posted by Arivia Original SA post

The Forgotten Realms: Well Met!

Hi everyone! i'm here today (and tomorrow, and the day after that, and likely until the stars die and we are all less than dust) to talk to you about the Forgotten Realms , arguably the most prominent and closest thing Dungeons and Dragons has to a "standard" campaign setting.

Why? Well, for one thing, no one else has talked about it. That makes it fair game. But really, I like the Forgotten Realms - a lot . I think it's an awesome setting, with a lot going for it, and a ton of cool toys for players, DMs, and anyone to enjoy. That's not to say it doesn't have its' downsides: for the awful side of FATAL and Friends, I will happily be furnishing three of the worst adventures ever, and a bunch of other horrible things.

My goal here is to have fun and show you what I like about the setting, what makes it interesting, and make the case for it as a place you should enjoy playing in beyond "this is the first campaign setting D&D has put out for four editions running and I don't feel like making up anything else." Because with publications for three editions and soon to be a fourth, there is a ton of Forgotten Realms material. I'm not sure if there is another campaign setting with so much material, and that's really imposing. Trust me, though, it's not that scary.

So step back in time with me to 1986, when TSR was looking for a new campaign setting to produce for the 1st Edition of AD&D. They had just come off the hugely successful project of Tracy Hickman and Margaret Weis' Dragonlance modules and novels, which proved that D&D as a multimedia effort - as a brand dedicated to selling fantasy properties for consumption - was not only viable, but very profitable.

At the same time, Gary Gygax and the "old-school" were on the way out. Gygax had spent a few years in Hollywood being utterly uninvolved with D&D production. Depending upon who you talk to, he was either helping with the production of the D&D cartoon and trying to get a D&D movie started, or he was really enjoying the hookers and coke train. Either way, he wasn't part of the "plan" any more, and when he came back from Hollywood he basically blew up D&D production for a little while trying to turn TSR into his own fiefdom again.

As a result of this, TSR management selected Jeff Grubb to find a new campaign setting, as Gygax's flagship Greyhawk might be unavailable to the company soon. Jeff had been an integral part of the Dragonlance design, so he knew what TSR wanted - an accessible, new setting with lots of detail and possibility, especially the possibility for future media use (such as with the Dragonlance novels.) They also wanted something with a lot of space, where they could combine a lot of different designers' work, and "place all future adventures for the D&D game." (If you listen to OSR people, they often hearken the publishing of the Forgotten Realms as one of the signs of the end of the "good stuff," since TSR was trying to make a complete break with Gary Gygax's world.)

Jeff looked through what TSR had on hand and found something interesting. In Dragon magazine, TSR's current house organ for pretty much anything D&D, a young man named Ed Greenwood had been writing and publishing a TON of articles. He wrote about everything from the formative design of D&D's Nine Hells to an article about how to use scribes in your D&D game. And a huge portion of Greenwood's work made allusions to his own campaign setting, which he referred to as the Forgotten Realms. It seemed to have a bunch of interesting details and twists in it, so Jeff sent a request to Ed Greenwood to see a writeup of the Realms, with an eye towards possibly publishing it.

The first packet was 15 pages of typewritten notes with drawn diagrams. Jeff asked for more, and more followed - the first publication for the Forgotten Realms is mainly derived from the hundred of pages Ed sent TSR, which eventually took Jeff Grubb and Karen Martin a full year to slim down to something publishable. Add on the first of (many) tweaks for other projects to be included, and you have the Forgotten Realms Campaign Set , the first product I'll be sharing with you.

Two notes, though:

1) There are actually products produced for the Forgotten Realms prior to the Campaign Set. I'm going to be covering some of them but not all, because I don't want to read everything ever produced for 1e Oriental Adventures, for example. Similarly, I'm just doing printed gaming supplements and adventures. Novels and magazine articles are way too much, but I'll explain whatever comes up when we need to. If you want to be absolutely correct, the OA series of adventures were printed before the Campaign set, so was the first novel in Doug Niles' Moonshae trilogy, so was Ed Greenwood's Spellfire, and so were the first two Bloodstone modules. I'll only be covering the last.

2) Try to be careful with spoiling things. While not everything has been developed in the 25 years of development since, a lot of the fun plot hooks from older material have been resolved since, and I'd rather not ruin cool stuff for new readers. Think of it like a better metaplot from Vampire or TORG or whatever, and you're on the right track.

PS: The Forgotten Realms as a a fantasy world is something Ed Greenwood has been working on before he was introduced to D&D. The name actually stems from it being a "realm forgotten," where in Ed's ideas families used to have magic "portals" that would take them to this other world (think like the Wardrobe in Narnia) and have long romances and hidden wars. Over time, these families forgot about the magic they once had, providing a pretty good opportunity for adventure and heroism. A lot of Ed's original Realms hasn't been published, but he has talked about it off and on - some because it didn't fit with D&D at all, some because another designer has done something different with that part of the Realms. However, One Comes, Unheralded, to Zirta is a short story he did prior to the Realms as a D&D campaign setting. It's not bad, with some interesting details - and the first appearance of Elminster, Sage of Shadowdale.

Next Time: The Old Gray Box

Broad Strokes and Important Folks

posted by Arivia Original SA post

Forgotten Realms: Forgotten Realms Campaign Set 1: Broad Strokes and Important Folks

So, the Forgotten Realms Campaign Set . Published in 1987, it was the first gaming product to introduce neckbeards everywhere to the Forgotten Realms, the coolest thing for 3 months, 7 years, or 25 years depending upon who you talk to. It sold for $15 as a box set - two 96-page books, four poster maps, and two clear sheets of plastic with a square or hex grid printed on them.

You see, the Forgotten Realms was different. Previously, TSR's published campaign settings were set out according to the rules in the 1e Dungeon Master's Guide - you'd have a hexed map, the players would be on a distinct hex, and you look up what that corresponds to in your setting book. The Realms maps work the other way around - they're drawn to inform the setting, and the plastic overlays are then used to translate it into the game mechanics as necessary. (No one ever really seemed to give a crap about that outside of the rules in Forgotten Realms products - no extra plastic sheets were ever made available, as far as I know, and they dropped them as soon as possible.)

I mentioned previously that this is called the Old Gray Box. You can probably guess why - the box is gray, and it's the oldest Realms product. It's still useful and has some really cool stuff in it today, 25 years later. I check my copy quite a bit.

Anyway, the first book is this:

It's called the Cyclopedia of the Realms, and if you can't read the subtitle, it says "A complete cyclopedia of the fabulous Forgotten Realms from Abeir-Toril to Zhentil Keep." Which is kind of funny, it's like finding a skeleton in a forgotten closet, except the skeleton has a bright purple feather boa and keeps screaming "Oh Darling, you're so Zhentilar!"

Alaundo of Candlekeep posted:

These things also I have observed: that knowledge of our world is to be nurtured like a precious flower, for it is the most precious thing we have. Wherefore guard the word written and heed words unwritten and set them down ere they fade . . . Learn then, well, the arts of reading, writing, and listening true, and they will lead you to the greatest art of all: understanding.

This quote opens the book, and I think it's a really nice tone piece for a "heroic" setting book - not only does it ease us into the Realms' particular fantasy pastiche, but it also touches on an interconnection between knowledge and power, a particular theme of the Realms at large. Adventuring in the Realms isn't just stumbling into a tomb, killing a dragon, and collecting your five copper, it's about place and understanding. There's more going on than you think at all times.

You may be familiar with Alaundo if you've played Baldur's Gate, one of the computer RPGs set in the Forgotten Realms. We'll learn more about him, suffice to say he's a famous prophet and writer.

The introduction is done in-character. We're told that the Forgotten Realms are similar to Earth in the 1200-1300s, and that civilization is a relatively new thing to the Realms. In fact, a lot of space is still being cleared and really brought to heel - there's less nations than city states, and a ton of wilderness between pockets of civilization. This is all good.

Then it proceeds to shoot itself in the foot. Apparently, the merchant class is growing in power (and wealth, but wealth is economic power, so it's kind of redundant), and there's printed hand-bills in the city of Waterdeep. Let's get this straight - there's multinational commercial organizations and printing machines, that's not really 1300s Europe. We're a century and a half off from Gutenberg, so things are a little skewed anyway.

