The past has left its mark on the present of Faerūn, and now you can get a glimpse of what went before in Lost Empires of Faerūn, the latest sourcebook for the Forgotten Realms setting. Information for both players and Dungeon Masters includes prestige classes, feats, and spells commonly employed by characters who delve into the secrets of the past or keep alive the ancient traditions of realms now vanished into history. The bulk of the rest of the book delves into the Crown Wars, the Old Empires of Mulhorand and Unther, the empire of Netheril, the powerful states of Coramshan and Jhaamdath, the fabled realm of Myth Drannor, various artifacts and monsters of the past, and several other topics that Dungeon Masters can find useful when creating Forgotten Realms campaigns. Our sneak peek includes a look at ancient feats, a prestige class, ancient spells, some artifacts, plus several tidbits of past lore.
A Historical Excerpt
The Year of Oaths Forsaken
The year -626 DR, some two thousand years before the Year of Lightning Storms (1374 DR), was known as the Year of Oaths Forsaken. In this era, Faerun was dominated by a number of mighty empires, almost all of which subsequently fell. During the Year of Oaths Forsaken, Netheril neared the peak of its power, Narfell and Raumathar battled for dominance in the cold lands around Lake Ashane, Jhaamdath expanded throughout the lands south of the Sea of Fallen Stars, and modern Calimshan was arising from the old realm of Coramshan. Great elven realms such as Cormanthyr, Eaerlann, and Illefarn still held sway over large portions of the world, and the great dwarven kingdoms of Ammarindar and Delzoun still stood unbowed.
The following map offers a glimpse of Faerūn as it stood in the Year of Oaths Forsaken. Netheril's green fields had not yet been swallowed by the sands of Anauroch, the old forests of the North were larger than they are today, and Jhaamdath had not yet been drowned by the high magic of Nikerymath, but many other lands looked much the same as they do today.
The Crown Wars
In the dim mists of Faerūn's past, long before the rise of even the most ancient human or dwarven kingdoms, the elves founded mighty empires across the length and breadth of Faerūn. The greatest of these empires -- Aryvandaar, Keltormir, Miyeritar, Illefarn, Ilythiir, and Shantel Othreier -- coexisted peacefully for thousands of years before greed, envy, and pride brought them low. The series of vicious, bloody wars that destroyed the ancient realms of the elves has come to be known as the Crown Wars.
The Crown Wars consisted of five major campaigns -- some of which happened concurrently -- that eventually involved all the major elven civilizations. For three thousand years the elves fought one another, tearing down most of what they had spent millennia building and practicing fratricide on a scale unseen before or since. In fact, one elf subrace became so twisted by evil that its members were forever divorced from the light of day. These elves, now known as drow, live underground to this day, and their hatred for other elves remains as strong as it was in those ancient times.
Although time has wiped away many of the great citadels and fortresses built before and during the Crown Wars, a surprising number of them have survived -- though not necessarily intact -- due to magical preservation. A sense of awesome agelessness pervades the ruins from this era, and anyone who enters them knows instinctively that they are old beyond measure. Their architecture seems strange and almost alien -- even to modern-day elves. Many of these ruins also harbor lethal magic traps capable of obliterating not only intruders, but also the ruins themselves and a sizable chunk of countryside surrounding them.
Finally, and perhaps most significantly, the ruins from this era serve as silent monuments to the tragic history of Faerūn's elves. Historians and philosophers debate whether the Crown Wars were the impetus for the many subsequent tragedies that befell the elves, or whether they were merely the earliest recorded example of that race's propensity for disaster. Elf PCs often feel a haunting sense of grief while exploring the ruins of a Crown Wars fortress, as though the very stones were imbued with deep sorrow, and even non-elf characters may feel subdued or disquieted.
Much of the written history of the Crown Wars was lost in the terrible battles that occurred at the close of the Fifth Campaign. Elf sages in Evermeet, Evereska, and a few other bastions of elven lore have charge of the few chronicles that remain.
Because the Crown Wars took place so long ago, the following timeline represents only a rough estimate of the dates that certain events occurred.
Keepers of the Past
In elven communities such as Evermeet, the Fortress Home of Evereska, and the remnants of the Elven Court in Cormanthyr, the most basic lore of the Crown Wars is easily accessible in the libraries and halls of learning. A great sage may know more specific details than those other lorekeepers can provide, such as the location of a specific city or fortress, but for the most part, any elf with an interest in history can learn about the Crown Wars with relative ease.
