have it impaled by a sword, you've merely altered your single charge, and the herald will only visit if you have spread around a lot of contracts and other documents, banners, and the like that still display your original boar's head - because he wants to make sure he doesn't have two boar's-head-using persons dwelling near each other. He also wants to warn you that there are rules for heraldry, and you should always talk to him before making changes.)

What the Heralds don't do is police politics. They'll impart the existing rules of precedence in a realm or qualifications for a title, but won't forbid a ruler to change or defy those rules except in matters of heraldic display.

For example, it's absolutely forbidden to ride into battle in the colors or displaying the arms of someone else as a deception. No mercenary will accept employment with someone the Heralds have deemed to have done so, for fear of themselves being declared "outlaw," and therefore reduced to brigandry.

The Heralds do step in to make public rulings as dispassionate third-party judges in disputes over court rules or noble status or heraldry, when asked to by anyone in a realm, however lowly (not just rulers or courtiers). They are famous for not taking bribes or showing any favoritism. Whether they decide that your breakaway kingdom is legitimate and worthy of having its own blazons and titles as set by you the new ruler, or not, it's their decision, and not something you can - or should try to - influence.

Nobility and the Heralds

In general, nobility isn't "portable." You can arrive in Waterdeep claiming to be "Lord So-and-so of Athkatla," and be fawned over by innkeepers who want your business, but your influence will extend only as far as your coins do - and the personal opinions Piergeiron and senior members of the City Guard and Watchful Order hold of you. You don't automatically get special treatment, either in society or under law, though members of the "native" noble houses of Waterdeep do.

Many ambitious adventurers have set themselves up as nobility in the Border Kingdoms, conquering a few pastures and woodlots, declaring it a realm, and giving themselves all sorts of grand and often ridiculous titles, such as "Lord Emperor of the Lower Middens."

The swung sword is the usual way adventurers become noble, aside from wooing and marrying nobility (minstrelry and lore are rich in tales of rough warriors who forcibly wooed fair noble maids, who after marriage fell deeply in love with their new lords, but such sources tend to be more romantic than daily real life; in truth, many force-taken maids have poisoned or daggered their lords). If you just want to be called "Lord," amass a staggering amount of money, take up residence in Sembia, and proclaim yourself a lord, as scores of individuals have done in the last few centuries.

As individuals, the High Heralds can defend themselves very effectively using magic items of tremendous power that come with their office. However, like the far more numerous lower-ranking local heralds, they customarily do nothing by force. What they do is censure - and in this they wield great influence because they establish noble rankings (precedence) outside the walls of a city or the borders of a realm and legitimize status, Very few calm or sober people dare to argue against or defy their judgments.

Those old-money Waterdhavian nobles might "cut you dead" (newly-married-into-junior-noble-family gallant that you are) at a revel in Waterdeep. However, it's the Heralds, not those nobles, who determine your true rank among the nobles if you all show up at a dinner in Scornubel and squabble over who gets the best seat. The same holds true for nobles of Cormyr and anywhere, else west of Thay. The authority of the Heralds is especially valued by folk of Sembia or the Border Kingdoms, where all titles are recent, fanciful, and often invented by their current holders.

If you, newly confirmed as a baron, arrive at a temple in your own barony and demand audience, dinner, a bed for the night, or some assistance, and the Heralds dispute your title, the priests will politely refuse you as "an impostor," even if they know you're the rightful title holder - because the judgment of the Heralds affects even their status (not within their faith, but in the eyes of the wider populace).

Disputing with the Heralds

Mercenary companies bow to the Heralds too, because the word of the Heralds is their chief defense in all instances of someone else using their battle-standards and committing atrocities whilst impersonating them. Again, the Heralds say nothing about the recruiting or behavior of mercenaries, only about what blazons, "colors," and badges they use.

If someone adds a second charge to a badge they're using, and this is reported to a local herald, the herald will consult the rolls. If the herald has any suspicion this usage is unlawful, they'll immediately report everything to a superior (so if anything subsequently happens to them, the warning stands).

