Rogues' Gallery: Jarlaxle
The famed scoundrel Jarlaxle Baenre is one of the main NPCs of Waterdeep: Dragon Heist, and he has a long and storied history in the Forgotten Realms, starring in many novels and short stories set in the lands of Faerûn, and was originally created by author R.A. Salvatore. If you’re new to the Forgotten Realms, however, you should get to know who Jarlaxle is before beginning to play Dragon Heist, especially if you’re the Dungeon Master! And even if you’re a veteran reader of the Realms, a quick refresher on Jarlaxle’s many adventures will help you dive right into embodying this scoundrel on his latest swashbuckling adventure.
Todd Kenreck interviewed Chris Perkins about this famous drow in preparation for the Stream of Many Eyes. If you want a quick, high-level overview of Jarlaxle’s history and persona, you can watch this video below. For more information, including details on which novels the miscreant of House Baenre has starred in and his many allies and enemies, read on.
Jarlaxle at a Glance
Never in all of Faerûn’s history has there been a more swashbuckling or charmingly flamboyant elf than Jarlaxle. Though he was once a child of House Baenre, one of the greatest houses in the drow city of Menzoberranzan, he abandoned his house—stifled by the drow matriarchy—and struck off into the Underdark to found his own organization, one in which he could be free of the rules that bound him in drow high society. He created the Bregan D’aerthe, a collection of mercenaries and assassins made of houseless male drow like himself. The Bregan D’aerthe still operated primarily in Menzoberranzan, and even served Jarlaxle’s old house of Baenre frequently. They paid well enough, at least.
Jarlaxle’s outlandish garb suited his vivacious behavior. His signature look included a wide-brimmed hat with a lavish diatryma feather billowing from its brim. Not just for decoration, the feather was also a magic item; by blowing into it, Jarlaxle could summon a diatryma—a 12-foot-tall flightless bird of the Underdark. His piratical eyepatch is also an iconic part of Jarlaxle’s ensemble, even though he clearly possessed both of his eyes, as the eyepatch tended to change sides from day to day. Just like his grandiose feather, this eyepatch also served a purpose—it granted him special powers of sight and protects his mind from unwanted intrusion. Finally, he possessed a signature bracer that could produce throwing daggers from thin air.
Jarlaxle owned countless more magic items throughout his centuries-long adventuring career, but none are as iconic as the three mentioned above.
The Sellswords Trilogy
Jarlaxle has appeared in many Forgotten Realms books over the years, and often finds himself at odds with his rival Drizzt Do’Urden. The two surface-dwelling drow have been known to work together on occasion, when their goals align—or at least run parallel for a time. He first appeared as a side character in Exile, a Drizzt book that the D&D team revisited as they created the Rage of Demons storyline, and served as a foil for Drizzt on his many adventures. However, Jarlaxle truly came into his own in the Sellswords Trilogy, in which he and the assassin Artemis Entreri—Drizzt’s self-proclaimed mortal enemy—embarked on a journey that tested their skills and their tenuous alliance.
In the first book in the series, Servant of the Shard, Jarlaxle found his mind twisted towards evil beyond mere self-interest by the Crystal Shard, a powerful and evil magic item that Jarlaxle, Artemis, and Drizzt had battled over in previous adventures. Jarlaxle’s grand ambitions were perverted into a cruel means for the Shard to gain absolute power, and only Artemis’s direct intervention saved Jarlaxle and led to the Shard’s destruction. Jarlaxle’s actions in this book show that Jarlaxle’s selfish ambition is both his greatest strength and his greatest weakness—one that could be exploited to the player characters’ gain in Waterdeep: Dragon Heist.
The second book of the Sellswords Trilogy, Promise of the Witch King, takes place some time after the conclusion of Servant of the Shard, and the duo of Baenre and Entreri have gone on several adventures together. They found themselves in the demon-infested wastelands of the far North at the behest their patrons, a pair of copper dragon sisters named Tazmikella and Ilnezhara. Here, they joined many companions and fought through a lich’s castle brimming with undead, including a dracolich! This book is a high-action dungeon crawl in novel form, and is filled with scenes of combat and magic. A quick read of this book will give DMs plenty of fodder for describing Jarlaxle’s stylish combat tricks in battle should the player characters be unfortunate enough to cross him in Dragon Heist.
In Road of the Patriarch, the final book of the Sellswords Trilogy, Jarlaxle attempted to usurp King Gareth Dragonbane of Damara and place him in a position of power over a domain he could call his own. His plot was foiled and he and his allies were exiled from the lands of Damara—but Jarlaxle’s later adventures would see him wear a different crown. Readers of this book will see Jarlaxle’s ambitions laid bare: the dark elf longs for the power of dominion, and he will stop at nothing to get it. His actions estranged him from his former ally Artemis Entreri, and the two parted ways on ill terms.
Lord of Luskan
These days—involving events detailed in The Companions novel and The Sundering series, Jarlaxle is the de facto ruler of Luskan. As Chris Perkins described in the video above, he has “unchecked power over the pirate lords who rule the city.” After many long years, it seems that Jarlaxle has achieved the dream that he has fought so hard to attain. And yet… no one who lusts for power like Jarlaxle is ever truly satisfied. Though he rules Luskan, something clearly tugs at his heart, urging him towards greater and grander schemes.
Why else would a traveling Luskanese carnival, the Sea Maiden’s Faire, have docked in Deepwater Harbor? Perkins is churlishly vague on the details of Jarlaxle’s new ambitions, reveal only that they are “dark and mysterious. As with all things Jarlaxle, nothing he tells you is entirely true.” Is Jarlaxle acting alone? Or does he have the aid of his former ally-turned-rival Artemis Entreri? Or perhaps the swashbuckling dark elf has once more rallied the Bregan D'aerthe mercenaries to his side. Only time, it seems, will tell.
Jarlaxle is but one of the four modular antagonists of Waterdeep: Dragon Heist. Who are you most excited to see enact their schemes within the City of Splendors? Waterdeep: Dragon Heist releases on D&D Beyond on September 6th, 2018, and in stores everywhere on September 20th.
Disclosure: James Haeck is a co-author of Waterdeep: Dragon Heist.
James Haeck is the lead writer for D&D Beyond, the co-author of Waterdeep: Dragon Heist and the Critical Role Tal'Dorei Campaign Setting, and is also a freelance writer for Wizards of the Coast, the D&D Adventurers League, and Kobold Press. He lives in Seattle, Washington with his partner Hannah and their feline swashbucklers, Mei and Marzipan. You can usually find him wasting time on Twitter at @jamesjhaeck.