Difficulties often arise when members of other races seek this same knowledge. The Crown Wars era is quite possibly the single greatest shame in the history of the elf race, and the elves have no desire to share the details with outsiders. Especially in sun elf communities, non-elf researchers are frequently denied access to information about the Crown Wars. As a result, the majority of Faerūn's people believe that the Crown Wars were simply an internal struggle for supremacy among the elf subraces.
PCs wishing to research the Crown Wars are likely to encounter strong resistance unless everyone in the group is an elf. If a group that includes other races can demonstrate a pressing need for the information -- such as an imminent threat to the elf race that might be averted by knowledge of the Crown Wars -- the sages may be more lenient; otherwise, non-elf PCs must be creative in gaining the desired information. For example, a character who is well versed in history might be able to recall enough details to piece together part of the story with a Knowledge (history) check (see Table 3-1: Crown Wars Information for DCs). Alternatively, a rogue might be able to steal a few tomes from an elven library, or a cleric might attempt to bypass the elves altogether by requesting the knowledge from her deity.
Table 3-1: Crown Wars Information
The Dream of Cormanthyr
While Netheril climbed to its zenith in what is now the Anauroch Desert, the greatest elven civilization Faerūn has ever known arose in the Great Forest to the east. The empire of Cormanthyr stretched from the Stormhorns to the Dragon Reach. Its capital was Myth Drannor, the City of Song, which produced marvels of magic, art, and poetry.
In many ways, the passing of Cormanthyr represented the end of elven civilization in Faerūn. Never again would a grand empire of the elves rise on the mainland. The pockets of elven power that still exist today -- Evereska, Evermeet, and the forests of Tethyr -- are but shadows of Cormanthyr's grandeur.
Compared with the elven civilizations of the Crown Wars era, Cormanthyr fell comparatively recently. Many of its ruins still stand in the depths of the forest known as Cormanthor, and numerous inhabitants of Myth Drannor are still alive in one form or another. Elminster of Shadowdale and Khelben "Blackstaff" Arunsun, both of whom were heavily involved in the city's politics, are still important personages in Faerūn, and many of the demons and devils involved in the sack of the city still brood in their foul lairs in the Abyss and the Nine Hells.
Infernal influence was a strong factor in the fall of Cormanthyr. Other empires were brought down by civil war, internal politics, or strange, monstrous foes, but Cormanthyr's fall was largely the handiwork of fiendish forces. Powerful fiends of all evil alignments still inhabit Cormanthyr's ruins along with their lesser servitors and lackeys, and Myth Drannor fairly teems with the inhabitants of the Lower Planes. Fiend-infested Cormanthyran ruins are an excellent way to bring an element of supernatural terror (or just good old-fashioned demon-stomping) into your campaign.
Songs and Stories
The history of Cormanthyr begins with the six elven nations that combined to form the empire.
Kingdoms to Empire
After the vicious fighting of the Crown Wars, the Elven Court became the first permanent settlement in the Arcorar (the forest that would later become Cormanthor). Though never heavily populated, the Elven Court was nevertheless an important seat of elven power in mainland Faerūn.
Meanwhile, far to the northwest of the Elven Court, the sylvan elf civilization of Rystall Wood was a wild, carefree realm in what is now the Border Forest. Though Rystall Wood survived for many centuries, little physical evidence of its existence remains, since the sylvan elves built few permanent structures.
At the heart of the Great Forest, the citizens of the predominantly sun elf settlement known as Jhyrennstar used powerful magic to grow the trees to phenomenal heights. To the southwest, refugees from Aryvandaar founded the nation of Uvaeren.
Other elven settlements at that time included Yrlaancel, a small city-state near the border of Rystall Wood, and Semberholme, a refuge for the mothers, children, and elderly of the Elven Court. From these six lands, the great empire of Cormanthyr was born.
War and Peace
Throughout the millennia following the Crown Wars, the six realms of Arcorar flourished and grew, despite intermittent attacks by goblins, orcs, and drow. Jhyrennstar's wizards and druids nurtured the trees in their realm to incredible size. The elves of Uvaeren constructed libraries of legendary beauty and complexity, storing information not just in books, but also in intricate magical constructs, ornate mosaics, and crystal chimes that conveyed information through music. The elves of the Elven Court made their first contact with the dwarves during this time, and after a few brief skirmishes over logging rights in the Great Forest, the two races struck an alliance.
