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FOR4 The Code of the Harpers (2e)

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From the storm-lashed rocks west of fabled Evermeet to the Plains of Purple Dust, all the folk of Faerun have heard of the Harpers. Noble fools, some call them. Crazy, misguided meddlers, others say. Still others disagree. "The one true hope of the Realms," said one princess.

"A shining light in the darkness of our lives," agreed a sage. "Pray that it never goes out."
Just who are these mysterious, wandering folk who wear silver harp pins and walk softly in the most dangerous shadows of the Realms? This book reveals the secrets, rules, and magic of the Harpers, including
  • Harper runes
  • Harper magic
  • The long, colorful history ot the Harpers
  • Their evil foes
  • Their special allies
  • The fabled High Heralds
  • What Harpers do
  • Harper haunts: their strongholds, and the Harpers who (in some cases literally) haunt them!
  • Joining the Harpers, and how to become a True Harper or a Master Harper?
 ...and more, from favorite Harper ballads to detailed Harper NPCs. This is a sourcebook you'll turn to again and again. It lays bare the warring power groups who work behind the scenes in Faerun; no Forgotten Realms campaign is complete without it!

Product History
FOR4: The Code of the Harpers (1993), by Ed Greenwood, is the fourth book in its prestige FOR series of Forgotten Realms supplements. It was published in September 1993.
Origins. Ed Greenwood asked TSR if he could write Code of the Harpers. He had wanted to do so for three reasons: to explain who the Harpers were, since they'd only been briefly detailed in the past; to provide the back stories of the Seven Sisters, who had been summarily dealt with in previous Realms releases; and to give players lots of fun new magic items that could make magic feel more "real" in the Realms. So Greenwood pitched the concept to Director of Product Development Timothy Brown, who approved it.
The original plan was for Code of the Harpers to be sold as a boxed set, a format that TSR used heavily just a few years earlier, beginning in 1988. These sets resulted in hefty boxed sets full of goodies, including Spelljammer (1989), The City of Greyhawk (1989), and Menzoberranzan (1992). TSR kept publishing boxes in quantity right up to 1997 - though some later reports suggest they were losing money on some or all of them. Yet in 1993, they rejected the idea of Code as a box set because the sales projections for the supplement didn't match the cost of the printing.
Code of the Harpers thus became a prestige-format FOR-series book instead. Along the way, it lost some of the cool stuff it would otherwise have contained - notably a cloisonne Harper's pin. Of course, it still had 128 pages of Realmslore by the creator of the Realms himself.
A Different Sort of FOR. Up until 1993, the FOR books had all been trade paperbacks with gloss-on-matte covers that featured adversarial forces of the Realms - dragons, drow, and pirates. Though Code of the Harpers maintained the formatting of the previous books, it took on a new topic: a benevolent organization. The previous books in the FOR series had also placed lighter emphasis on the Realms, instead focusing mostly on the monsters (or pirates) that were the heart of the books. Code flips that on its head: it's Realmslore from front to back cover, detailing the Harper organization in its entirety.
A Book of NPCs. As far back as the Forgotten Realms Campaign Set (1987), the Realms was a world heavy with powerful NPCs. FR7: "Hall of Heroes" (1987) expanded the Realms' catalog of people by detailing many characters from the novels. Code of the Harpers offers more of the same, spending over 40 pages detailing many Harpers and their friends. Once more, several of them are drawn from the novels, particularly the "Code" series (1991-98) and Kate Novak & Jeff Grubb's "Finder's Stone" trilogy (1988-91).
Expanding the Realms. The two biggest expansions of the Realms in Code of the Harpers were the two that Greenwood had planned: extensive details on the Harpers and some additional info on the Seven Sisters. The Harpers were first publicly mentioned in Ed Greenwood's "Seven Swords: Blades of the Realms," an article about magic swords that appeared in Dragon #74 (June 1983), four years before the Forgotten Realms became a TSR campaign world. In it, he wrote,
Little is known of the Harpers; they consist of bards and a few rangers, are known by the device of a silver moon and a silver harp, operate in the northern regions on both sides of the Great Desert, and are a secretive organization rather than a band or race of people. Of the bards of great power, only Mintiper is thought not to be a member, and of the high-level rangers, only Thulraven and Estulphore are believed to be independent of the Harpers. It is not clear if the Harpers are any thing more than a private club or fellowship at present, although in the past they have acted in concert to keep kingdoms in the northern lands and in the Dalelands small in power, and on at least two occasions have forcibly prevented the expansion of farms and settlements into elven woods.
The Harpers get a page in the Cyclopedia of the Forgotten Realms Campaign Set (1987), where they're described as "mysterious," a pretty common adjective in those early days. Forgotten Realms Adventures (1990) increased that to a page and a half that included notes on how to become a Harper and admitted that the organization was "[o]ne of the most extensive of the good-aligned societies in the Realms."
However, there still hadn't been a lot of info on the Harpers before the publication of Code of the Harpers. Given that TSR was now a half-dozen books into a series of novels called "The Harpers," which described the adventures of individual members, it made sense for Greenwood to get the full details down and in print.
The Seven Sisters were even more scarcely described than the Harpers prior to the publication of Code. Five sisters - Alustriel, Dove, Storm, Sylune, and the Simbul - had been mentioned in the Forgotten Realms Campaign Set (which means that Laeral and the mysterious seventh were neglected). Yet neither there nor in Forgotten Realms Adventures were they called the "Seven Sisters." That term finally appears in onlyhere in Code of the Harpers, as do other details of "The Tale of the Chosen." Alustriel, Dove, Laeral, and Storm are all described as Senior Harpers within Code, while the Simbul is listed as a Harper Ally.