Mistreating, threatening, harming or slaying, or magically influencing any herald is grounds for instant dismissal from whatever rank you have... so it's a meaningless punishment only to a brigand ("robber baron") or a royal heir (who will still be of royal blood whatever they do). Everyone else loses their noble or gentle status, and can expect to be pointedly not recognized in negotiations (no one will sign contracts or treaties, with them, no one will swear fealty to them, and so on, until the Heralds publicly pardon them - which usually takes a lot of redress and grovelling). Royalty in disfavor can still inherit thrones, but can't rule effectively without that pardon, which means they must either abdicate in favour of offspring or rule through a Regent. All of this means the Heralds rarely have to enact censure; the mere threat is usually sufficient. The Heralds publicly do nothing if you practice regicide, have a civil war, or unlawfully torture or trump up charges against rivals or rightful rulers. They only care about the blazons you use, how you use them, and the lineage you claim.

In the case of a self-assumed blazon, a herald will visit the offender, usually with a Harper or foreign merchant plus a priest of Oghma and some foreigners with titles (knights of a distant realm) as formal witnesses and informal bodyguards, and politely insist on an audience with the offender. At that audience, the herald will explain the transgression and request that the offender cease, immediately and forever, using the offending blazon or displaying any arms beyond a simple single-charge badge - or on the spot petition the Heralds for formal permission to officially use a blazon. Most heralds can tell at a glance if a blazon needs changes and will order them, but a few "borderline" cases will be passed to more senior heralds for judgment. It's up to the herald whether or not the offender has to obscure (or can use) the blazon until it's approved, modified, or denied. In practice, this decision has a lot to do with the attitude of the offender. Penalties for failure to comply will be politely explained (and confirmed by the witnesses), and matters are then left to the offender.

Paying the Heralds

Fees are typically levied on commoners by the Heralds only when a commoner petitioning for a blazon wants the skilled artists heralds can call on (whose identities they keep secret) to render a full (huge plaque, for wall or door) coat of arms (usual bare-minimum cost: 1,000 gp), a grant of arms (on vellum) in triplicate (1,000 gp per trio), a painted shield or shield cover (500 gp), and a banner (500 gp). Once these have been delivered and the fees paid, the petitioner is free to make as many copies as they like and will be instructed on how much they can modify these copies without "offending against the Law of Arms" (the very complicated and constantly revised private code kept by the heralds).

Battle-banners of mercenaries or formal armed forces can be augmented with devices to commemorate battles without express permission of the Heralds, so long as these augmentations are done in the approved manner (which the Heralds will freely explain if asked, and most sages and army veterans know).

So nothing physically stops an adventurer from inventing his own full coat of arms and outfitting his private army in like fashion, without a word or coin to any herald - so long as he never has to enter into a treaty, contract, or any other formal agreement with anyone, or avail himself of any services of a priesthood.

The Heralds don't pass moral judgments on the taste expressed in blazons, or on the legitimacy of holders, as long as the holders haven't been informed by a herald of the Laws of Arms as pertaining to them personally and then ignored those instructions.

The Heralds are kept so busy in the Border Kingdoms and Sembia that in those lands they charge additional up-front fees for blazons (not self-bestowed titles, just the use of arms). These are typically 250 gp per person, once per grant of arms, in the Border Kingdoms, and 5,000 gp for the same thing in Sembia (reduced to 2,000 gp for unmarried children less than twelve winters old, though the moment marriage occurs or the titled parent dies, the "short" 3,000 gp fee must be paid or use of the arms must cease until it's rendered).

Nobility, gentry, and guilds everywhere are usually charged 1,000 gp to register their blazon with the Heralds, plus the limner's (artist's) fee: typically 50 gp for a shield, breastplate, doorplate, or tabard but up to 500 gp per banner, wall-tapestry, or large coat-of-arms for display on the wall of a feasting-hall or over a gate.

Heralds will levy a 500 gp fine on anyone duplicating or very closely copying (even unwittingly), someone else's blazon on a shop sign or publicly displayed banner. If use persists despite warnings (or fines go unpaid), fines escalate and heralds will contact local authorities (guilds and lawkeepers) to try to influence the offender into taking down the "false blazon."