The first disaster was a catastrophe known as the Twelve Nights of Fire. A falling star struck Arcorar, obliterating Uvaeren and slaying most of its inhabitants, including the coronal and nearly all the members of the noble houses. The meteor strike touched off fires that destroyed a vast swath of forest, cutting off Rystall Wood from the rest of the Cormanthor. Most of the survivors migrated to Semberholme or Jhyrennstar.
The next major threat to the realms of Arcorar came from belowground. Hordes of drow and duergar boiled up out of their Underdark tunnels and struck the heart of the Elven Court. Because tradition demanded that the elves and their dwarf allies set aside their weapons here, more than thirty clans of elves and dwarves lost their leaders in the initial assault. The denizens of the Underdark conquered the dwarven realm of Sarphil and razed and despoiled the Elven Court.
While the drow gloated in their caverns, Rystall Wood declared itself wholly independent of the rest of Arcorar, and the rest of the elves struggled to find common purpose. Unity seemed the only answer, but it remained an elusive goal. Finally, Coronal Oacenth of Jhyenstarr intoned a prophecy as he lay dying of illness. "If we are to survive as the People," he said, "one coronal must vow to unify the tribes of this great land. One coronal must unify sun and moon, sky and sea, and tree, root, and earth, that all may achieve a long-lasting peace and strength in unity."
At the dying coronal's behest, the young nobles who sought to succeed him competed in a number of tests to determine their worthiness. The high mages who had survived the massacre at the Elven Court crafted three mighty artifacts known as the elfblades. Kahvoerm Irithyl drew the Crownblade during a grand high magic ceremony, thus becoming the first Coronal of the United Lands of Arcorar, which he renamed Cormanthor. Upon the death of Coronal Oacenth, Coronal Kahvoerm declared the lands of Cormanthor to be a single, united kingdom, and a single, united people. He then spent fifteen years wandering the forest before plunging the Crownblade into a hillock revealed to him in a vision. The magic of the sword summoned forth a tall, white tower, which he named the Rule Tower. This edifice became the center of the great city of Cormanthor.
Age of Strife
The next three thousand years brought Cormanthyr rapid expansion as well as strife and struggle. Orc raids from Vastar posed a constant threat, as did the reemergence of the drow of Maerimydra and the meteoric rise of Netheril. When the Eaerlanni elves began secretly smuggling gnome slaves out of Netheril, Cormanthyr's people aided the refugees in their flight.
The Fair Folk were concerned enough to risk open war with Netheril by stealing one set of the nether scrolls, but the Netherese never discovered the identity of the thieves. The Khovanilessa (Trio Nefarious), three nycaloths[MM3] summoned by Netherese arcanists, rampaged through Cormanthyr during this period as well and were imprisoned by elven high magic. Rystall Wood fell to orcs and giants, in part because of the isolationist tendencies of the sylvan elves and their refusal to ally with the humans of Hlondath and Asram.
The Age of Alliance
Coronal Eltargrim, seeing the losses that the good people of Faerūn had suffered because of their refusal to band together, became determined to prevent a similar fate from befalling Cormanthyr. Despite strong opposition from the nobility, he summoned the leaders of the human tribes dwelling in the Dalelands to Cormanthor. After a solid year of discussion and negotiation, the elves and the humans forged an alliance -- the famous Dale Compact. This agreement promised peace and friendship between the humans and the elves and granted the Dalesmen the right to dwell in the cleared land around Cormanthor, provided that they cut only deadwood and bramble from the forest.
The forging of the Dale Compact and the raising of the Standing Stone occurred on Midwinter's Night that same year, marking the start of the Dalereckoning calendar. Twenty years later, the elven holiday of Cinnaelos Cor (Day of Corellon's Peace) was added to the Calendar of Harptos as Shieldmeet.
Coronal Eltargrim spent a great deal of time contemplating the oath demanded of future coronals by the dying Coronal Oacenth -- particularly the promise to "unify the tribes of this great land." After due consideration, he came to the controversial conclusion that Oacenth had intended that phrase to include non-elves. He began fulfillment of this vow by opening Cormanthyr's borders to a few select non-elf wizards, druids, and settlers. Soon thereafter, Elminster Aumar, Prince of Athalantar, arrived wearing the telkiira of the noble House Alastrarra, which had been granted to him by its dying lord. The return of this item marked the next step in welcoming other races to Cormanthyr.
