The Zhentarim are a network of unscrupulous mercenaries constantly expanding their influence and power throughout Faerûn. The group walks a fine line between outright villainy and merely shady activities, and neutral adventurers might find that the benefits of association with the Black Network outweigh any moral qualms about abetting the organization’s evil activities.
The Zhentarim’s goal is to become omnipresent and inescapable—wealthier, more powerful, and, most importantly, untouchable. All characters who know the organization’s true nature should fear to cross the Zhentarim. The public face of the Black Network appears more benign, however, focused on offering the best mercenary forces in Faerûn.
When a merchant needs an escort for a caravan, when a noble family requires bodyguards to protect its holdings, or when a city is desperate for trained soldiers to defend its walls, the Zhentarim provide the best warriors money can buy. Members of the organization take pride in their ability to provide services and goods both legal and illicit, and are willing to lose coin if it means destroying a competitor.
The Zhentarim hope to one day establish an indomitable shadow empire that extends across all Faerûn. As they do so, they attempt to secure profits from all folk they deal with, except when doing so would work against the ultimate goal of making those same folk dependent on them.
Goals & Philosophy
The Black Network has been established around a simple creed: amass wealth, power, and influence, and thereby dominate Faerûn. To the Zhentarim, wealth is power. Its agents know that nothing else inspires such confidence and dispels doubt so well. In an instant, wealth speaks louder than a thousand bards. Zhentarim agents routinely carry the finest weapons and armor, with no expense spared.
- The Zhentarim is your family. You watch out for it, and it watches out for you.
- You are the master of your own destiny. Never be less than what you deserve to be.
- Everything—and everyone—has a price.
Members of the Zhentarim think of themselves as family, and they rely on the Black Network for resources and security. However, members are granted enough autonomy to pursue their own interests and gain some measure of personal power or influence. The Black Network describes itself as “the best of the best,” although in truth, the Zhentarim are more interested in spreading the organization’s propaganda and influence than investing in the improvement of individual members.
Zhentarim seek to:
- Amass wealth.
- Look for opportunities to seize power.
- Gain influence over important people and organizations.
- Dominate Faerûn.
Typical agent assignments for members of the Zhentarim include:
- Plunder or steal a treasure hoard, powerful magic item, or artifact.
- Secure a lucrative business contract, or enforce an existing one.
- Establish a foothold in a place where the Zhentarim holds little sway.
A member of the Zhentarim thinks of himself or herself as a member of a large family, and relies on the Black Network for resources and security. However, members are granted enough autonomy to pursue their own interests and gain some measure of personal power or influence. The Black Network is a meritocracy. As a whole, it promises “the best of the best,” although in truth, the Zhentarim is more interested in spreading its own propaganda and influence than investing in the improvement of its individual members.
Fang (Rank 1)
Prerequisite: Zhentarim renown 1+
- Sponsor: You have a sponsor in the Zhentarim to whom you report. They are likely to assign you any faction missions, and are responsible for the imparting of Zhentarim renown when appropriate.
- Insignia: You receive an insignia in the shape of a stamped gold coin with the symbol of the Zhentarim on one side and a cypher on the other. Senior members of the Zhentarim can decode to cypher to determine who they need to contact to verify your identity as a member of the faction.
- Funding: You may acquire funding from your sponsor if necessary for your mission. Ideally, you cover monetary needs yourself, but if necessary, your sponsor is willing to lend you a number of gold pieces equal to your Zhentarim renown times 100. You must pay this back; though the loan is interest-free, you may not borrow more coin until it has been paid back. (And you will not be granted a new point of renown until the loan is paid back, either.)
Wolf (Rank 2)
Prerequisite: Rank 1 and Zhentarim renown 3+
- Secret Missions: You may now occasionally be assigned secret missions that you are required to fulfill. Though you do not have a sponsor any longer, you are part of a pyramid of operatives, and the assignment may come down from any part of that chain above you. Though you may not be required to accept the mission, they are often the most reliable way to continue advancing in the organization.
- Flying Snake: You are granted a flying snake. During a long rest, it becomes accustomed to you and stays near you at all times. Its only benefit is to deliver written missives or small bags (with single gems or a few coins). During a short rest, you can write a message and release your flying snake, which will fly back to a single central point, usually to the handler where you got the snake from. Flying snakes can fly 72 miles per day. If you will be in the same place, the snake can be sent back to you. Alternately, you can simply pick another one up at a Zhentarim stronghold elsewhere.
- Operating Capital Loans: By this point, you are expected to manage your finances and accomplish things on behalf of the faction based on your own prosperity. That said, this is not always possible. You have the option of sacrificing a point of your Zhentarim renown to gain funds for a Zhentarim project. This amount is 300gp plus 100gp per your rating in Zhentarim renown before you sacrifice the point. If you pay the loan back, you may recover the point of renown; there is no requirement that you do so, however. You will not be able to use this feature again, in either case, until your renown is at least one point higher than it was before you made the sacrifice.
- Lifestyle Increase: Money travels up the chain in the Zhentarim, and you are expected to show the coin of your success to your superiors, to help finance their endeavors. Your Lifestyle costs increase by 1gp per tenday (or 3gp per month).
- Mercenaries: Because Zhentarim plans may require some extra muscle, you have the right to requisition a small group of Zhentarim mercenaries. You may keep them for up to a month, without charge; when you do so, you may receive one guard for every point of renown you have above 2. You may trade in two of these mercenaries to gain a veteran, though you can only do this once. These mercenaries work for one of your superiors, but are willing to follow you during that time.
- Trained in Terror: Zhentarim train their agents to invoke fear in others. You become proficient in the Intimidation skill. If you already have this skill, choose another skill from your class list options instead.