Legitimacy and the Heralds

Thanks to heralds' fees, Sembia and the Borders are full of "Lords" who have no arms or use only a single device (such as a crescent moon, or a diagonally displayed dagger) as a badge. In practice, the Heralds will let an individual add a sheath or scabbard, ribbons, drops of blood, and a severed hand gripping a weapon without considering it a "second charge" and worthy of their attention, but adding a field (specific background) or a second, crossed weapon is definitely an additional charge. The Border Kingdoms even boast dozens of Emperors of various sorts, but only a few have purchased the right to a blazon.

The wealth and land holdings of petitioners for blazons mean nothing to the Heralds - but might matter very much to a kingdom. If the King or High Chamberlain of Realm X says you can't be a Baron of X because you don't own a barony or maintain troops and castles for the King, the Heralds will side with that complaint and tell you to either depart the realm or remove the part of your title alluding to the geographical region of the realm (you can still be "Baron Karth," but not "Baron Karth of the Stonelands"). The Heralds are very good at noticing attempts to allude to a locale by an ancient name or claim ties to a fallen or vanished realm, and frown very severely on such distortions.

Yet if you can prove your lineage entitles you to bear a title the King or High Chamberlain is denying you, the Heralds will insist on you being accorded it - which is why lots of titled folk live permanently in exile all over Faerûn, far from the lands they claim. (There's little real difference between a rich dragon's-rump with a grand house and a grander knack for inventing florid titles, and a legitimately recognized noble - except for a herald's blessing).

Heralds don't "recognize" this or that title. Rather, they say "You can't have three green crosses on your shield like that, Lord Falling-Down-Stairs, because an emperor's already using that design. Might we suggest this? Or that? We've brought along a few drawings.

In the case of a self-made Border Kingdoms ruler, the Heralds will accept his right to use a coat of arms, motto, colors, badges, and banners. They're not standing in judgment over his legitimacy; they're solely concerned with making sure he doesn't deliberately or unwittingly use heraldry that copies or might be easily mistaken for arms already in use by someone else. They really don't care if he controls land or commands a certain number of troops or subjects.

The Heralds will, however, impose fees and wield the existing Law of Arms to stop a commoner using a noble title and blazon that belongs to someone else (particularly if she pretends to be that someone else), or stop the children, friends, or creditors of someone who has a coat of arms and dies destitute all trying to use those arms as if the blazon now legitimately belongs to them (the Heralds will rule on who can and can't use it).

To extend this to the royal family of Cormyr: The approval of local elves initially gave the Obarskyrs rule, soon formalized into a crown, throne, and title arrangement. Clear, formal rule is always better than endless civil war, so the Heralds stepped in to explain to the Obarskyrs and their early courtiers: "You have the say over who gets ennobled and what titles are granted, but if you want them - and therefore your rule, too - to be recognized and respected, we set the rules you work within. We do this for all Faerûn, and will never otherwise challenge your rule. In such matters, our neutrality is always steadfast."

A trick used by certain early heralds (before the 1116 DR split with the Harpers) was to magically call back the soul of a dead ancestor as a ghostly apparition, to privately tell a recalcitrant ruler that the Heralds were right and should be obeyed - often by awakening and scaring the ruler in the dead of night. It usually worked like a charm.

The High Heralds

The legendary High Heralds are five offices (Unicorn, Black Vizor, Crescentcoat, Old Night, and Red Dragon) filled by a succession of veteran heralds who have and maintain high levels of creativity, zeal, and energy throughout their careers. No one who openly seeks such an office, or does harm to any other herald in a way that could be seen to be personally advancing toward such an office, will ever be allowed to attain it.

All rulers and high priests can propose candidates for any vacant High Herald office, but the offices are filled by appointment of the surviving High Heralds (after the High Heralds all secretly propose and investigate candidates, then vote in secret).

High Heralds might resign, become mentally unable to continue their duties and be "relieved with dignity," or die in office. If one is killed in office, by tradition his office "dies" with him; as such, there are now four "vanished" High Herald offices (the Huntsman, Manyshields, Blue Blade, and Star scepter). Over most of the years since the Harpers started the Heralds in 992 DR, there have been seven High Heralds at any given time.