Anyway, the introduction does a pretty good job of setting D&D's standards up in its own way. We're reminded that the commoners have skills of their own (farming, crafting, metalworking), and that they have an interest in (and growing amount of) literacy. Of course, monsters of all types lurk in the wild and in forgotten places, where ruins of old cities and castles might be found. "And there is magic." While the Realms doesn't have different casting archetypes from 1e D&D, the setup is a little different. Wizards channel, not create magical energies. And priests don't just pray, they receive a blessing from the extra-planar Powers. Furthermore, magic is noted for having effects on the Realms - a huge desert and a great glacier are both expanding from the north into the Realms, and they are hypothesized to be the work of magic.

Of course, however, any or all of this can be changed by the work of heroes - those with pure hearts (or powerful artifacts) who stand up against hordes of evil. They can affect the rise and fall of nations, and strike back enemy armies if they are great enough. "It is a time when the bold and the lucky may make their fortunes and gain great power over their worlds."

The emphasis here is on connection and context, which is kind of distinctly different from Gygaxian setups of treasure collection and powermongering. If you haven't ever listened to someone grog out over Greyhawk, the idea back then is that you could play an evil or good character, because the focus of the game was on advancement and empowerment, so your ethical acts didn't actually matter. Despite the vaunted "Gygaxian realism," once you got the levels, you could always come back to stab stuff in the head and take its treasure. Everything existed to be slain and plundered.

The setup this introduction proposes is a little different - your character is a part of their environment, and their heroic acts are specifically done in order to effect particular goals in the larger political-social context. In effect, playing in the Realms is just as much about where and when and why you're doing what you're doing as it is the what itself.

Oh, and then there's this section.

See that name down there? That's Elminster. You've probably heard about him before - he's arguably the most famous character in the Forgotten Realms, along with a dude named Drizzt. He has a lot of secrets and a lot of cool things to share, but all you need to know is that he's a scribe and a sage, like it says.

This is something the Realms does a lot (until 3e, at least.) As far as I'm aware, it was the first D&D product to set up its texts not as impartial overviews of a fictional setting, but instead as in-setting works done by specific people. Because of that, the information in any given sourcebook is subject to that person's limitations and foibles. There's not only a lot more flavour, but there's also opportunities for both DMs and writers to set up specific elements as being wrong, different, or specifically-told lies to safeguard a hidden truth. As Elminster says, the rest of this box set is done in his voice, and all of it may not be correct. (Later on, we'll see some of the mechanics for that.) Elminster even goes so far as to include local legends, gossip, and other details with many of the entries in the Cyclopedia. (A good number of them are adventuring hooks, but not all.)

Oh, and you were probably wondering what Elminster looks like. Here he is:

Next time: Time and Tongues and Trade and maybe deities, if I get that far!

Roll On, Ye Mighty

posted by Arivia Original SA post

Forgotten Realms: Forgotten Realms Campaign Set II: Roll On, Ye Mighty

Time in the Forgotten Realms is pretty normal. There's no crazy sixteen-hour days or two suns to worry about. There's 365 days to the year, divided into 12 months of exactly 30 days each, and five special days outside the month. Because of this, it's pretty easy to map days and months in the Realms to our real life calendar, which is a blessing for players.

Each month has a made up fantasy name in the Common language and then a descriptive name linked to the turning of the seasons. Beginning with January, they are:
1. Hammer, also known as Deepwinter
2. Alturiak, also known as the Claw of Winter or the Claws of the Cold
3. Ches of the Sunsets
4. Tarsakh of the Storms
5. Mirtul, also known as the Melting
6. Kythorn, also known as the Time of Flowers
7. Flamerule, also known as Summertide
8. Elesias, also known as Highsun
9. Eleint, also known as the Fading
10. Marpenoth, also known as the Leafall
11. Uktar, also known as the Rotting
12. Nightal, also known as the Drawing Down

It's a neat piece of design because it shows us very quickly how much the lives of people in the Realms are dominated by the seasons and when - a DM can easily tell what's likely going on and how common people are doing with just a glance at the calendar. The strong correlation with Gregorian months makes that pretty easy to express, as well. Each month is divided into three tendays, which are alternatively called "rides." Pretty simple.

The five special days occur once every two months, starting after Hammer. They are:

-Midwinter, where lords plan for the year ahead and make alliances. Commoners call this Deadwinter Day, the middle of the worst of the cold.
-Greengrass is the official beginning of spring. Flowers that are carefully grown inside are blessed and thrown upon the snow, to pray for rich growth in the season ahead.
-Midsummer is a big holiday with feasts and music and love. Traditionally you get engaged on Midsummer. In some places, maidens are set free in the woods to be caught by their lovers, in a sort of romantic hunt.
-Highharvestide is the harvest festival. It's a feast that continues as long as the harvest is going on, so that there is food for workers coming in from the fields. There's a lot of traveling that goes on, so that merchants and officials can get their business done before mud arrives and turns into snow.
-The Feast of the Moon announces the arrival of winter, and is also when people honour the dead. There's a Ritual of Remembrance that is performed, and tales are told about the dead.

There's one more special day. Shieldmeet occurs once every four years, immediately following Midsummer. It's basically a leap year. It's a giant feast day, with tournaments and entertainment of all kinds, and commonly nobles will use the day to take open council with their people.

Years in the Forgotten Realms are referred to by name, and not by year. Why? Well, there's no real overarching empire or cultural force to provide a common calendar. Instead, different areas have their own numbering. The Forgotten Realms line as a whole uses Dalereckoning, which is the system of years in the Dalelands. As of the Old Gray Box, we're in 1357 DR, also known as the Year of the Prince. Dalereckoning dates from the creation of the Dales Compact, when the elves of the great forest Cormanthor allowed humans to settle in the open areas of the forest as long as the humans did not cut further into the forest.

Now, the Year of the Prince is a weird name, isn't it? You see, way back when, the famous Lost Sage, Augathra the Mad, wrote down a whole list of predictions. One per year, very broad prophecies. These prophecies can refer to very large or very small things: the Year of the Prince doesn't mean there's an important prince somewhere, just that there is one. Collectively, these prophecies are referred to as the Roll of Years, and we're given sixteen years worth here. It starts with the Year of the Dragon (1352 DR), and runs to the Year of the Banner, in 1368 DR. Uninterrupted, we're going to get to 1375 DR if I kill myself by presenting everything.

This focus on the years as being Augathra's predictions pulls out another cool part of the Realms - a focus on individual actions and contributions. Similarly, the calendar isn't just the calendar - it's the Calendar of Harptos, done up by a wizard long ago. It really sells the setting as being a living world where people do distinctive things and in doing so change their world, as opposed to the usual setup of D&D settings, where the "normal" is predicated on divine edict or the common systems of a continent-spanning empire. There's a lot of difference in the Realms, and those differences shine.

Speaking of difference, let's talk about naming! Names in the Realms follow a bunch of different customs and ideas depending upon who you are and where you live. Humans, for example, just use one name normally, like "Doust." If we need to differentiate multiple Dousts, you might call one "Doust the Fighter," or by location "Doust of Shadowdale." Alternatively, you might refer to a famous ancestor ("Doust, Grandson of Miniber the Sage") or a particular physical characteristic, like having "Firehair." Often, humans will take up a surname after an extraordinary event that they have been part of, like "Trollkiller." In fact, many humans have many different surnames throughout their life, keeping their given name throughout.

Human nobles, on the other hand, keep a family name pretty much forever. If your noble family falls from power and grace, you keep the name. The example given are the Wyvernspurs of Cormyr, who still keep the name they had when they were advisors to the king. (Oh, how that will change...)

Mages, on the other hand, have a good dose of innate fame just from being able to use magic. If you call someone the name of a mage, like "Elminster," they'll assume you're referring to THE Elminster, even if you just meant "Elminster the Barber" down the street.

Clerics and priests drop all other names and just call themselves so-and-so of their deity. If you run into someone particularly important, they may have an additional title referring to their prestige, such as "Asgaorth of Tempus, Patriarch of Baldur's Gate." (Asgaorth being the given name, Tempus the deity he serves, and Baldur's Gate the city he watches over.)

