Archives of Candlekeep: The Archives of Candlekeep
This article was first broadcast in Episode One Hundred Forty-eight on 20 January 2021.
Lennon: Oh good, there you are.
Ryu: Yeah, what do you need stol-aaah recovered?
Lennon: Nothing, I need you to help with that.
Libby (sadly): Book.
Ryu: Um…why me?
Lennon: Because every time I try to go near it, Libby zaps me.
Ostron: That looks like…yeah that’s three bottles of whiskey and it appears to have moved onto wine. What is a beholder’s alcohol tolerance anyway?
Lennon: That’s your department. I just remember Libby actually got along with Ryu when she got it drunk, so…
Ryu (sighing): Fine.
Ryu (consoling): Hey Libby. What’s wrong, huh? What, oh, you have a piece of paper. Application for acceptance into the Avowed rejected. Aww, that’s too bad.
Ostron: Yeah, that’s a blow, keep your chi — um — eyes up though, I’m sure there’ll be another opening soon.
Ryu: Okay, nine crying eyes makes the shoulders damp pretty quick. Um, can someone quickly fill me in on what an Avowed is?
Lennon: Oh, they’re the people who run Candlekeep.
Ryu: (still confused): Right…So what do they do?
Ostron: How much do you know about Candlekeep?
Ryu: We…have an annex named after it?
Ostron (sighing): Let me grab some summary materials. Here, and here. Follow along.
Candlekeep is one of the anchor locations in the Forgotten Realms, like Waterdeep, Baldur’s Gate, and Neverwinter; it’s been in the lore from the beginning and is referenced or used in so many different adventures and resources that it’s tied into a lot of major history of the Sword Coast and the Forgotten Realms as a whole. A lot of places just refer to it as a big library, but there’s a lot more to it than that.
The publication history of Candlekeep is hard to track because of its nature; it functions sort of like Rivendell in the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings; it isn’t the focus of either story, but a lot of stuff gets explained and starts there. Those who’ve played through Descent into Avernus will recognize that pattern, as that adventure does the same thing; the characters have to go to Candlekeep to get information about what’s going on, and then proceed to the main quest from there. The literal first appearance of it was at the genesis of the Forgotten Realms; Greenwood included a brief note about it in the original Forgotten Realms campaign setting guide, and it’s expanded ever since.
Many stories of the origins of Candlekeep revolve around a figure called Alaundo the Seer, and some people credit him as the founder of Candlekeep but this is incorrect. According to Ed Greenwood, Candlekeep was founded primarily by Lavralauna Dree and Cadelyn Frostaland. Both of them were followers of Oghma and Deneir respectively and they each received visions or encouragement from their gods to proceed to the location of Candlekeep and start building a site to preserve knowledge. Other divinely inspired craftsman and patrons soon pitched in and Candlekeep was the result.
Alaundo wasn’t insignificant, though; he is known for producing a large number of highly accurate and far reaching prophecies, sort of the Forgotten Realms’ version of Nostradamus except more useful and accurate. Alaundo went to Candlekeep and provided some guidance on upgrades and defenses and future issues the library would have to look out for, and entrusted the monks there with original copies of all his prophecies to date. After he died, the Avowed-
Libby (dismayed): Book!
Lennon: Yes, mate, tough beat, we know.
Anyway, they devoted themselves to guarding and studying the prophecies. The fact that said prophecies resided at Candlekeep meant everyone started to hear its name and its purpose of preserving and collecting all possible knowledge.
As to the operation itself, “Library” is a bit of a simplification. It works more like the archives at the Vatican; you do not walk in off the street and check a book out, return it in 14 days please.
First of all, getting in is not guaranteed. Originally it was required that someone bring a book or reference tome worth 10,000 gold pieces or more, or be a reigning monarch or designated representative of one. Rumor has it gods got a free pass too, but this may have had less to do with policy and more to do with relative power levels. In more recent times the restrictions have been relaxed; royalty is still given a free pass but regular supplicants (Candlekeep’s name for people seeking entry) can get in by providing a book Candlekeep doesn’t already have in its possession.
Once inside, visitors are referred to as “seekers”, as in seekers of knowledge. They can request tomes from the library, do research, and even request a copy be made of a book they find there for a nominal fee. They have ten days to accomplish whatever they need to do, then they are asked to leave and not return for a month.