Just what each High Herald does varies with every officeholder, but by tradition Unicorn has the final say in decisions (and a veto), Black Vizor is the most warlike and politically active, Crescentcoat (often held by a woman) is the most active investigator and debater, Old Night is the most scholarly and withdrawn (rarely leaving the library at the Herald's Holdfast), and Red Dragon travels the most to observe things firsthand, and is the office held by the youngest and most radical.

High Heralds have in the past served as regents and battlefield leaders (to end civil wars) in several realms, when invited to by legitimate but weak rulers or throne-heirs, but this is an unlikely (though not impossible) role for them to assume today.

You can only become a candidate for a High Herald by impressing fellow heralds with your service. This inevitably involves building great personal expertise in mastering small details of the ever-increasing, evolving rules and interpretations of blazonry. This process takes years and is beyond the scope of most role-playing, just as (barring calamities that leave High Herald offices vacant) a PC herald will have a vanishingly small chance of becoming a High Herald.

Only a handful of High Heralds exist, but there are thousands of lower-ranking heralds. Their lives (aside from the confrontations and battles bards sing about, wherein this or that High Herald dramatically used her wits and the magic of her office) tend to be more interesting than those of the largely unseen, overworked High Heralds.

The Heralds Pursuivant

The Heralds Pursuivant are the traveling envoys or messengers of the High Heralds, and are currently more than twenty beings of various races (some able to assume a variety of guises). They are senior, gifted heralds from whose ranks the five High titles are traditionally filled. They act as the apprentices and personal assistants of the High Heralds, running secret and sensitive errands as they master the staggering load of being able to think like the Law of Arms, and so always expand and interpret it correctly. They take on names and devices of their own invention (design of which is part of their training); these are discarded if they rise to High Heraldship.

The Tabards

All heralds have ceremonial tabards (overjerkins of unique design), but the Sun and Moon Tabards are the collective name of two special heraldic offices, filled for short terms (usually four years, from just before a Shieldmeet to just before the next Shieldmeet): Green Shield (who attends to the rituals, diplomacy, and secu¬rity of the Heralds' Round, a court held at each Shieldmeet to publicly render decisions as to festival datings and disputes over legitimacy, inheritance, genealogy, and blazonry) and Gauntlet (who tries to keep track of the locations, strength, performance, and current allegiances of all militias, mercenary companies, and adventuring bands; this information is normally shared only with other heralds). The Tabards work under the tutelage and direction of Old Night.

Local Heralds

Beneath the special offices are the local heralds - the workhorses who serve Faerûn daily. They serve as criers at tournaments and festivals, designers and regulators of the use of blazons, and genealogical clerks, sometimes aiding local authorities in keeping census and tax records (and sometimes acting as the rivals or opponents of corrupt local court clerks in charge of such matters).

Local heralds have personal arms (displayed on standards and on their tabards), and "purviews" (defined areas in which they hold power, such as a town, dukedom, kingdom, or court) established by the Heralds, not by any ruler. Local heraldic offices tend to have names such as Ironwind, Stormraven, and Wyvernwood.

Below is a partial list of local offices and their purviews.

Cormyr's local heralds bear as their titles the names of the settlements they're based in. Wooded and wilderland areas across Faerûn often have "wandering" heralds, such as the four (the offices of Culree, Honthallow, Maunthar, and Vorlmaer) who travel around Nimbral, assisting their "Companions" (as heralds formally address each other) who work in specific settlements.

Types of Heralds

A local herald is one assigned to a court or an area of land. Most regional (area) local heralds are independent of rulers. They watch over and assist the far more numerous court heralds who directly serve rulers - and might be corrupted or coerced by them.

A local herald can be proposed (and if a court herald will usually be sponsored in office) by a ruler, but is "confirmed in office" (or dismissed) by the Heralds, not by any ruler. Local heralds who greatly anger a ruler are often slain or forced to flee.

Attempts to magically influence, blackmail, or bully local heralds result in Harper actions against whoever does so, even if it's a king. The Heralds make it bluntly clear and understood that they expect all heralds to be free of threats, mistreatment, and coercion of any sort, and will work against a ruler who doesn't "keep safe" heralds in her realm.