Elves, also known as "The People," have family names which they translate into common. Family names are important because elvish siblings may be hundreds of years apart in age - one "Starglow" may really not look like his sister. Half-elves follow either parent, sometimes changing it up.

Dwarves try to emphasize history and family in their names. The lowest-class dwarves refer to themselves by their state, like "Bruenor of Mithral Hall." Like humans, dwarves may refer to themselves by a famous ancestor. Especially famous (and long-ago) ancestors are referred to as "blood of," such as "Nor, blood of Ghellin, king-in-exile."

Gnomes use both given and surnames, but they have such sprawling families that they often have to use locations as well to avoid getting mixed up. "Wysdor Sandminer" is often "of Arabel," so people don't think his long-lost relatives are actually quite close.

Halflings use given and surnames, but they change them up quite a bit, often taking on diminutives and nicknames. The example given is hilarious, so I'm just going to quote it whole:


For example, the halfling Corkitron Allinamuck chose both first and last names (his parents were named Burrows), and goes by the diminuitive "Gorky" and the nickname "High Roll." The last comes from his penchant for dicing for treasure, saying "High Roll gets it!" If the others agree to such a deal, the halfling feels no qualm, regardless of the dice, taking his "rightful property" from the others. (After all, they did agree that "High Roll" would get it.)

Characters of other races usually just go by single names. Orcs and goblins do even worse, often skipping names and referring to each other by native words that basically just mean "Hey You!"

Next Time: Curlicues and Coins!

Good morning, and good day after that!

posted by Arivia Original SA post

Forgotten Realms: Good morning, and good day after that! (Campaign Set Part 3)

There are a number of written and spoken languages in the Forgotten Realms. Some of them are descended from 1e D&D's conceits - thieves, druids, and illusionists have their own languages, and so does every alignment. There's a neat bit of purpose on the alignment languages, though - you can't use them to talk about just anything. Instead, you can only say yes/no, express basic emotions, and talk about concepts important to your alignment. (So lawful people could talk about justice, for example.) It's still stupid and worthless, but it's a nice attempt to save one of the silliest parts of AD&D.

Notably, not everyone is literate - class and cosmopolitanism index to literacy very well, so outside of the cities, "trust your tongue."

There's two more languages that bear noting. "The High Tongue" is used for written runes of power (magic), and the common tongues that D&D wields like linguistic spackle. There's only one human Common in the Realms, but it's basically a serviceable trade language and little else. Everyone can speak it, but depending upon where you're from, you have a definite accent.

Common descends from the first of a handful of written languages described, Thorass. Thorass (or Auld Common) is the old trade-tongue and a somewhat universal language long ago; it's often found in tombs, underground, and in backwaters that are really out of date. Long ago, a lot of people were illiterate, so Thorass not only has written script but symbolic runes, as well. Still, as long as you can read or write Common, you can understand Thorass, although it comes off a bit stilted and very archaic.

Ruathlek is the secret language of illusionists. It's derived from magical runes and the High Script, and is pretty rare - there's rumours the city of Waterdeep might have a Ruathlek library, but that's all.

Espruar is the elven alphabet. Weirdly enough, elves sometimes use the elven alphabet to write in Common, just as a mindfuck for their elders I guess? "Fuck you Pops, I'm gonna write like a circle-ear."

The dwarven alphabet is Dethek. It's not often used to write on paper or other perishable materials. Instead, dwarves make books out of metal, or write on walls and other permanent surfaces. Most often, they write on tablets - called runestones in Common. Dwarven runestones are made of a very hard stone cut into a diamond shape. Runes spiral out from the edge, with a picture in relief in the middle. Some even are used as seals or to make temporary trail markers.

Then there's a handful of greetings. We're going to have a lot of time to get really familiar with this stuff, so I'm not covering it now. The halfling "joke" greeting is the title of this part, and there's one other worth covering. Hobgoblins say "Braeunk vhos trolkh!" which roughly translates to "If you die while I'm gone, do it quietly (because I wouldn't want to miss the fun.)"

Of course, that hobgoblin just wants to loot your dead body for your currency , which is our next section. If you're not familiar with D&D currency, from smallest to largest, there's copper, silver, electrum, gold, and platinum coins (or pieces.) The conversion is generally 10:1 from each level to the next, except when it isn't. The Realms doesn't mess around with this at all.

Instead, we're told that large, powerful kingdoms or city-states are the ones that most commonly mint coins. The kingdom of Cormyr is the example given, where coins are stamped with a dragon on one side and the minting date on the other. Counterfeiting is punished by death, and there's no fiat currency or IOUs, except for "blood-notes," which are sealed in blood by both parties and then signed off on by the local lord.

Smaller states sometimes mint their own copper, silver, and gold pieces (but not the more exotic coins), but more frequently just accept whatever coins come in from larger, more stable places with strong mercantile presences, like Cormyr, Sembia, and Waterdeep.

Finally, merchants and hoarders of wealth use "trade-bars," which are portable lengths of precious metals in 10, 25, and 50 gp denominations. They're identified according to the trading company they come from.

It doesn't show too much here, but I really like how currency in the Realms is handled. There's a lot of emphasis on currency serving mercantile and political needs, instead of just being a generic vessel of wealth for adventurers. Eventually, we'll see special coins for particular uses in specific places, as well as interacting currencies with different perceptions of their value (like the cursed "blood coins" of Zhentil Keep.)

Since this is a short entry, let's start on the religions of the Forgotten Realms. As I noted previously, gods in the Realms are referred to as Powers, and are commonly known to be beings of incomprehensible power that live beyond the Realms itself (in the greater planes of existence for D&D.) While Powers themselves don't often appear (ie, you're not going to wander down the street and see an avatar), the relationship between a worshiper and their god is very important. Without worship, the god will fade away and die, and without the blessing of their god, then the worshiper (especially a priest) will be at ends in their own life.

Now, you might think this leads to an all-encompassing emphasis on what your one god wants. Quite to the contrary, the main human pantheon (called the Chondathan pantheon) includes some 50 gods, and you can find a man or woman of the Realms praying to one, some, or many each day. Each has their own portfolio they are responsible for, and each god is given worship when needed for that portfolio. The simplest example are sailors, who will often pray to Umberlee, the vengeful Bitch-Queen of the seas. Umberlee isn't the deity they most often identify with (that's Valkur the Mighty), but they acknowledge Umberlee's dominion, and accept that they must placate her in order to gain safe travel. (If they don't, then the title of Bitch-Queen really comes into play, when she sinks your ship and drowns you for the hell of it.) We're not going to get into all of those fifty deities at this point; it takes awhile for the pantheon to grow that large.

Because it's First Edition, deities are a thing you stab, so easily half of every entry is dedicated to telling you what they look like, what their special powers are, and what weapons they carry. It will get better in Second Edition, and then it will get very, very bad.

Here are the symbols of the deities I'm covering in this part:

The closest thing to art for forty pages.

The first deity presented is Auril , the Frostmaiden. Auril is a neutral evil goddess of cold and winter. Auril is allied with Talos , the god of storms. Auril often appears as a woman with ice-blue skin, and her touch and breath freeze the air and kill plants.

Azuth , the High One, is the god of magic users. He's a lawful neutral deity who often appears as an old man. Azuth can cast as if he's a wizard and a cleric at maximum level, and screw around with your magic items.

Bane , who you might be familiar with from his entry into the Fourth Edition core pantheon, is also known as the Black Lord. A lawful evil god of strife, hatred, and tyranny, Bane has never been seen himself. Instead, his enemies speak of being visited by a freezing black-taloned hand and eyes of blazing fire. His church is very powerful, and is additionally supported by the mages of Zhentil Keep.

Beshaba is the Maid of Misfortune, or Lady Doom. She's the fickle chaotic evil deity of bad luck, misfortune, and trickery. She appears as a white-haired woman, laughing maniacally. Chaos follows in her wake: plans fall apart, weapons break, and freak accidents plague people and animals.

You're probably familiar with Bhaal , the Lord of Murder. He's the lawful evil god of assassins and murder, and he appears as a bloody, mutilated corpse that moves silently and strikes unerringly. It is said that every murder committed strengthens Bhaal. (Note that as of the time of this product, Bhaal is still alive.)

