Waterdeep’s most prominent wizards are Laeral Silverhand and Halaster Blackcloak.
They are, in the final analysis, reflections of one another. That’s especially true in regard to the madness that has afflicted them both during their lives.
The convergence of their stories and their respective roles in Waterdeep and Undermountain, played a part in how I developed Mad Mages of Undermountain.
I didn’t start out that way. I had simpler intentions. The supplement, as planned, would present five wizards and describe their cohorts and their lair within Undermountain. But as I developed each mage’s motivations and the type of madness they were afflicted with, the origins of Laeral and Halaster kept popping up again and again in my research.
It became apparent that in this current iteration of the Forgotten Realms that Laeral and Halaster are linked. They aren’t opposites. But they are counterweights on the magical axis that gives the city and the dungeons below their rich character.
Laeral fully represents the city she now governs. She is cultured and refined, a person who understands and practices restraint. She finds herself as head of state, upholding Waterdeep’s strict code of laws yet, I think, remaining in her heart rather ambivalent about their enforcement.
It’s a strange position she is in, given her origins. She is one of the Seven Sisters, belonging to one of the most powerful spellcasting families on Faerun. In her wild, untamed youth, she was a conqueror, rising to become Witch-Queen of the North. Later she was a member of the Nine adventuring company.
It was in that latter role she had her encounter with madness, her sanity devolving in the great underground bunker the Nine used as a base in the High Forest. Overcome by paranoia, the Nine became lost in a lethal game of Survival.
Her rescuer was Khelban Arunson, Waterdeep’s Blackstaff, who became, in time, her loving husband.
For years, Khelban — as the Blackstaff — was Halaster’s opposite. The contrasts between the two and their aims for the city very distinct. Khelban was the lord of magic above, Halaster the crazed ruler of the caverns below.
Since Khelban’s death, the titular role of the Blackstaff has gone to another.
Yet, the practical responsibility of checking the influence of Halaster and his creation, the great magical passageways of Undermountain, have fallen to Laeral. This is true even though her own mastery over the Weave has diminished over time.
It is an interesting arrangement because Laeral — at some level — has a greater sense of empathy for Halaster. She is opposed to his objectives — his chaotic motivations — most certainly. But her brush with madness has clearly given her insight into the stranglehold that dark places such as Undermountain can hold over spellcasters.
In Mad Mages of Undermountain, I used Laeral to issue words of warning to would-be delvers. Essentially: Don’t do it!
Meddling with Undermountain will be your undoing.
But, of course, they are compelled to.
They are adventurers, after all.