Local heralds walk a difficult daily tightrope. They have a duty to advise the ruler they serve on all matters of etiquette and heraldry and are sworn to keep all heraldic activity within their territory consistent with the rules of heraldry and fully recorded (both in their personal records and in reports they make to the wider body of the Heralds).

However, their living (shelter and board) almost always comes from the ruler they served and it's desirable that they have a cordial - if strictly professional - working relationship with their ruler. This tends to arise only when they eagerly serve the ruler, anticipating needs and desires and preparing possible blazons and advice so the ruler is made aware of all possibilities and consequences of the details of heraldic rules before the ruler acts or decides on something. Many local heralds review the wordings of the ruler's letters, decrees, and proclamations after drafting by royal clerks or scribes but before being sent out or made public.

The duty of a local herald is to take great care not to make mischief or undermine or harm the image of the ruler they serve, but to act in all instances in such a way as to uphold civility and peaceful rule, promote politeness (but not at the expense of clarity), and to make absolutely sure that a ruler is shown all ways of proceeding with full and sober judgments of consequences, rather than allowing the ruler to act out of emotion, or when ill-informed or influenced by courtiers who misrepresent or omit truths.

Although courtiers are always aware of the duties (and rights) of a herald, they will often be deliberately excluded from personal meetings between a ruler and "her" local herald. Most rulers come to highly value the candor and opinions of their herald, who can act as someone to discuss matters with - in strict confidence, because a good local herald reports to the Heralds only what a ruler does or enacts, not their thinking or professed intentions.

Some rulers - such as the Obarskyrs of Cormyr - welcome heralds. In Cormyr, each "local lord" (administrator for the Crown based in every important settlement) has a local herald assigned to them. These heralds are expected to examine all land deeds, contracts, and agreements brought to them (to make sure such documents are legally correct and complete, and to report any unusual clauses or details to the ruler, through the local lord). They are also expected to report what they don't see: who never presents any documents for inspection, even when their activities suggest they should, and when crucial documents are not shown to them by someone who shows them lesser papers. The Heralds consider such scrutinizing duties right and proper, not an imposition or attempt to control or overload a herald, and will perform them diligently.

The sort of herald most often encountered traveling, "on the road" or not, is the hardest sort of herald to be: the court herald.


A court herald obeys the rules of the Heralds, but balances them daily against the needs of maintaining the confidence of the ruler they serve - and being the eyes, ears, mouth, and strong arm of that ruler abroad (and often in the backlands of the ruler's own realm), as an envoy (and spy). Only the threat of reprisals from all of the Heralds (and their allies, the Harpers) keep many court heralds alive, as they venture into hostile courts or visit the castles of lords who would prefer that no herald ever came calling to snoop or deliver unwelcome decrees or defiant messages.

Aside from the far less numerous Heralds Pursuivant and regional heralds, court heralds are the most likely sort of herald to be encountered out on the road, quietly (and sometimes stealthily) observing' everything as they proceed with their tasks of delivering messages, collecting replies, demanding and delivering reports, making proclamations, posting decrees, interviewing persons the court desires to learn information from (or deliver threats or advice to), and so on.

There's an old saying: "While local heralds study and draw and fuss, court heralds go and do."

The Daily Life of a Local Herald

When not directly advising rulers, courtiers, or local officials, local heralds spend a lot of time deciphering coded messages brought to them by other heralds or covertly by Harpers or other

agents posing as peddlers or caravan-merchants (these messages are usually decrees from the High Heralds, or summaries of heraldic news, decisions, and "watch out for" warnings), or preparing such messages of their own for the next such messenger to take away.

However, every herald spends most of their time preparing blazons and consulting their books of heraldry to properly do so (or writing more coded messages to other heralds, asking for advice on any matters their own library doesn't provide answers to). The rest of the work of blazonry consists of conferring with the person, family, guild, or relevant courtier requesting the blazon; doing the actual artwork of the blazon or arranging for someone else to do it correctly; and properly recording the grant of arms, with several identical copies of records, for the scribes of the local court, their own records, and the Heralds as a whole (regional local heralds maintain libraries of such grants, and recopy each grant for distribution to other heralds as well as the Herald's Holdfast).

Local heralds spend whatever time is left (aside from the human needs of eating and sleeping) updating their records (genealogies and histories of local families), and maintaining, directing, and receiving the reports of their "vigilants."