Chauntea , the Great Mother, is possibly the most important goddess of the Realms. Why? She represents life, agriculture, and the life-force of the planet itself. Farmers and gardeners worship her, filling her temples with greenery. She's not ornate, but instead asks for small acts of devotion, and she is always at war with Auril and Talos. The Earth Mother of the Moonshae Islands is an aspect of Chauntea.

Deneir , the Lord of All Glyphs and Images, is the neutral good god of literature, writing, and art. His priests are mostly scholars, and most of the magical or artifact books in the Realms are ascribed to him. (Things like the tomes that raise your ability scores, or the book of infinite spells. )

Eldath , the Quiet One, is the goddess of waterfalls, springs, and groves. She is the supreme pacifist, only acting to turn places of peace and solace into the greatest sanctuaries. The elven war hero Telva once camped in one of her groves, and never raised his sword again.

Gond , the Wonderbringer, is the neutral god of blacksmiths, crafting, and construction. He often appears as a smith, toiling over an anvil to craft impossible works. His worship is so common on the island of Lantan that worship of Gond is almost the state religion, and nowhere else in the Realms is the drive for invention so strong.

Next Time: Celtic? Finnish? Sure, Throw 'Em In!

Torm and Tyr and that other guy just like Torm and Tyr

posted by Arivia Original SA post

Forgotten Realms: Torm and Tyr and that other guy just like Torm and Tyr

More Powers!

Helm , He of the Unsleeping Eyes, is the lawful neutral god of guardians. He's always watching, and he never rests. You can never surprise him, and he knows pretty much everything through observation and deduction. It's very hard to trick him, and he never stops guarding whatever he's...guarding. Kind of creepy, don't you think? "IT NEVER SLEEPS. IT NEVER STOPS. IT IS ALWAYS WATCHING YOU. IT KNOWS WHAT YOU ARE DOING. ALWAYS." Panopticon God here is worshiped because his worshipers hope some of his good qualities will rub off on them, which means somewhere out there in the Realms is someone touching themselves to a holy symbol of Helm while thinking about police brutality. His temples are located close to great evil, so that they may guard against it. The example given is a temple outside of Darkhold, which, yep, sounds pretty evil.

Ilmater , the Crying God, is the god of endurance, suffering, and martyrdom. He shows up as a bleeding, broken man, his hands torn nearly apart but still useful. Ilmater is the willing sufferer who takes pain to spare another. Being lawful good, he has been known to visit people being tortured and take their pain for then, but only if they're good and are being unjustly tortured.

Lathander , the Morninglord, is the neutral good god of dawn, creativity, and the spring. Everyone makes offerings to him when they start a new project or make friends. When he appears, he shows up as a rosy mist. His priests wear pink or scarlet, sometimes trimmed with gold.

Leira , the Lady of the Mists, is the chaotic neutral deity of deception and illusion. No one knows what she looks like - her priests pray to altars holding nothing but air. She could be anything, anywhere. in a bit of 1e alignment focus, no one worships her but illusions because who else would be interested in deceiving others? On the other hand, a lot of people try to placate her before making important decisions. She is neutral, rather than evil, because she represents the "caprices of nature" rather than actual deceit (which goes to Mask , below.) Oh, and her name is pronounced LAIR-ah. Why do I mention that? Well...

Lliira , Our Lady of Joy, is spelled and pronounced almost the same. (LEER-ah, for the record.) Still, you really don't want to get confused. I imagine if you show up to a Leiran gathering dressed all in gay tones and singing happy songs to promote joy, they stuff you in a bag, throw you off a pier, and talk about how the city guard really needs to start giving better directions. Lliira is the chaotic good goddess of joy and dancing. (YES, this needs a goddess.) She is allied with Milil and Sune , and is worshiped at all joyful occasions. She usually shows up as a dancing, happy young woman. She cannot abide violence, to the point where a drawn blade is enough to drive her away.

Loviatar , the Maiden of Pain, is taken directly from the Finnish pantheon as detailed in ADVANCED DUNGEONS AND DRAGONS supplement LEGENDS AND LORE. That's pretty much all we get on the lawful evil goddess of pain and torture. Does it get as bad as you think it will? Oh yes.

Malar , the Beast Lord, is the chaotic evil god of bloodlust and evil beasts. He shows up as a great black beast with claws dripping blood. Hunters make offerings to him before starting chases, and he manifests in animals driven mad, enraged beasts, and man-killers. Berserkers like Malar, to the point that anyone who enjoys murder as a sensuous act worships him over Bhaal's cruel, calculated killing.

Mask , the Lord of Shadows, is the god of shadows but not darkness. Instead, he's the neutral evil deity of thieves. He appears as an unassuming young man with a magic cloak that lets him go invisible and disguise himself as anyone. His priests hold services in deep heavy vaults, dimly lit, dressed in heavy robes.

Mielikki , the Lady of the Forest, is the neutral good goddess of rangers and forests. She's also taken from the Finnish pantheon (didn't know that until reading it just now), and appears as a young maiden with leaves and moss for hair.

Milil , the Lord of Song, is the god of poetry and song. He's neutral good, and shows up as a charismatic man or elf with an enchanting voice. More frequently, though, he appears as haunting music in particularly beautiful places. He sometimes provides inspiration to his followers, showing them escape routes or nearby hidden treasure.

Myrkul , the Lord of Bones, is the god of death and the dead. He's neutral evil, and shows up as a cloaked, skeletal corpse. He appears frequently, speaking in a high whisper. His personal servants are known as "Deaths," like the ones that appear in a deck of many things . He can animate and control the dead, and he lives in the Castle of Bones on the plane of Hades.

Mystra , the Lady of Mysteries and the Mother of All Magic, is perhaps the most important deity in the Realms. She's the goddess of magic, predictably, and she concerns herself with keeping a magical balance across the entirety of the Realms. She often appears as a sparkle of light glowing in many different colours. She is said to have given the first teachings of magic to the races of the Realms, long ago. She is lawful neutral because magic is inherently neutral, yet holds to an internal order.

Oghma , the Binder, is the neutral god of knowledge. He's taken from the Celtic pantheon, and appears as a burly man carrying a yarting (a kind of harp, I think.)

Selune is pretty cool. Our Lady of Silver is the moon/the goddess of the moon (depending upon who you talk to), and is revered by anyone who works at night. Selune and Mystra have some sort of bond - children born under a full moon often exhibit magical ability. She's also worshiped by good lycanthropes who have come to terms with their condition (she's chaotic good, by the way.) Selune aids her worshipers by sending motes of "moondust" to illuminate darkness. Worshiping Selune often involves a "night-stalk," a solitary moonlit walk, and her priests often find "drops fallen from the moon," which they can make powerful potions with. These drops are said to come from the "tears of selune," shards in the sky that follow Selune the moon across the sky. Eventually, through the wonder of modern desktop publishing, Selune will grow a circumflex accent over her u.

Shar , Mistress of the Night, is the neutral evil goddess of darkness, night, and loss. The Lady of Loss is worshiped by those who lost someone dear to them, because she makes them forget: they forever feel the loss, but they eventually become inured to the pain. Shar is said to continually battle Selune, slaying her each new moon, and is worshiped by anyone who forsakes light for darkness.

Silvanus , the Oak-Father, is the neutral god of nature. Silvanus is taken from the Celtic pantheon, and his priests include both clerics and druids.

Sune Firehair is the goddess of love and beauty. Sune is chaotic good, and appears as the most beautiful of women, always redheaded. If you please Sune enough, she will provide a charisma-raising potion. Sune's worshipers are often overly concerned with beauty, spending a lot of time working out and posturing, but their temples are some of the most beautiful in the Realms. Sune is one of the two goddesses I've always wanted to do something with (the other is Selune), but I've never actually played one of her paladins. Which is a shame, because they're rad.

Talona , the Lady of Poison, is the chaotic evil goddess of poison and disease. Talona appears as a blackened crone with a scarred face, and she is probably the same deity as the Finnish goddess Kiputytto.