Now those are the visitors. Permanent residents of Candlekeep are all members of the Avowed.
Libby (distressed): Book!
Ryu: I know honey, I know, here have a tissu — towel. Have a towel. Okay.
Anyway, the Avowed are a monastic order, though they don’t all follow one specific god. Oghma is one of the more popular deities, but the main focus of the group is the preservation and collection of knowledge. If a god would be on board with that mission, some Avowed probably follow them. The Avowed have a whole ranking structure up to the First Reader, whose word is law within Candlekeep. They are also the only ones that handle most of the actual books. See, most of the references given to the seekers are copies. The originals of most books are stored in the vaults below candlekeep, and can only be accessed by outsiders if they have a very good reason and if they’re monitored by at least one Avowed at all times.
The other thing about the Avowed is they don’t discriminate. They hold the position that no knowledge is evil; it can only be used for evil purposes. So Candlekeep can and does house some fairly questionable tomes, scrolls, and other items that could cause issues if they got out. It also means some less than friendly people have taken an interest in Candlekeep over the years, and don’t want to follow the rules.
Fortunately Candlekeep is actually a fortress, on top of having a whole slew of exotic and mundane defenses. The Avowed aren’t strictly a martial order, but more than one of them are capable of fighting, and even more of them have some magical aptitude. Candlekeep itself is a multi-tiered fortress as mentioned and it’s located on a mountainside with only one real way up. Beyond that, there are magical wards and glyphs all over the complex able to provide varying levels of defense (including one instance where a shield of radiant energy was erected over the fortress that repelled a force of infernal attackers led by a blue dragon), and of course there’s the pirate ship armed with cannons and crewed by wights, that’s sitting on top of one of the towers. No, I’m not kidding.
If people somehow get through most of that and make it into the complex, they get to deal with a whole host of elemental guardians. See, when Candlekeep was being built, some gnomes and dwarves enlisted some earth elementals to help. For some reason, rather than constantly trying to escape and get back to their elemental planes, they were on board with hanging around and studying some of the books. Nowadays, they wander around Candlekeep reading and studying, often with passages from their favorite books carved into them. Unless someone shows up and starts trouble, in which case they revert right back to their “let’s mash all the noisy organics” M.O. until it’s quiet enough for them to get back to reading. A “shhh”! in Candlekeep should be taken very seriously.
But let’s say somehow someone makes it through all of that and gets to the vaults under the fortress. They get to say hi to Miirym. Miirym is the spirit of a silver dragon that was bound to Candlekeep some centuries ago and takes her job very seriously. She also has all the advantages of being a ghost and a silver dragon, so people with murderous or destructive intent have to figure out how to get around her.
Ryu: Aww, they wouldn’t let you play with the undead dragon? They’re jerks.
Right. Unfortunately despite the defenses, Candlekeep has had its share of problems. Various groups and individuals have managed to infiltrate the ranks of the Avowed at times, though usually their goals are to get access to some sort of tome and cause trouble elsewhere rather than damage the library itself. However, some groups have taken a more direct approach to getting into the library. The structure itself has never been completely destroyed, but it has suffered damage; as of the current timeline, the original towers of the structure are now mere foundations for some of the current structure, and the “Candlekeep Inn” that once housed seekers is now only remembered due to a plaque sitting in the Hearth, the modern replacement for it.
Despite that, in general Candlekeep is considered one of the most secure and neutral sites in the Forgotten Realms. If you need to know anything about anything, whether to start some trouble of your own or find out how to stop someone else from causing issues, Candlekeep is the place to go.
We should also mention that if you want to know even more about Candlekeep, Ed Greenwood himself published a guide on the DM’s Guild in 2020 called “Ellminster’s Guide to Candlekeep”, which we covered in episode 117. So go check that out if you’re still curious.
Ryu: Yes, I know, honey. I know. Tell you what, why don’t we go over to the workshop and throw things at ROSTRO! That always makes me feel better!
Ostron: Hey! That’s a delicate piece of machinery! Ow! Ow! Libby! No lasers!
Lennon: Right, well, after you’re done with beholder therapy, maybe swing by the Scrying pool? I think there’s some feedback in there we should address. And maybe bring Libby? Looks like it could fill the pool back up just by itself.