Every herald needs spies. Not cloak-and-dagger folk who go where they shouldn't, armed, and do dangerous things, but merely honest, reliable, observant watchers who dwell and work in the herald's purview, and keep eyes and ears open for any new or changed uses of blazonry, as well as births, deaths, marriages, breaches of etiquette, and other events that might signal a change in current blazons or a heed for the herald to act.

Vigilants are these spies, acting for the herald for paltry pay, a desire to help, and sometimes to feel important (most heralds can afford to pay so little that their vigilants are young children, augmented by a handful of socially active persons such as minstrels who play at revels and servants who work at them). Rulers, courtiers, and lawkeepers are usually aware of the existence of a herald's vigilants and the nature of their work, but the herald won't willingly render any complete roster of vigilants to any authorities. Vigilant work and reporting is done discreetly, and is often "covered up" against the queries of the curious by a half-truth: that every herald is always on the watch for good artists who can render blazons superbly, and asks everyone who knows of such folk to report their identities and whereabouts.

Looking for Trouble in All the Right places

In market towns and larger settlements, marshals and heralds can expect to find "lasting trouble" within the ranks of local officials and in guilds. Crimes of the moment often occur in places where folk gather, such as markets, inns, and taverns. In smaller settlements and rural areas, crimes of opportunity occur in remote spots (when a miscreant believes there are no witnesses or the body will never be found), or in good ambush locations (where dense cover is close to trails), but most trouble still occurs in inns and taverns—thanks to the combination of people (often including "outlanders" from afar) gathering together for some time, drink (and the confusion, loss of inhibition, and fighting that often results), and overnight darkness.

Upholding the Law

Some realms, particularly in rural areas or forested regions plagued with lawless brigandry, use the trained warriors of their armies as local police (and sometimes on-the-spot judges, juries, and executioners). In Cormyr, for example, the verges of the Stonelands, the Hullack Forest, and the Thunder Peaks are policed by the Purple Dragons of the realm.

Small settlements governed by a local lord, such as many of the Border Kingdoms and the Dales, usually use their soldiery as sole (or primary) law enforcement. Market towns, ports, and cities of all sizes tend to have local police or "lawkeepers" (usually known as "the Watch") in addition to any military garrisons.

Large settlements tend to have more polite and disciplined - but sometimes markedly less effective - lawkeepers than rural areas. City Watch officers tend to be more strict in adherence to laws, and to have a code of behavior and dress to follow.

Rural law enforcers, far from city niceties and usually on their own or commanding far fewer resources, are more likely than their urban counterparts to enact on-the-spot or independent punishments, from swift executions ("I had to kill him - he attacked me!") to leniency.

Examples of such lenient behavior include jailing drunks and hotheads overnight to cool off rather than charging and holding miscreants while officials are sent for to come and try them (or they can be taken to such justice). Rural lawkeepers are apt to scare or fine offenders, beat them up barefisted, and send them on their way with growls of "Don't come here and try such foolishness again!"

Anyone coming into a rural settlement asking too many questions and peering into everybody's business is apt to be seen as a spy for outlaws or thieves come to seek easy targets, and swiftly given the "rough ride out of town" treatment.

Rural law officers might or might not be corrupt, but those who last in office are or tend to become wily, salt-of-the-earth, and streetwise. They know the local terrain and hiding-places, who in town is crooked and apt to fence stolen goods, and who won't easily be caught in ambushes or duped. Haughty, I-never-get-my-hands-dirty officials of the sort called "high-nosed city brightcloaks" are unlikely to be found among them.

Lawkeepers (including marshals) usually have the legal right to arrest, disarm, imprison, fight or even slay to keep order and to protect others, confiscate dangerous items or suspected contraband or stolen goods, order persons to depart a building or area (or remain within one), commandeer mounts and conveyances, seize evidence, demand cooperation (often with strict limits, for example forbidding them from ordering noncombatants to fight or go and face armed foes or monsters).

Heralds seldom have any of these rights (beyond confiscation of false or offending blazonry). When expecting trouble, they often work with marshals, who can act as bodyguards, coerce obedience, and make arrests if need be.

