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The Cowled Wizards are based in the city of Athkatla. Their main job is to find and destroy "deviant" wizards and sorcerers, and are completely separate from the ruling Council of Six in Athkatla. Nobody is aware of their numbers, or power, though they keep an asylum (called Spellhold) in the island of Brynnlaw, where they house their offenders. Although they are feared in Amn, they are tolerated because the general populace fears rogue wizards and sorcerers more.
The Cowled Wizards were created by Alisar of Esmeltaran in the 13th century. Alisar and the mages wanted to preserve magical lore, seeing themselves as saviors of magic and agents of Azuth and Deneir. They moved underground and became librarians of lore and teachers to those with potential. The Cowled Wizards also kept an eye on foreign wizards passing through Amn, keeping rogue wizards in line to protect their secrecy.
Each Cowled Wizards cell is isolated in a town or city and ruled by the most powerful mage in that area. As long as politics do not pit one cell leader against the first and still largest Athkatlan cell and its leader, local Cowled Wizards can meet others in Athkatla in secret rooms beneath Jann Lane. There they can organize and contact distant Cowled Wizard cells, and join or communicate with them. By day, members work as merchants, booksellers, herbalists, apothecaries, or the like. During their meetings they wear cowled hoods and robes, a style of wear based on graduates of the long-destroyed School of Wonder. Any Cowled Wizard can share his identity with family, local wizards, or correspondents, but the Cowls allow anonymity if desired. Most members know only two or three other members by their true names.
A few members chose to use the knowledge and power of the Cowled Wizards for their own ends. Their motives were usually political, and they used magic to erase rivals, fix deals and other actions not condoned by their fellows. In general the Cowled Wizards dislike roguish actions and usually censure or eliminate the guilty to prevent their own discovery. One of the more politically ambitioned wizards was Thayze Selemchant. He was one of the founders of the Council of Six and ended the Trade War in Amn in 1333 DR. He was killed in Marpenoth 1362 DR when other members of the Council discovered that he was a Cowled Wizard.
Around 1368 DR Lady Varytha Gheldieg of Eshpurta was one of a trio attempting to regain an agent among the Council of Six. The trio was unaware that the Council already watched them through Tyrda Q'Helvor, the Pommarch at that time. The most dangerous to the cabals of any of them joined their ranks as the apprentice of Varytha. The elf Zallanora Argentresses gains admirers and volunteer tutors among the Cowled Wizards but is also one of the most ambitious and dangerous necromants in Faerûn.
Baldur's Gate II: Shadows of Amn
The Cowled Wizards and Spellhold feature prominently in the computer game Baldur's Gate II. In the game, the group has lost some of its power, as the evil elven mage Jon Irenicus briefly took over Spellhold, killing a great many of the Cowled Wizards.