- Tool Training: You may go to the faction for training in useful tools. When you take the Training downtime action to gain proficiency with the disguise kit, forgery kit, poisoner's kit, or thieves' tools, you may do so at half the time and cost.
Viper (Rank 3)
Prerequisite: Rank 2 and Zhentarim renown 10+
- Lifestyle Increase: Now that you are solidly a stalwart agent of the Zhentarim, you are expected to be bringing in greater wealth...with the attendant expectation of sending more of it up the chain. Your Lifestyle costs increase by 5gp per tenday (or 15gp per month).
- Mercenaries: Now a solidly proven Zhentarim agent, you may hire Zhentarim mercenaries to act as part of your normal retinue, and the organization will pay half of their fees. You can gain a guard for 1gp per tenday, or a veteran for 10gp per tenday. There must be at least three guards for every veteran, and you are responsible for the costs for outfitting them with arms and armor, as well. You may support up to your Zhentarim renown in guards as part of this – any additional troops are paid for in full by you (double the costs listed here).
- Tool Training: Your cost to gain proficiency in a disguise kit, forgery kit, poisoner's kit, or thieves' tools is now free, though you must still spend half the time to do so.
- Item Procurement: Though an expenditure of time and coin, you can secure access to magic items the Zhentarim find particularly useful. For 5 tendays and 500 gp, you can secure a +1 weapon, a +1 shield, or slippers of spider climbing. For 10 tendays and 5000 gp, you can secure +1 armor or a ring of evasion.
Ardragon (Rank 4)
Prerequisite: Rank 3 and Zhentarim renown 25+
Dread Lord (Rank 5)
Prerequisite: Rank 4 and Zhentarim renown 50+
By and large, there are four main roles within the Zhentarim's ranks, based on what talents they bring to the fold.
Arcanist agents specialize in arcane knowledge, magic, and esoteric disciplines such as alchemy. This explicitly does not include clerical magic, as the Zhentarim learned a long time ago that any religious order they permit within the faction inevitably attempts to subvert the Zhentarim to the service of that faith.
Intelligence agents are involved in skulduggery and subterfuge. They are spies, thieves, assassins, and everyone else who accomplishes their ends in the dark with no one the wiser.
Mercenary agents are front-line warriors and frequently end up leading troops of Zhentarim mercenaries.
Supply agents are usually merchants and craftsfolk, those who work in shops and marketplaces, aboard trading vessels, and as part of merchant caravans.
Titles within the Zhentarim aren't given: they are won. While the Masters of the Zhentarim are certainly acknowledged by the Pereghost in their roles, that nod is only given when there is clearly no one else who could possibly fill that role. This is certainly indicative of how the Zhentarim prefers to operate: to elevate oneself far above one's competitors, and to undermine and sabotage anyone who could come close to challenging that position.
Master of the Black Network
Only one Dread Lord ever occupies this vaunted position. The other Masters all answer to the foremost of their number, and are accountable to them. Currently, this position is occupied by the mysterious Pereghost, operating out of the citadel of Darkhold.
Master of Arms
The Master of Arms is the head of the Zhentarim's mercenary troops, in effect the general of the Black Network's martial forces. It is not enough to simply be a warrior to be Master of Arms: one must be tactician, businessman, and leader as well. Mercenaries, sellswords, and warriors all fall under the Master of Arms' aegis.
Master of Art
The Master of Art is the foremost arcanist and magician, knowledgeable and skilled, but above all powerful. In eras past, those who sought occult power among the Zhentarim were likely to be wizards in the tradition of Manshoon, but these days the Black Network's many warlocks seek power from otherworldly patrons and use it to further their own aims within the faction. Magicians, alchemists, and esotericists of all stripes (including theologists) are all under the Master of Art's bailiwick.
Master of Extortion
To the Master of Extortion is passed all useful, currency-generating gossip and information, and it is the Master of Extortion who ensures that it is deployed in the most profitable fashion. The Master of Extortion is more than a clearinghouse of blackmail, however: they must have a solid understanding of politics, of the ebb and flow of influence, so as to enact their schemes to the best benefit. Spies, blackmailers, kidnappers, and myriad folk who profit by taking from others answer to the Master of Extortion.
Master of Murder
Lethal and secretive, the Master of Murder oversees assassinations for the Black Network. It isn't enough to personally be a superior ender-of-lives: the Master of Murder must know the skills of thier subordinates, know how to adjudicate the slaying of targets, and to even know when to refuse to deploy killers at all. The myriad poisoners, assassins, and holy slayers of the Zhentarim answer to the Master of Murder.
Master of Sails
To the Master of Sails is given the naval force of the Zhentarim. They are ultimately the admiral of the Black Network's fleet, a combination of war ships (which they work with the Master of Arms to best deploy) and shipping vessels involved in constant trade. The Master of Sails is always an experienced sailor, but must also be more: a master trader, a maritime tactician, and a politician with a grasp of the nuances of seagoing trade and influences. All sailors within the Zhentarim ultimately take orders from the Master of Sails.
Master of Wheels
The many trading caravans and expeditions that fly Zhentarim colors all answer to the Master of Wheels. None of the Masters equal the Master of Wheels in understanding mercantilism and trade trends. If there is a Master who singlehandedly keeps the Zhentarim operating, it is the Master of Wheels, for their efforts bring coin constantly into the Black Network's vaults. This Master is not just a trader: they are also a master banker, a politician whose coin gains entry into even the most exalted courts, and an investor of thousands upon thousands of businesses. All traders, bankers, and other coin-wielders in the Black Network answer to the Master of Wheels.