Talos , the Destroyer, is the god of storms and destruction. Chaotic evil, Talos is the most fickle of gods, given to seemingly random fury. His worshipers hope by placating him that he will instead strike someone else, like worshipers of Chauntea. His description is kind of rad, so I'm going to quote it whole:


He is rendered as a broad-shouldered, bearded young man with a single good eye, carrying a bundle across his back. In this bundle Talos carries staves made of the first iron forged in the Realms, of the first silver smelted, of the first tree planted and grown by man, and others. With these staves he raises the winds, cleaves the earth, rends the sky, and wrecks his havoc.

Tempus , the Lord of Battles (or Foehammer), is the chaotic neutral deity of war. Everyone who battles prays to Tempus; they do so in hope of having their prowess elevated and their enemies cursed. He sometimes appears in battle as a giant man in bloodied, battered armor, always wounded. If you see him on his white mare, Veiros, you will win; if you see him riding his black stallion, Deiros, then you will know defeat.

Torm the True is the lawful good deity of duty and loyalty. Torm is the god of those who serve faithfully to protect others, and was once mortal, renowed for serving his king regardless of danger to himself. He is still a great fighter, serving Tyr . Many cavaliers and paladins committed to protection follow Torm. (Note: without looking up their giant writeups in a later supplement, I cannot honestly say what the difference is between Helm and Torm. And this is my FAVORITE CAMPAIGN SETTING. )

Tymora , Lady Luck, is the chaotic good deity of good fortune, luck, and victory. She's the favourite goddess of adventurers, who often depend upon her blessings to get out of tight spots. Still, she is fickle, and given to helping those who help themselves. She appears as a boyish woman with a crafty look on her face, and is known to appear as a halfling when they are common. Tymora can best any opponent in any contest once a day, and always makes saving throws.

Tyr , known as Grimjaws or the Even-Handed, is the lawful good god of justice. Tyr's worship is less than a thousand years old. "Even-handed" does not refer to his attitude towards trial, but is instead a black joke referring to his missing right hand. Tyr is probably the same god as in the Norse pantheon, but he only covers justice and not war.

Umberlee , the Bitch Queen, we already talked a little about earlier. Umberlee is chaotic evil, and is devoted to stirring up wicked currents that sink or crash ships on the Sword Coast. Umberlee commands the waves and the winds at sea, but prefers using the waves to push boats around and down them. Alternatively, she sends forth great sharks (or worse) to harry and destroy. Her title of Bitch Queen is only used when on dry land, and in hushed voice - so that Umberlee cannot use her wrath against those who wrong her so.

Waukeen , Merchantsfriend, is the neutral goddess of trade. She is about as new as Tyr, but became a quick favorite with merchants and traders. They pray to her for wealth, or at least salvation from financial ruin.

Whew. That was a lot of words about the Chondathan pantheon. But we're not done yet!

The Elemental Lords are the implacable, alien powers with domain over the elements. Hailing from the Inner Planes, they do not care for humanity or worshipers, and are only prayed to sparingly to drive off an evil deity. For example, you might pray to Istishia , the Water Lord, in order to calm Umberlee. The three others are Grumbar , the King of the Land below the Roots; Kossuth , the Lord of Flames; and Akadi , the Lady of Air.

The Beast Cults are prayed to by savages, nomads, and evil humanoids. They come in many different forms, including Nobanion the beast god, the cults of Lolth among the dark elves, and something called the Dragon Cult , which I've never heard of before.

There's a bunch of deities for dwarves, elves, etc, but they're pretty D&D standard, so I'll go over them later when necessary.

Then there's more powers from the Chondathan pantheon! Yes, really, it ends then it starts again. These are lesser deities, often only worshiped in specific areas or by very small amounts of people. They include:

Valkur the Mighty, who we talked about before. He's the god of sailors, often prayed to against Talos and Umberlee.

Siamorphe is the lawful neutral deity of nobility and noble blood. She represents the noble right to rule, providing that those nobles keep themselves fit to rule and rule responsibly.

Gwaeron Windstrom is a neutral good demigod who serves Mielikki. He is the god of tracking and interpreting woodland signs, and helps land travellers.

Sharess is a chaotic good aspect of Shar, a decadent power of lust and seduction worshiped in the festhalls of Calimshan, Waterdeep, and elsewhere. Sharess is worshipped in prolonged fests with scented baths, food, music, and other decadent pleasures. Her symbol is a pair of ruby red women's lips, worn at wrist and ankle on thin gold chains.

Hoar , the Doombringer, is the god of revenge and retribution. He is originally known as Assuran in the lands around the Inner Sea. When a murderer slips or is otherwise brought to unlucky death just after committing a crime, it is referred to as the "Hand of Hoar."

Iyachtu Xvim , the Godson, is the literal son of Bane. He does Bane's bidding across the Realms.

Moander is the long-forgotten god of decay and the circle of life. His faith died years before the erection of the Standing Stone and the settling of the Dalelands, and only his main temple in ruined Yulash remains.

That's finally it for gods. There's a section on godly relationships (who serves who, who hates who) that I'm not going to recap because holy shit was that a lot of words .

On the next page is a cool little table that breaks down what Powers are usually followed by what character class. For example, magic-users most often follow Mystra or Azuth. Of course, player characters can worship whoever they want.. Notably, it includes both professions and notes on what gods someone might seek to placate instead of specifically worshiping. For example, a midwife would worship Lathander but try to placate Myrkul against death for mother and child.

Ultimately, I really like the FR system of divinity. It turns out to have a lot of quirks that show up with time, but the idea of a rich and repeatedly accessible pantheon does a lot to put life into the stolid D&D god setups. You're not just stuck with one deity, but instead you pay attention to what is most important, and the how of that worship (do you pray to Tymora for luck to get out of this dungeon, or Selune for protection against the dark?) is a pretty cool roleplaying tool.

Next time: I can finally use the most prominent adjective in the setting!

Torillian Geography 101

posted by Arivia Original SA post

Forgotten Realms: Torillian Geography 101

Continuing on from deities brings us to the Cyclopedia itself, at the heart of the Forgotten Realms Campaign Set. In ye olden days of D&D campaign settings, this is how the world information was presented - an A to Z list of encyclopedic entries, with important people, places, and things thrown all together. So let's see what's what, eh?

First up is Abeir-Toril , which, oh. It's the name of the world! How convenient! Abeir-Toril, also known as Toril, is the world the Forgotten Realms is set on.

Secret note: Abeir was added by Jeff Grubb to put the world and the basic definitions at the front of the cyclopedia. It doesn't mean anything, except when it does, in 4th edition. No one calls it Abeir. Don't do that unless you want a bunch of pasty nerds clutching their copies of the Dark Elf Trilogy to give you a swirly until you bleed 1d6 pints of blood.

So what's Abeir-Toril like? Well, here's a map (linked because it's like 5 megs.) Now wait, you say - isn't Toril a world? Why is there only a continent on here and it goes off the map on three sides? Is Toril flat?

No. But no one really cares about the other parts. This part is a giant continent called Faerun , and it's where pretty much everything with the Forgotten Realms logo on it is set. If you see something from the Forgotten Realms, 99% chance it's from Faerun.

There are some other parts to Toril, of course. They are Kara-Tur (fantasy Asia), Zakhara (fantasy Arabia), and Maztica (fantasy South America.) Isn't elfgame design fun!

Anyway, you can use this map to look up the places I've been referencing - the Dalelands (look NW of the big body of water in the center), Cormyr (look SW of the Dalelands), and Waterdeep (look for it on the northwestern shore.) This isn't the map that came with the Campaign Set - it's from the later Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting for Third Edition - but it certainly serves our needs, and it's pretty easy to work with.

Now, one more important thing. Ed Greenwood wrote up a lot of the Realms, but a lot of his work is focused around his two home campaigns in Waterdeep and the Dalelands. Because of that, there's a ton more published detail around those areas than elsewhere in the Realms. Collectively, they are called the Heartlands , and I outlined them on this map (again, mega-huge) for you.

The orange outline is the Heartlands as outlined in the Campaign Set. Pretty soon (like first two supplements soon), it's also going to include the section coloured in blue, which is also known as The North. Collectively, the Heartlands and the North are the really in-depth, heavily detailed, lore-heavy parts of the Realms. We'll be spending a lot of time there in a lot of different ways.