Elminster's mission was one of learning, but many elves could not abide a human wearing a "stolen" telkiira into the city. Despite Coronal Eltargrim's declaration that the mage was Sha-quessir (an elf friend), many saw him as a portent of doom. Elminster was drawn into the politics of the noble houses, many of which sought a pawn to block Eltargrim's plan for the unification of the races. Thanks to the young mage's cleverness and Mystra's guidance, however, their plans to stop the integration of Cormanthyr failed. When the elven high mage Mythanthor raised a mythal over the city, Eltargrim renamed the city Myth Drannor and opened it to all the good folk of Faerūn. A few elf nobles chose to leave the city rather than share it with "lesser" races, but many more remained, eager to see the result of Eltargrim's grand experiment.
The Glory of Myth Drannor
In the centuries the followed, Myth Drannor's defenders overcame racial tensions, orc attacks, and a resurgent Cult of Moander. Demron created his six baneblades during this period, and the sun elf Saeval Ammath returned from an expedition into the western mountains bearing a red dragon egg. The subsequent hatching of Garnetallisar and his growth into an honorable being was a wonderful breakthrough, but his presence would eventually lead to fulfillment of the conditions needed to release the Trio Nefarious. Josidiah Starym descended into the Underdark to recover the Warblade and prove his worth to the coronal, whose heir he wished to marry.
By the time Coronal Eltargrim died, Cormanthyr had reached the apex of its power and glory. Sister-cities were established throughout the forest of Cormanthor and even in distant locales elsewhere in Faerūn. Eltargrim passed on to Arvandor by a conscious act of will at the Midsummer Festival, feeling that at long last his work was done. The dream of Cormanthyr was a reality, and all the tribes of the Great Forest lived and worked in harmony. But before the required mourning period had passed, Eltargrim's heir, Aravae Irithyl, was murdered. The culprit was Illitrin Starym, who feared that Aravae's beloved would return and displace him as head of House Starym. Illitrin's treachery was never discovered.
After Aravae's murder, the noble houses pushed to end the Mourning Days and choose a successor immediately. But the moon elf wizard known as the Srinshee, now the de facto regent of Cormanthyr, held firm to Aravae's wishes, primarily because preparing the high magic necessary for the succession ceremony would take at least the remaining year and a half of the Mourning Days.
For the first time in Cormanthyr's history, the succession was open to any noble or commoner. Finally, when the time arrived for the Claiming Ceremony, no sun elf survived the touch of the Crownblade. When the other races demanded their chances to try the sword, many of the sun elf houses resorted to assassinations and open violence against any they perceived as potential candidates. Coronal Oacenth's dream crumbled along with the Rule Tower, which was shattered by elven battle-magic.
Finally, at dusk on the sixth day after Midsummer, the Srinshee spoke to all the people of Myth Drannor. In a voice heavy with grief, she told the people of Cormanthyr that they had forgotten the dream of Coronal Oacenth and the reality that Coronal Eltargrim had made of it. She then announced her intent to draw the Crownblade herself and, to the amazement of many, she succeeded. The sun elves who had fought so bitterly to keep the office of coronal in the hands of their own kin reacted violently to her success and launched potent magical attacks at her, which failed utterly.
Finally, with tears of grief for the divisions that had sundered Cormanthyr, the Srinshee announced that she would not be coronal -- and that no coronal would rule until the tribes of the Great Forest were truly united and the dream of Cormanthyr realized in the hearts of all its citizens. As her last acts in Myth Drannor, the Srinshee rebuilt the Rule Tower and, through an impressive display of high magic, created an even more massive Diamond Tower to serve as the symbol of a unified Cormanthyr. After urging her people one last time to keep working toward a truly unified land of elves and non-elves and promising to return when that hope was realized, the Srinshee vanished from the face of Faerūn along with the Crownblade and the Diamond Tower. None of them have been seen since.
With the loss of Coronal Eltargrim, Aravae Irithyl, the Srinshee, and the Crownblade, the true fall of Myth Drannor began. A representative body called the Council of Twelve assumed leadership of Cormanthyr, but its members were prone to infighting and petty politicking. Cormanthyr rapidly became more like a loosely allied confederation of city-states than a single, cohesive nation. To further compound the city's troubles, the colonial expansion that had spawned cities such as Silverymoon began to draw many of the best and brightest mages and craft-workers away from Myth Drannor, causing a gradual stagnation of the art and magic that had always been its hallmarks.
