How and where and when did the Forgotten Realms start? What's at the heart of Ed Greenwood's creation, and how does the Grand Master of the Realms use his own world when he runs D&D adventures for the players in his campaign? "Forging the Forgotten Realms" is a weekly feature wherein Ed answers all those questions and more.
ne of the most colorful characters in Cormyr in the mid to late 1300s DR was Glarasteer Rhauligan, secretly a Highknight of the realm but publicly a "maker and purveyor of [sometimes he substituted the phrase "trader in"] turret tops and crenellations." This was neither a fictitious profession nor an overblown title for something that had been done for years without much fanfare, but rather represents an example of the sort of innovation that has made fortunes in the Realms—and kept places such as Amn and Waterdeep economic powerhouses for long periods, because they had the atmosphere (welcoming or at least tolerant attitude), infrastructure (warehouses, workshops, and means of swift and affordable bulk shipping), and capital (investors enough) to support and encourage such innovation in an ongoing manner.
Glarasteer achieved Cormyrean notoriety because of his debonair manner and outlandish behavior, but his family had already found fame across wider Faerûn. Like so many, they "came from nowhere and went back there," as far as popular regard was concerned—but at least they "arrived." How they did that makes them interesting indeed.
The Rhauligans are old Cormyrean stock. They settled in the Forest Kingdom when the Obarskyrs were newly come to the Dragon Throne, and Cormyr itself, as a human kingdom, was young. They began poor, but as the years passed, they became solidly successful rural crofters, producing and selling mixed crops and hay beyond what they needed to subsist, and eventually raising livestock for slaughter.
Originally they farmed in the verdant grasslands north of Suzail, but almost all small holders were gradually forced out of that area by the nobility, who wanted country mansions close to the city and farms that could rush the freshest produce to hungry Suzail and to its port, and so make the best coin.
Usually this "forcing out" was neither hostile nor violent. Rather, a noble would make a commoner crofter an offer so rich he or she just couldn't refuse it. Displaced crofters either used the fantastic wealth to start a new life in Suzail, or misspent it and ended up poor and laboring on someone else's farm—or they moved east and carved a new steading out of wilderlands, either around the Hullack Forest or south of the Vast Swamp, in a steady stream that expanded settled Cormyr step by step until it ran into Sembia to the east.
The Rhauligans were displaced crofters, and they wound up west of Hultail within sight of the Wyvernwater, where they spent generations rearing sheep, oxen, and cattle. During that time, they became good dry wall builders, as all ranchers did who lacked the time to establish hedgerows, but as Hultail started to expand, some Rhauligans became house builders.
The Rhauligan Frame, and Fame
In 1343 DR, on their by-then extensive farm southwest of Hultail, Brender Rhauligan (the father of Glarasteer) and his younger brother Garlyn invented what was to transform the family's lives and fortunes: the Rhauligan Frame.
They crafted a heavy-duty temporary construction framework of stout timbers that could be readily disassembled, moved, and reassembled on-site. It incorporated its own winches and legs—eight legs that could be lengthened by adding sections. Once placed on a suitable foundation, the Rhauligan frame could be used as a rising-by-sections "multiple crane and winch and worker" platform to swiftly build a tower around it without need for tall, dangerous ladders and scaffolds. Guy-wires could help stabilize it, and in the tower being built around it, gaps could be left in the wall-stones to accommodate those wires. Gaps were later filled in, or more often refitted into windows, doors onto external balconies, or firing-ports.
"Rhauligan's" (as the firm was known to all, though it was formally known as Rhauligan Fabrications—that is, the families of Brender and Garlyn, over a dozen sons and daughters in all) brought their frame to a client, erected it and raised it as construction went on. They used it to lift prefabricated crenellations or conical weather tops into place when the tower was complete, then dismantled the frame from within, replacing it with internal stairs or elevators, section by section, as they descended. The firm provided the tops (or stone kits of dressed and fitted blocks secured within easily disassembled wooden lift-frames, for plain stone merlons), constructing them to order.
The Rhauligan frame, soon copied by rulers who had wealth enough to construct their own, consisted of an inner circular platform on a quartet of legs, linked to an "outer ring" platform on a different quarter of legs. Internal-to-each-leg winches were worked in offsetting pairs to raise the inner platform one section higher than the outer ring, then new leg sections were put in place under that inner platform, one pair and then the next, while the outer platform kept the whole assembly stable. Then the outer ring was raised in the same manner, pair after pair, and so on. The inner ring could be fitted with Rhauligan-provided cranes, "flatbar" (horizontal beam) outrigger winches, and a large pulley that could raise and lower long chains through an internal trapdoor or well, all to lift workers and bulk materials (and let them down again) swiftly to the height the tower building had reached.
Since it greatly simplified and sped up the building of internal and external scaffolding, and minimized toppling and collapse accidents, towers could go up much faster. The Rhauligan frame became the rage among castle-builders (there are even fortifications in Chessenta and eastern Tethyr where what look like "castle walls" are really rows of towers built, using the Rhauligan Frame, so close together that they touch each other). The Rhauligans were kept so busy that they frankly didn't care how many workers left them to become competitors after learning how it all worked.
Glarasteer was the exception. This flamboyant wild sheep of the family preferred the skullduggery and derring-do of being an undercover agent of Cormyr to just building and getting rich. His younger brother Flastarl also went in a different direction, starting a sideline business erecting warehouses and small cottages by the use of much smaller frames. This type of frame allowed the erection of a weather-roof over building sites and made even simple structures go up faster, since the roof was built first, then the walls (and support pillars, or else!) were erected to meet it.
The Height, and a Swift Fade
All of this meant the Rhauligan family was very wealthy indeed by the advent of the Spellplague. They were also scattered all over the more civilized lands of Faerûn (just about anywhere that had rulers, nobles, or a wealthy merchant class who wanted to erect towers and could afford to do so), and so had started branches of the family in Cormyr, Sembia, Amn, Tethyr, Tharsult, Chessenta, the Vilhon, and the Tashalar.
As the tumult brought on by the Spellplague deepened, their services were even more in demand, and they themselves became regarded as strategic assets, to be controlled—or eliminated, so they couldn't be hired by rivals. As a result, many of the Rhauligans went into hiding, changed their names, and left the family business behind. After all, they had wealth enough that they could dabble in almost anything at all, or even nothing, passing their days in idleness.
Many former Rhauligans became sages, wrote books, composed music, or went into cheesemaking or other foodstuff production (since many and frequent food shortages were a part of the Spellplague chaos). A few retreated back to the family farm, but were soon hunted by rulers wanting fortified towers built, and then were pressed into near-slavery until they died of overwork or in accidents or escaped.
The fates of the flamboyant Glarasteer and the much-traveled Flastarl aren't known, but to this day, "a proper Rhauligan warehouse" is still a useful, sturdy asset many merchants hold in high regard.
Several of the Rhauligans became Harpers and were spied upon by foes of Those Who Harp. One persistent spy, Jerth Mahastur, was in the hire of the ambitious Throamlyn family of Sembia, and from his records we know that some of the Rhauligans who abandoned their surname became Beldegrars, Canthens, Daerdrovers, Sarnsarlyns, and Telrosts.
According to Elminster, almost all these families tell their children of their past and take pride in having forever changed the way most towers and warehouses in the Realms are built.
"And so," he adds, "they should. We all change Faerûn, in ways large and small—but few of us can point to a dramatic and lasting change that bore our name, lasts, and is still remembered. And some of those few made dark changes, which leaves the good sort all the rarer."