Notably, the Heartlands all share mostly the same culture - they're human dominated, by the racial group known as the Chondathans. They worship the same gods (the pantheon I noted before), and have similar outlooks on law & order, magic, and other concepts. But - that doesn't mean they're boring: there's so much intrigue afoot it would take years to tell it! (Maybe it will.)

Next time: Adventuring Companies as a social group and bellwether of exactly how fucked your little village is.

No, seriously, the donkey gets a full share, it's in the rules

posted by Arivia Original SA post

Okay, well, I can't let a bunch of words about that newfangled shiny Eberron take over the crown of most involved writeup of a D&D setting, so let's return to Faerun!

Forgotten Realms: No, seriously, the donkey gets a full share, it's in the rules

Next up in the Cyclopedia, conveniently for our D&D players, is adventuring companies (or the common adventuring party.) We're pretty harsh here in TG on D&D's traditional murder hobos, but there's a bit of a different approach taken here in the Realms. The Cyclopedia entry puts adventuring parties on a continuum with merchants and mercenary companies. (Mercenary companies are closer to large private armies than anything else.) All of them have power and an inclination towards self-sufficient success; merchants just think about money the best, mercenaries war the best, and adventurers have a balance between the two kinds of inclination and an adventuring spirit.

In effect, the Realms' adventurers are freelance contractors - they have their reputations to manage, budgets to keep track of, and need to balance out their work and rest in order to guarantee that they have a good stream of income. This makes sense in the 1e AD&D setup, where an experienced adventuring company picks up henchmen and halflings - and then has to pay them out of the gross treasure acquired. Really, your average fighter dude at level 9 or whatever has his squire and a mule train with him to go to the Mountain of Doom: he's less of a hobo and more of a minor celebrity, complete with entourage and a habit of throwing stuff at inn workers.

Elminster's notes for this section develop this concept. The word Ed Greenwood picks to discuss the adventuring companies is "tolerated" - adventurers can be helpful to a community (by clearing out that band of goblins), but they are also big huge messes that cause a ton of chaos and often do as much good as bad. Because of this, nations and groups organize adventuring parties in the Realms in different ways. You see, an adventuring company isn't just a party of PCs, but a specific mercantile and commercial project. In the country of Cormyr, for example, adventuring parties have to provide written charters and lists of members to the Crown in order to be given basically an adventuring license - Cormyr is a lawful, settled country, so it has an interest in making sure adventurers do good deeds. The country of Amn just bans adventurers together, so any adventuring parties there often disguise themselves as small detachments of mercenary companies.

We're given a number of examples of adventuring parties (too many to list here, and not all of them are notable), but a few in particular reinforce this narrative of PCs as active participants in a world that responds to them. The Four are a largely evil group who were kicked out of the city of Waterdeep after accepting a number of contracts to murder this or that noble: it doesn't matter that the contracts were taken out by other nobles, but rather that the group itself was disruptive to Waterdeep's peace. (Which is probably a good thing, seeing as they are apparently really good at unseen assassinations and are also banned from Cormyr.)

Halfling Inc, as you can guess, is all halfings. "Inc." isn't generally a term used in the Forgotten Realms, but it's funny anyway. They scam people a lot, and have perpetuated a reputation for halflings as devious and dangerous, even despite the acts of heroism they have performed (such as closing a gate to the fiendish planes under the city of Westgate .)

The Knights of Myth Drannor are given a bunch of details here. They're notable because they were actually one of Ed Greenwood's own player groups, with their game set around the incredibly detailed village of Shadowdale; there's a set of novels he wrote with them as the characters and they eventually became the rulers of Shadowdale itself. There's nothing really to know about the Knights - they're just tied into a whole bunch of little details here and there. (The other group, not mentioned here, are the Company of Crazed Venturers, out of Waterdeep.)

Mane's Band and the Men of the Basilisk are both pretty normal groups; the first is involved in a bunch of political intrigues in the Dalelands and the second becomes really important in some late 2e stuff. I'm just mentioning them so you know they exist, I'll cover them later.

The Nine are really interesting. There kinda-sorta-is-but-not-really is a metaplot in the Forgotten Realms materials. It's not like everything points towards Cain returning, but instead there's a lot of long-standing secrets that Ed and other writers toss in and develop quite slowly. The Nine - and a very dangerous enemy they made - are one of these secrets, and it starts now (in 1987) and keeps getting developed until 2005 in a book called Lost Empires of Faerun. Even then, the full story still isn't told. What we do know is that they were extremely powerful, extremely rich, and are now retired after adventuring for a staggering 30 years. They were lead by the 24th level mage Laeral, who is known as a great creator of magic items. (Don't spoil that for people who don't know what's going on; and for comparison's sake, 24th is a really high level. Most of the other adventurers in the Campaign Set are less than level 10.) They had a hidden stronghold in some place called the Unicorn Run, and some of them are apparently on other planes even now.

Finally, we get an account of the adventuring parties in the actual rules of AD&D. All dungeon groups of NPCs are usually adventuring companies (back when, you could randomly roll up a level 11 human fighter and his friends on the fourth level of your dungeon), and they are usually registered by their name, symbol, and roster with any local authorities. However, registered groups can often get a tab with local merchants or traders, and can gain fame as a collective whole. For example, if you give a ton of money to the Temple of Mystra and are known for your donations, other priests of Mystra will look nicely upon you. (This is exactly the mechanism used to govern your reputation/fame in the Infinity Engine games like Baldur's Gate, so it's really a neat callback and keeps everything internally consistent.) Adventuring companies also need to figure out how they distribute treasure, who the leader is, and if they have any code of conduct (ie: don't whore too hard when you get back to town, Rogar the Fighter.) It does note that if you bully and intimidate everyone else into going your way, your adventuring company will probably split up before you make any real money or fame, which isn't very good then is it?

Aglarond , the first actual geographic entry we're getting to in the Cyclopedia, is a small nation formed on a peninsula jutting out into the Sea of Fallen Stars. It's our first place I have always wanted to run a game in but haven't yet. Aglarond, despite being pretty far off the beaten path, is fairly famous across the Realms: the ruler, the Simbul (also known as the Witch-Queen, but never to her face unless you want to know nothing but fire and pain for the last twelve seconds of your life), is waging a one-woman war against the nearby Red Wizards of Thay . (For the purposes of this entry, consider Thay to be a generic evil magocracy.)

Outside of the war with Thay, Aglarond generally keeps to its own - the problem is that it is all that stands between Thay and a full-scale invasion of the northern parts of the Sea, and for that reason, it is very politically important. The Red Wizards also don't like rival mages, so a powerful archmage as their closest enemy really doesn't sit well with them. The Simbul is one in a line of mages who have ruled Aglarond, many of them female.

Aglarond is heavily wooded, turning to swamp at the east where the peninsula meets the mainlands; otherwise it is barren. Travel is by trail, ship, or griffon (!). Its exports are lumber, gems, and copper, which it trades for food and iron primarily.

One problem with a 25 year-old franchise is that it definitely ends up retconning itself at points. There's a few things in this Aglarond entry that aren't going to stay the same. Apparently, Aglarond has no large cities (a falsehood if you look at the map above), and has no army nor navy, just a bunch of very motivated trappers and foresters. Which is really awkward next to a bunch of angry evil mages, who could probably just summon a bunch of minor devils or demons and scare the crap out of an army of 0-level commoners. Still, somehow, apparently Aglarond does hold them back, having won the famous battles of Singing Sands and Brokenheads (both over one hundred years ago.) Even today, Thay tests Aglarond's borders for weakness with mercenaries and raiding parties.

Little is known about the Simbul, but she appears to roam the northern Realms, constantly influencing events due to her own chaotic whims. She is said to be an ally or a member of a mysterious group known as the Harpers; who do work outside of Aglarond - this might explain the Simbul's wide reaching ways.

Question: So, the Cyclopedia is organized alphabetically, but it has a bunch of entries for cities and some settlements that come before the entries for the areas they are in. Would people prefer if I just kept it as written and focused on what I can say about the city itself, or would people prefer that I cover the area first (ie, Cormyr) before the city (Arabel) so I can talk about it in a greater context?

Next time: The most important desert and a place we are not going to hear about for years afterward.