Perhaps most significantly, the interracial respect and friendship for which Myth Drannor had been justly famous began to erode shortly after the coronal's death. Several of the city's noble houses migrated to purely elven enclaves, and humans and dwarves purchased their vacant villas. This trend caused other elf clans to fear that non-elves were grabbing up all the land in Myth Drannor, so they too departed. Thus, the exodus of the elves soon created a domino effect that weakened the City of Song considerably.
In the decades following the tragic Claiming Ceremony, the City of Song (and indeed, all Cormanthyr) split into numerous political factions, forming an intricate and deadly web of intrigue that rivaled any drow court. The noble houses began to vie with one another for power and influence. Without the Srinshee's guidance, the court mages fragmented to pursue separate agendas. Several of the more senior mages split off to form a group called the Eternal Srinnala, which was dedicated to pursuing the wishes the Srinshee had expressed before she vanished. The commerce guilds also began to squabble among themselves. Surprisingly, the city's priests came together as one. Whether they venerated Corellon, Moradin, Yondalla, Garl Glittergold, or one of the countless human deities, the clerics shepherded the city as best they could through the troubled years.
The Akh Velahr was built up heavily, and its soldiers were trained to near perfection in anticipation of a civil war between the fractious power groups within the city. That war never occurred, but the threat of it left the army well prepared for the Army of Darkness.
The Weeping War
Despite all its internal strife, Myth Drannor might eventually have found peace again had the Trio Nefarious not returned. The three nycaloths -- Aulmpiter, Gaulguth, and Malimshaer -- had brooded in their mystical prison for nearly two millennia, plotting their revenge. Finally, the flight of the red dragon Garnet over the throne of the coronal fulfilled a condition of their release, and a gnoll shaman of the Moonsea was able to summon them forth. As soon as they were freed, the three fiends put their plans into motion. Ruthlessly establishing themselves as the leaders of dozens of barbaric humanoid tribes, they used a combination of magic, brute force, and sheer terror to organize the disparate tribes of orcs, goblins, ogres, bugbears, and other monsters into a single cohesive army, which the elves would later dub the Army of Darkness.
While the Trio Nefarious was assembling its army, the people of Cormanthyr were busy dealing with other dangers. After many centuries of relative inactivity, the drow had gone on the warpath once again and retaken the Twisted Tower from the worshipers of Eilistraee. Over the next several years, they harried the northwestern reaches of Cormanthyr and even struck into Cormyr and the Dalelands occasionally. Although it was never clear whether the drow had predicted or known about the Army of Darkness, they were in an excellent position to exploit the coming war for their own benefit.
The Weeping War, as the elves called the campaign that led to the fall of Myth Drannor, began in the Year of Despairing Elves (711 DR). In its opening gambit, called the Northern Massacres, the Army of Darkness invaded Cormanthyr's northern reaches. A reversal of fortune occurred over the next two years, when the forces of Cormanthyr managed to slay two of the nycaloths that commanded the Army of Darkness and reclaim the Elven Court. But while these valiant acts bought the citizens of Myth Drannor time to evacuate the city, the beleaguered forces of the Akh Velahr were in no position to drive the Army of Darkness back because, thanks to drow intervention, Cormanthyr could receive no aid from its allies in Evereska, Evermeet, and Silverymoon.
The Weeping War ended in the Year of Doom (714 DR) with the Siege of Shadows, in which the Army of Darkness laid siege to the city proper. Myth Drannor was finally taken and sacked, although Aulmpiter, the last of the three nycaloth lords, died at the hands of Captain Fflar Starbrow Melruth.
With the destruction of the Trio Nefarious, the Army of Darkness lost its direction and leadership. Many of the humanoids dispersed and made their way back to their homelands; others made new lairs in the ruins of Myth Drannor.
The capital of Cormanthyr was moved back to its ancient seat at the Elven Court, but the great elven kingdom never again reached its previous height. Because many of the nobles still blamed non-elves for the fall of the empire, humans, dwarves, and members of other races were no longer welcome in Cormanthyr. A trading village called Elventree was established to allow necessary commerce, but Coronal Oacenth's dream of unity was over. After centuries of decline, the elders of the Elven Court began the Retreat, leaving Cormanthor a virtually uninhabited forest within three decades.
Today, surface-dwelling drow -- largely worshipers of Vhaeraun and other drow deities exiled by the priestesses of Lolth -- have claimed a large section of land in Cormanthyr, including a section of the Elven Court.
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