Inn and Tavern security

Almost all inns and taverns guard against fire, theft, and vandalism with hired watchers and muscle, vigilant staff, and handy weapons, signal-horns or gongs, locks and chains for securing doors, and covered firefighting buckets of sand and water.

Most Faerûnian travelers are familiar with having to hand over the care and control of mounts and pack animals to a stablemaster or one of his hostlers (usually the only way to avoid this is to rent an entire paddock, if one is available), but folk who seldom stray from home are usually unaware of "hiddeneyes."

Most inns located in cities or large towns watch over anyone entering their premises by using staff or hired street urchins (local children) to openly follow and watch guests and strangers. These are the "eyes" of the inn, and to take offense at their presence or scrutiny marks you as a first-time traveler or someone trying to hide something.

However, any inn that can afford the practice will also have "hiddeneyes." These are watchers (often an offspring of the proprietor or staff) paired with each eye. While the visible "eye" draws the attention of the person being watched, the "hiddeneye" tries to observe the same person covertly, usually through a spyhole or from behind a tapestry.

Ruling the Roads

Marshals and heralds posted to rural areas often have the opportunity to become the local power. Brute force (extending to blackmail, murder of rivals, and misusing local justice and soldiery to confiscate, falsely imprison, and damage reputations) can accomplish this in the short term.

However, the only road to long-term success lies in gaining the support of the populace (usually by keeping law and order, so folk feel safe - but by doing so in such a way that justice is seen as fair and not oppressive), and at the same time pleasing the distant ruler or her senior courtiers by rendering regular tax revenues, enacting their policies in a loyal and correct manner, and "taking care of trouble" so that the rural domain enjoys a good reputation at court.


Court heralds and marshals are paid by the government they serve, and in some cases can legally augment their incomes by providing private services for fees (many heralds do artwork, especially portraits, "on the side," and many marshals are allowed to provide personal bodyguards or "impress the neighbors" uniformed escorts).

While traveling, heralds and marshals can expect free room, board, clerical and medical assistance, stabling and fresh mounts from local government officials or at the castles of nobles—and at least room and board from any inhabitant.

Marshals and heralds who win local popularity are often looked up to and consulted for advice. They gain opportunities to start businesses that benefit from their contacts, inside knowledge, and public trust, and might even marry into money locally as a result of their reputations.


Heralds and marshals are two of the four sorts of officials (the others being tax collectors and patrolling lawkeepers) who meet the populace most often. They are expected by their superiors to adhere to the rules of their offices and the laws they must enforce and apply. They represent their office and the government at all times, and might well be held to higher standards of behavior, dress, and speech. They speak for the crown and must be decisive but neither careless nor self-serving. If they make a wrong decision, they must set it right in a way that doesn't bring disrepute on the office or the government, and they must be honest in the handling of all monies and powers entrusted to them. "Personal gain" must never be what drives their actions - or at least what the public sees as driving their deeds.


Marshals and heralds face jurisdictional disputes with fellow office-holders, disagreements with officials both above and below them in rank, and disputes and attempts to undermine their authority by persons who would prefer them not to exist, or at least not to operate where they are present (such as a local noble used to administering her own justice).

The real foes of court heralds and marshals are, however, threats to the established authority of which they are a part. These might be monsters (and even hunting bands or hordes of monsters!), common criminals, or enemies of the state.

Outlaws are often persons sentenced to death for crimes, who have escaped such justice. With nothing to lose and no lawful place in society, they hide (sometimes in city sewers, but more often in caves, ravine terrain, or deep forests in wilderland areas), and from such bases seek to eke out a living by theft and violence. Raids on outlying farms are common, as are ambushes of travelers on remote roads, and the boldest outlaws might impersonate authorities so as to purloin goods and funds or extort "protection" funds by blackmailing persons with vulnerable property.

Successful, long-term outlaws form bands and attract other malcontents. This might lead in the end to internal strife (battles for leadership over the outlaw band, and such bands splintering into rival groups), but in the short term often makes outlaw bands very formidable, as sorcerers and other skilled individuals join their ranks. Alyth Redsword in Tethyr and "Lady Daggers" in Sembia are currently notorious female outlaws, whose exploits are retold in hundreds of taverns, attracting both young men and women to at least the dream of "riding outlaw" with them.