The Land of the Purple Dragons

posted by Arivia Original SA post

Forgotten Realms: The Land of The Purple Dragons

Okay, so, Cormyr. I'm breaking out of alphabetical format because Cormyr is really important, prominent, and receives a good four pages to itself in the Cyclopedia. It's actually a bit hard to think about how to boil this down.

As you might have noticed from the maps I've posted, Cormyr sits square in the middle of the Heartlands, the really detailed and really popular part of the Forgotten Realms I pointed out. It's so detailed that there's a 4e Dragon magazine article on it that served two purposes: 1) To provide a good primer for new 4e players to the nation and 2) To get into print a single, coherent map of Cormyr that had on it the hundred to two hundred communities and sites that had been mentioned and placed over time.

What is really notable about Cormyr, first off the bat, is that it is unique among the Heartlands - it is the only true nation among them. Famous cities in the Realms like Waterdeep and Neverwinter are standalone city-states, and the Dalelands are a loose confederacy of towns. Cormyr is the only one with actual borders, a ruler, and a single standing army. In fact, it is one of two traditional kingdoms in the Realms - that is, traditional kingdom in the D&D sense of a European fantasy with a hereditary monarchy and its own defined borders and national identity. The other one is Impiltur , and the best word to describe Impiltur right from the 1e Campaign Set until the 4e Campaign Guide is fucked .

Now, don't get me wrong - there are monarchies among the Realms, and there are other defined nations, and there are even other kings. But each and every one of those has a different twist that takes it a good distance away from the D&D standard, like "entire bloodline is cursed to be possessed by demons forever," "king is also archmage and can literally see the future 90% of the time," and "king is a dwarf. also dead or stone, not sure which." Because of this, not only is Cormyr popular and prominent because it was part of Ed Greenwood's original focus for the Realms, it is also really popular because it is the only example of the "standard" D&D nation-state in the Realms. So you get a large variety of products and adventures set in Cormyr because it is a really easy place for unoriginal writers (and let's face it, there are certainly no shortage of those in game design, even in TSR's hallowed halls) to latch on to and use.

That said, we aren't dealing with a horrible abomination of bad design fever dreams here. Cormyr has some cool stuff going on, and it's really worth playing in if you want a classic D&D feel. It's roughly square, stuck between the desert of Anauroch and an arm of the Sea of Fallen Stars called the Dragonmere. (There is also a place nearby called the Dragon Coast. Cormyr is called the Land of the Purple Dragon. In case you didn't get the message, here be dragons, at least long ago in history.)

Cormyr is commonly known as the Forest Kingdom; it was originally deep woods right from the Storm Horns in the west to the Thunder Peaks in the east, but it's been so well settled and for so long (the Cormyrean monarchy dates back 1300 years) that much of the forest has been cut down and turned into farmland. What is left is mostly in the single wood known as the King's Forest, which is actively husbanded by the King's men, and carefully logged and protected. You can't log in the King's Forest without royal permission, but as a form of royal grace, you can hunt for yourself and your family at any time.

Cormyr is so well populated because it is geographically well-situated. Not only does the Dragonmere create easy, rich farming, but Cormyr stands astride one of the major trade routes between the riches of the Sword Coast to the West and the Sea of Fallen Stars to the east. If you want to ship something overland from the west to the east of Faerun, it either comes through Cormyr, it comes in a very circuitous manner, or you put your life at extreme risk while traveling.

Cormyr is ruled by the slightly soft and intellectual King Azoun IV (of the house of Obarskyr), a sharp and funny man who isn't as much of a warrior as his father, the warrior-king Rhigaerd II. The royal court is located in the capital city of Suzail , consisting of not only the royal palace but also a veritable warren of public and noble buildings that surround it. Azoun is very rarely seen outside of the court, and almost never in the smaller or rougher towns and villages around Cormyr. Instead, he is rumoured to travel under disguise across the Forest Kingdom to see his people. Azoun is married to Queen Filfaeril, who is strong of will and brooks very little disagreement; still, those who know Filfaeril well say that she is caring and affectionate. Their marriage has produced three children: Foril, their son and firstborn, died at the age of two. Their two other children are girls. Tanalasta Obarskyr is the very image of a proper princess, dutiful in her studies and a delight at court. Alusair, the youngest, could not be more different. Known as the "Steel Princess," Alusair cares not at all for courtly duties or noble living. Instead, Alusair took to arms and fighting at a young age. She now leads a small detachment of Cormyrean soldiers, fighting among them. No one in Cormyr finds Alusair's martial inclination unusual or wrong (although her lack of respect for the court doesn't befit a royal.) What they do find troublesome are the rumours that she drinks and fist-fights as much as the best of her men (and then sleeps with them.) In effect, the Steel Princess is prized as a symbol of Cormyrean knighthood and heroism, and worried over as a sign of decadence.

House Obarskyr (and with them, the kingdom of Cormyr) has the arms of a purple dragon on a black field, a symbol carried by all of Cormyr's knights and soldiers. Because of this, Cormyr's army is popularly known as the "Purple Dragons," and they are known for being well-trained and richly equipped. The army is standing (kept perpetually active, unlike a militia or volunteer army that is called on in times of need), and is organized by the Lord High Marshal of Cormyr, Lord Bhereu.

Cormyr's date system dates back to the founding of House Obarskyr 1332 years ago (26 DR), so there is a discrepancy between the common Dalereckoning system and what is called Cormyr Reckoning. To switch between the two, subtract 25 from Dalereckoning or add 25 to Cormyr Reckoning. For much of Cormyr's history, there wasn't much to the country, just a handful of villages and Suzail itself: invaders even drove the current ruler from Suzail a few times.

There's a printed partial geneology of House Obarskyr here, and a mention of where Azoun IV fits into the overall lineage. It doesn't really work - it's printed in Cormyrean dates as opposed to the DR system used everywhere else in the Cyclopedia, so it is immediately confusing; it's also wrong and doesn't really match up with anything. Eventually, the lineage gets sorted out in the 3e supplement The Grand History of the Realms , but don't worry about it between then and now.

Cormyr is a peaceful kingdom, as much as a place can be peaceful in a world with man-eating trolls. There has been no true war since Rhigaerd II defeated the Border Raiders, and the Purple Dragons just succesfully put down the rebellion of Gondegal the Bandit King (who we'll talk about when I get back to Arabel.) However, patrols in the north and west often fight bandits, the goblins and other monsters of the area known as the Stonelands, and evil raiders have been known to ride out of Tilver's Gap and the other mountains in order to pillage farmsteads. In response, Cormyr has been building a mighty fortress for the past decade, Castle Crag, to defend against any attacks.

Direct power in Cormyr descends from Azoun IV to his handpicked lords, each of whom governs a large community and surrounding lands and are known as the local lords (in contrast to the courtly lords, who have a hereditary noble title and noble house with all the trimmings.) There are too many to list, but the most important are: Lady Myrmeen Lhal of Arabel , Lord Tessaril Winter of Eveningstar , Samtavan Sulacar of Immersea , and Sthavar, Lord Magister of Suzail . (In an example of wonderful RPG editing, the list of lords is supposed to be done in order from greatest power to least, but is actually presented alphabetically by area of control.) Each lord is served by several merchant lords who tend to mercantile affairs, and by a Herald.

Heralds are really important and basically get explained nowhere in the Forgotten Realms for like 20 years. Which is kind of stupid, because they're a huge part of the sociocultural makeup for the setting in general. So here's an explanation: Heralds (always capital, it's an actual title) are travelling journalists, judges, and record-keepers. Heralds travel from town to town delivering news, some letter-mail, and other important details; while they are there, they update the town's records (births, deaths, and marriages), and preside over any civil legal disputes.You can effectively think of them as the entire executive branch of the government minus the military and the tax collector. There's a single Herald listed for each of Cormyr's Lords; the detailed published material on Heralds suggests that each of these should instead be a local herald, who keeps the grand records; they are in turn reported to by the traveling court heralds who do the duties I listed above (and often act as eyes and ears for the Crown.) Don't call either type a High Herald; that's something else entirely (but still related!) that we don't need to cover for quite awhile.

Azoun taxes lightly - a silver piece per head per year to the local lord in tithe, and then a royal tax of 1 gold per head annually, with five gold more taxed from wealthy landowners. One gold is roughly what a peasant makes in a month, so it is a significant burden but not too much. Living in Cormyr is by no means easy for the common man, but at least there is a good, just rule of law and a stable military to watch your back: that's more than others in Faerun have, for sure.