Future History. Although this book was Greenwood's final word on the Harpers (at least as a major reference), he later returned to the Seven Sisters in FOR6: The Seven Sisters (1995), which refers back to this book a lot, and also in Silverfall: Stories of the Seven Sisters (1999).
About the Creators. From 1987 through 1996, Greenwood tended to produce at least two Realms game books every year. 1993 was a bumper year, which also saw the revised Forgotten Realms Campaign Set (1993), the first of the Volo's Guides (1993) and The Ruins of Myth Drannor (1993) - the last particularly notable because the original, unruined Myth Drannor was where the Harpers originated.
About the Product Historian
The history of this product was researched and written by Shannon Appelcline, the author of Designers & Dragons - a history of the roleplaying industry told one company at a time. Please feel free to mail corrections, comments, and additions to

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 Customers Who Bought this Title also Purchased
Reviews (7)
Discussions (2)
Customer avatar
Matt B May 24, 2019 7:16 pm UTC
Great POD copy.
Customer avatar
Aaron L November 30, 2013 9:51 pm UTC
This is one just about my all-time favorite book from 2nd Edition, which is actually quite suprising, considering the fact that didn'tacually LIKE either the Forgotten Realms OR the Harpers as they were presented in 2nd Edition (I loved the Realms as presented in the 1E Old Grey Box, and was especially enamoured of 3E Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting, but the way the Realms were handled in 2E, IE Good always wins, Evil is bumbling and incompetent, the Harpers are all-knowing, omnipresent and infallible, and the purple trade-dress, it seriously turned me off of the great setting and made me feel like it was the "Disney Land of D&D."

But this, this book, it really made me appreciate both the Realms and the Harpers. Probably because Greenwood himself wrote it and really understood it, the organization seemed truly alive; they weren't always right, they made mistakes and had internal problems with corrupt members. They fairly often they lost to the (non-monolithic) forces of Evil. And,...See more
Customer avatar
John H September 01, 2021 3:08 am UTC
This is a really great review, thank you!
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TSR 9390
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File Last Updated:
May 06, 2013
This title was added to our catalog on May 07, 2013.