Review of Sources
Volo’s Guide to the Sword Coast is really the definitive source for knowing about this small town. Most of what it has to say is going to be discussed here. There is also the Baldur’s Gate video game (and specifically its Tales of the Sword Coast expansion), which at times conflicts with what Volo has to say about this town.
Ulgoth’s Beard is neither a wealthy place nor a place accessible by any roads. About 120 years ago the hamlet consisted of sheepherding families, who keep their sheep on the rolling grasslands behind the cliff, and some fisherfolk, who transport their boats up and down the cliff by means of a cradle of massive cables.
Without a road linking it into the interior, pack mules are used to ferry goods across the grassy hills to and from Baldur’s Gate. Officially there is no tavern or inn in the Beard, though the Baldur’s Gate video game does feature an inn here.
Ulgoth’s Beard was founded to serve as a place of warning for Baldur’s Gate. Centuries ago Ulgoth the pirate would raid Baldur’s Gate regularly, and thus the need for an early warning of these raids resulted in the town’s creation. The town is set upon high cliffs which provides it with the opportunity to see these pirates from quite some distance away. A beacon on these cliffs can then warn the city of invaders.
The Baldur’s Gate video game relocates the town to be southeast of the city and across the river, when canon puts it west of the city and at the mouth of the river near the ocean.
What Makes it Unique Compared to Other Settlements?
Shandalar, a chaotic neutral mage, was the leader of this small village in 1368. He was said to live in a rebuilt Haldruaan skyship that floats east of the town along the river here. He’s known locally as a powerful mage that experiments with new spells and creating magic items. He’s also seen harvesting lightning from local storms to power his various magical devices.
Mushrooms are said to also grow in caverns that are found underneath his home. Over a century ago Shandalar’s daughters would sell them in Baldur’s Gate. Some locals even claim to have seen mushroom men coming out of these caverns! Though nothing else is known about these monsters. The caverns were also said to fall under the protection of Shandalar, who would lease them out to pirates and other criminals to be used as storage.
A ruined keep just north of the hamlet, on the lip of the bowl. The keep was once home to a cruel pirate lord, Andarasz, and legends speak of undead lurking in the storage caverns beneath the keep. These storage caverns have been searched by many eager pirate crews over the years.
What are the Settlement’s Issues?
With no road leading into the town, and little need for the town anymore with the city of Baldur’s Gate becoming more than capable of defending itself against pirate raiders, the beacon here likely has little value for the defence of the city. With it being removed from the main trade routes it’s likely a bit isolated. Ships would likely have little reason to dock here after all and even getting goods up the cliffs might make it too much of a hassle, to begin with.
Lack of Formal Governing Structure
Shandalar seems to be the leader here. But other than his power what has made him its leader? As a chaotic neutral character is he really the type to care that much about the interests of the farmers and fisherman that live here? Perhaps the town is in need of new leadership. Especially given his past dealings with pirates.
It’s likely that even if Shandalar is gone the caverns, he helped protect are still used to this day for smuggling and piracy. The town would be ill-suited to deal with this with any regularity, and simply would not have the financial means of hiring mercenaries to protect the caves.
How Can I Use It in My Campaign?
This is a town that is no more than half a days travel from Baldur’s Gate. It’s likely a failed fishing village with little more to it than a few scattered buildings. But for a party wanting to get out of the large city and explore some ancient ruins, it provides several opportunities. The mushroom caves could be something they could explore, with the mushroom men turning out to be Myconid Sprouts and Myconid Adults. Perhaps a Myconid Sovereign if you really wish to give them a tougher fight.
The pirates can, of course, use the bandit statblock, while the keep’s undead could be made up of really any type of lower-level undead you choose.