Cormyr's military is divided into smaller groups, such as the men at arms kept by each local lord, and the standing army of bowmen and soldiers lead by knights. Most notable are the War Wizards, the mages who make up a good portion of Cormyr's magical talent. They are taught, trained, and tightly controlled by the Royal Magician, Vangerdahast. Because of the War Wizards, Cormyr's military might is feared - not only are their men well-trained, but they are one of a very small number of states who can directly bring magical might to bear in large numbers. Any wizards in Cormyr are required to identify themselves to the Crown and to Vangerdahast in particular upon entry on pain of death; native mages of Cormyr may be forced to join the War Wizards in time of need.

The military history of Cormyr, stretching back to the first Obarskyrs, is characterized by hit and run guerrilla tactics and rebellions, so the Crown is very suspicious of armed men gathering in any number. Gatherings of mercenaries are forbidden unless registered with the local Herald (see adventuring companies, above), and any weapons are often surrendered to a caretaker for safekeeping. Unless you have a direct contract, the only way to gather as an adventuring party is to pay for and acquire a royal charter (in Suzail, Arabel, or the fortress of High Horn.) Charters are expensive - a thousand gold up front, three hundred in taxes a year, and if you don't pay your taxes within a tenday your charter is cancelled and you get thrown in jail. Charters individually identify the members (and you have to wear a badge or other sign that matches the symbol you put on your royal charter), so officers of the law can identify and imprison improper members of adventuring companies.

Finally, there's a handful of Cormyrean customs. Everyone bows for royalty; there's wakes after burials; don't kill cats because cats are the messengers of the gods. In fact, don't clip the ears, tail, fur, or even spay one because that's a sin. Don't even try to keep one in a cage. (You may just want to skip the cat thing all together.) If you're a woman, you can say you're available by wearing a purple scarf around your neck or your hip, as if you were flagging for vaginal fisting at a BDSM club. Adventurers tie up their weapons in giant safety knots known as peacestrings to prevent them from being drawn; an art form is being made out of complicated knots that come apart to free your sword with a single pull. How that actually keeps the peace, I don't really know.

Next time: Anauroch! Amn! Arabel! and then the Dalelands before I can do Archendale!

Depravity, deserts, and a disappearing man

posted by Arivia Original SA post

Forgotten Realms: Depravity, deserts, and a disappearing man

Amn is one of the richest nations in Faerun, and a significant merchant power. It is the northernmost of the "Southern Kingdoms" along the Sword Coast along with Tethyr , Calimshan , and Erlkazar. It is geographically small, bordered by mountains and forests, yet its reach in trade stretches far beyond its borders.

You might be familiar with Amn from Baldur's Gate II, since it's set in the country, but there's far more to it than what is in the game. Amn is called the Merchant Kingdom due to its citizens' travels and trade all across the Realms, a habit epitomized by its rulers, the Council of Six. The Council of Six are all powerful merchants (called merchant-lords or merchant-kings) and have lead the nation for over two decades. Once a merchant has joined the Council, they are only known by their title; referring to a merchant-king by name is punishable by death.

The most powerful member of the Council is the Meisarch, a mage who travels widely yet always with at least fifteen bodyguards. The other members of the Council are the Tessarch, the Namarch, the Iltarch, the Pommarch, and the Dahaunarch.

Amn is easily the richest part of the Sword Coast, only rivalled by Waterdeep itself. Calimshan might have more money, but it's less of a single country and more a collection of city-states; it also arguably isn't on the Sword Coast anyway. Amn and Waterdeep see themselves as the predominant powers and rivals on the coast, and you can roughly arrange Sword Coast powers depending upon which of the two they trade with. Agents of Amn and Waterdeep often spy and scheme on each other, trying to disrupt the other's trade in any way possible.

We're given stats for the Meisarch (9th-level magic user, some absurd stats), but they don't really matter for a reason we'll see later. His bodyguards are all raised from birth to fight to the death for him, which is a job that must be made much harder by his predilections for debauchery and depravity. The Cyclopedia says his deeds are better suited for a tavern tale than Elminster's scholarly work; this is Ed Greenwood's way of saying "this stuff is unpublishable because of TSR's Code of Ethics."

Anauroch , or the Great Desert, is a huge cold desolation in northern-central Faerun. It is a barren wasteland where very little grows and even less water can be found, and it stretches from the glaciers in the utter north down to the Lake of Dragons, the eastern edge of the North, and the mountains that form the borders of Cormyr and the Dalelands .

Notably, it makes very little geographic sense - Anauroch grows in size every year, making ruin where arable land once stood, and driving savage tribes of goblins and other creatures into the civilized lands. Once upon a time, elven and human kingdoms like Anauria and Asram stood where only desert is now, their ruins disappearing under the inexorable march of the sands. (To illustrate this, there's a nice half-page map showing what the lands north of the Inner Sea used to look like 1000 years ago in the Year of the Tusk, 112 DR.)

Despite its desolate nature, Anauroch is not uniform. It ranges from warmer sandy wastes to rocky badlands, basins filled with salt flats where lakes once were, and even icy steppes in the very north. It is, however, the most inhospitable place in all of Faerun.

Elminster rumors that the expansion of Anauroch cannot be considered natural, and that divine or magical causes may be at work. (Gee, you think?) However, it should be noted that the great reach of Anauroch makes trade very hard across land, bottling caravans from the Sword Coast to the Inner Sea generally through Cormyr, the Dalelands, and Sembia , contributing greatly to their coffers.

Arabel is one of Cormyr's largest cities, along with Suzail and Wheloon . It is built at the crossing of two great trade routes - the East Way and Calantar's Way, and it is primarily a mercantile city because of this trade.

Many of Faerun's most prominent trading companies have offices and outposts in Arabel, and a significant number of mercenaries live here in order to service them. Arabel is Cormyr's main producer of coal from mines in the nearby Gnoll Pass, and it is famed for its jewelry (from the House of Thond) and lingerie (from the Net of Pearls.) There's a full page spent on a map of Arabel, and a list of interesting locations. A lot of them are typical of Ed Greenwood's way of designing cities - there's a lot of merchants, and they sell a lot of stuff, but he tries to infuse each one with something that makes them different. They range from one-man businesses (Psammas Durviir, the tailor) to the Thousandheads Trading Coster. There's 151 entries on the key, and they definitely aren't all described, but each name distinguishes it and tries to suggest some interesting character there. Not a bad system, really.

Just roughly five years before the start of play, Gondegal the "Lost King" took control of Arabel by military might. It is said that "Gondegal's reach was longer than his blade" - his insurrection caused a quick response by the Purple Dragons, by Dalesmen, and by allies from Sembia. While Gondegal was able to take Arabel, he was unable to hold it - he spent barely eight days actually at his court, and rules for less than a season, spending the rest of his time in the fields attempting to defend his kingdom. One thing that didn't help was that his troops were mostly mercenaries, and his coffers drained quickly; one night his troops just slipped away and disappeared.

The next morning, Azoun IV marched into Arabel and retook the city without a single blood of drop being found; Gondegal himself was nowhere to be seen, and has not appeared in Cormyr since. He fled north and then east via the city of Teshwave , and rumors spread from there. Most everyone believes he still lives, ruling a small patch of land with a band of loyal followers; those believers suggest he lives as a ruthless bandit who makes sure no one spreads his name. His name has become a spectre, suggested as a cause for any caravan gone mysteriously lost around the Inner Sea. Guards often warn penny-pinching merchants to pay for more escorts, "else thy gold'll soon be gilding Gondegal's throne." Gondegal was a tall grey-haired warrior, a master with the sword; his badge was a grey wolf with red eyes. He was a 20th level warrior, and this number actually sticks if I remember, since one of the adventures in the box deals with Gondegal's fate.

As I mentioned previously, Arabel is ruled by "local lord" Myrmeen Lhal, a ranger popular with the common people of Arabel. She makes everyone's life easier by allowing merchants and nobles to battle each other with any tactics short of full-on war, as long as no innocent is harmed and the Crown is not endangered.

Next time: Where Everyone You Hate In The Realms Comes From