Popular local outlaws might be aided by commoners in hiding from or eluding marshals and other authorities, and any outlaw band with large numbers of unfamiliar faces in its ranks (some with local knowledge or talents, or good acting ability) can accomplish fair more damage than a handful of thugs who only know how to use force and threats.

Rebels, who seek to overthrow the current government, tend to be far more dangerous than outlaws for three reasons: They are more dedicated to a cause and less likely to be discouraged from activity by arrests or the presence of lawkeeper reinforcements; they often include secret members who aren't known to be outlaws, and therefore can live and act quite openly anywhere, not just in hiding; and they can often call on resources (lots of money, for example from disgruntled nobles, guilds, or even local churches) outlaws can't imagine.

Cormyr is plagued by rebels from the conquered cities of Arabel and Marsember, and no large realm in Faerûn is truly free of revolutionaries. From Tethyr and Calimshan to Dambrath or Thay, there are always citizens sufficiently angered by their governments to seek to overthrow or at least replace them.

In their persistence, resources and reach, and "out in the open" secrecy, rebels are akin to the last great foe of marshals and court heralds: conspiracies. These insidious threats might be as small as a cabal of a few merchants seeking to get a tax law changed and in the meantime circumvent it, or as large as every noble in the kingdom working together to carry out regicide and install a new form of rule, sweeping away most existing laws and the courtiers who administer them. Their activities tend to be covert, long-term, and often very subtle, and their members constantly evaluate unfolding events and situations. They can be the hardest foes for a marshal or court herald to identify. They are the enemies of the state most capable of duping or "using" marshals and court heralds, framing such individuals for their own crimes or manipulating them into striking at the wrong people, and doing damage that discredits the government they serve.

No realm in Faerûn is free of conspirators seeking to bring about changes or cause happenings for their own personal benefit. Many nobles and wealthy merchants even engage in such activities "for fun" (for the thrill of the illicit and the pleasure of seeing their power to do things made manifest). Cabals and conspiracies are everywhere, though some stride through life not seeing them or choosing not to recognize them.


Successful marshals and heralds gain the satisfaction of a hard job well done: accomplishments that visibly benefit all with a sense of security that fosters prosperity along with growth in population, farm yields, and local industry. They might become very wealthy (either honestly or by shady means) through the power of their offices and gain social status from their work.

Some rulers and senior courtiers directly reward loyal, successful court heralds and marshals by giving them land and titles (making them nobility) or increasing their ranks and salaries (eventually landing them in the situations dealt with in Chapter 1 of Power of Faerûn, or both. Care must be taken not to seem to be a threat to a ruler, very powerful local church, or prominent courtier, lest the successful marshal or court herald be murdered, given a suicide mission as a reward, or executed, exiled, or imprisoned on trumped-up charges.

Rangers of the North

In the Sword Coast North, veteran rangers traveling in the wilderlands act either officially or unofficially as marshals - and sometimes as court heralds, too. They do so officially if they are officers of a court, serving a ruler, and unofficially when they uphold laws and customs because of their personal religious beliefs, support for institutions of common benefit (such as the safety of roads and inns), or membership in the Harpers or other non-government organizations.

Rangers in the Northlands are often called upon to be judge, jury, and executioner by local crofters, woodcutters, homesteaders, miners, and by traveling merchants and prospectors. Priests and court officials might request (or try to command) their assistance.

Generations of such practices have led to a general public expectation (and acceptance) of rangers fulfilling such roles. Some rangers refuse individual situations because they are engaged on a mission of "higher" importance or see a conflict that will leave them unable to act or to act justly, but most who live their lives as rangers, close to the land and traveling constantly in wild areas, accept this role.

Centuries ago, a grim lone man of great height and strength, called variously "Steeleye" or "Steelsword" (depending on which fireside tales you prefer), became so famous across the North for his tireless work as a wandering judge and lawkeeper that two sayings arose that are still heard today: "You'll be sorry when the Steelsword gets here!" and "Trust in the Steelsword - and even more the hand that wields it."

Organizations of Faerûn
Lands of Faerûn