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.
any corners of Faerûn have colorful but largely forgotten (or twisted) local histories. Human—and dwarven, gnome, halfling, and elven—nature being what it is, this lore often involves treasure, plus tales of love, betrayal, and violence.
Here's one centered on the region dominated today by the city of Scornubel. What follows is the tale as told by various Amnian family histories; others may see the history of this region differently.
Long ago, well before there was a notoriously lawless crossroads city named Scornubel, the rolling wilderlands on that part of the north bank of the River Chionthar (and for some days' travel west, east, and north of the site of the present-day city) were the haunts of bugbears, gnolls, and wandering wild herds of deer, rothé, and boar, not to mention a few scattered goblin villages. Wolves, wyverns, and perytons preyed upon all this food on the hoof regularly, and every five decades or so a hungry dragon descended from the skies to indulge in a great devouring. On rarer occasions, orc hordes spilled down out of the north, hacking and devouring everything in their path, before fading away against fiercer resistance farther south—at the borders of Amn.
Then to these wilderlands came humans, in the form of riders out of Amn seeking riches. They swiftly corralled the herds and drove most of those beasts back south into more secure lands, then set about woodcutting, prospecting, fishing, and exploring the backlands. They fought and slaughtered monsters, hunted and captured useful wild beasts to take back to Amn, and tamed the land.
After a fashion.
Bugbear, gnoll, goblin, and other marauders continued to raid down out of the east and north in warbands, and Amnian outlaws sought this region as a refuge from which to prey upon the Amnians coming north with increasing frequency. The persistence of their depredations led to the region being dubbed "the Dangerlands." In the tongue used in Amn at the time, "scorune" meant "danger," so the region between the rivers Chionthar and Delimibyr became Scorune (from which the name Scornubel derives).
At the time, there wasn't even a ferry at the site where Scornubel was to rise, and no overland trade road existed to warrant one. It had only rolling, tree-cloaked hills, endless game trails, and no human habitation beyond armed (and often palisaded) camps.
As time went on, even the dangers of Scorune were worn down and lessened, if not tamed, and some of the boldest and hardiest of poor Amnians decided to establish farms in these "unspoiled" backlands. Well-watered and never farmed before, the hills of Scorune nigh the Chionthar yielded richly, and these farms prospered and swiftly grew.
Scorune became a place of burgeoning opportunity and swift-rising wealth.
The War of Five Wizards
All places where prosperity increases sharply attracts the interest of those who desire to exploit, and in Faerûn, inevitably some of these ambitious and energetic individuals are wizards. Not many, for then as now the majority of mages tend to be reclusive and devoted to studying and mastering magic, and are not interested in the cut-and-thrust of politics and social power. It doesn't take many to make a mark, often a highly destructive one, if they behave with aggression.
And to Scorune came wizards from afar who wanted the wealth and power of rulership, and saw the Dangerlands as a place where they could set themselves up as lords and enjoy a good life. Seven they were, none allied with another and none hailing from the same place. All of them foresaw a Scorune ruled by them alone, without other wizards being welcome or allowed.
So when they discovered each other, they instantly viewed each other as rivals. Two were struck down swiftly, murdered by one or another of the five surviving mages—all of whom were now clearly aware of the danger their rivals represented. So they took to using magical disguises, gathering apprentices and allies and hiring mercenaries, building up small warbands and war magic, and preparing to make war on each other for Scorune.
Rumors of this reached Amn, and caused disgust and consternation among the merchant investors there who saw the ruination of any profits their fledgling mines (for plentiful surface copper deposits had been found in eastern Scorune) might make.
Meetings and negotiations aplenty were held in Athkatla, decisions taken among a "quillpact" (we modern real-world types would probably use the word "syndicate"), and three mercenary warcaptains were accordingly hired to lead small armies north to Scorune and see that the wizards ruined nothing. These three war leaders were given the title triarch and deemed equals; they were to split the territory of Scorune into three parts, each keeping the peace within their part, and each ruling that "march" and receiving a sixth-part of the smelted tradebars produced by the mines within their march.
Yet before they could march, war erupted among the five wizards, and Scorune was laid waste. The spellbattles blasted down steading after steading, along with most of the inhabitants and at least three of the five wizards.
The fates of the last two, Naeth Eskerel of the Tashalar and Imchrae Welthond of Halruaa, remains unknown to this day, though wild tales concerning them are many. Most of these accounts insist Eskerel and Welthond were driven mad and forced into beast-shape, and they wander Scorune yet as "dragon-headed giant wolves that can't be killed," or similar "strange" monsters. Several sages have recorded stories passed down from that time that insist these last two wizards were forced to magically replace their own lost limbs and blasted bodies with grafted-on replacement parts from beasts, and become unique horrors that prowled the countryside killing to devour and survive, as wolves do. Some stories say they became liches and survive still, while others merely report they disappeared and have not been seen for many years.
What is certain is that word of the spellbattles reached Amn. All three triarchs, despite their sponsors initially insisting they be accompanied by no wizards (to avoid one problem being superseded by the same problem, only better equipped and militarily organized), refused to march north without the sponsors providing hired wizards. After almost a season of dispute and debate, one "lesser mage" was assigned to each triarch.
The triarchs then led their armies north, finding a Scorune deserted of Amnians, its farms abandoned and swiftly returning to wild forest. They beheld no warring wizards to fight, in a land that would be refounded for Amn only if they themselves did the refounding.
So they did, though once word reached Athkatla that fighting was no more than patrolling for monsters and the occasional bugbear or goblin warband, the aid the triarchs received from Amn, and the obedience they paid to Amn, was minimal. With the threat of the wizards gone and the output of the mines flowing freely again (and rapidly being exhausted), Athkatla seemed to forget about its triarchs.
The rest of Faerûn, if they knew of the triarchs at all, regarded them as three more or less independent neighboring barons.
Under their military protection, Scorune was swiftly repopulated, and roads and bridges built. The triarchy became a success: their prosperous farming and logging region had active prospecting and even fur-harvesting.
Until, of course, Beshaba visited misfortunes on all three triarchs.
Once more, wizards were the problem—only this time, it was the hired lesser mages who'd accompanied the triarchs. Grown wealthy and haughty, they sought to advance themselves, quarreled, and attacked each other with spells.
In one of these battles, the Triarch Urbron Thelsaddle was literally blasted apart, along with "his" wizard. It's said the other two triarchs, upon hearing of his fate, just vanished.
And this is where the accounts diverge. Some say Triarch Lhandarl Suldragon and Triarch Vhorune Melvarth were murdered by "their" wizards, and other tales insist they foresaw that the mages would kill them, and fled into hiding with just the wealth they could carry, journeying far from Scorune to live out lives elsewhere under other names.
Inevitably, many of the stories say all three triarchs had become very wealthy, and they had cached magical treasures and wealth that may well still exist. Those looking might find these caches in Scorune yet.
Scorune today is but a nigh-forgotten name and a local expression for a complicated mess involving mistakes and high feelings, that will be resolved only with difficulty: "a proper triarchy!"
And if some of the whispers are true, some magic items and wealth hidden by the fleeing barons—or the two wizards who outlived the triarchs' rule—bide lost and walled-up in cellars under Scornubel or in ancient tombs belonging to others. These tombs might be wizards buried earlier, and they could have magically animated guardians in their lost and overgrown locations in the Scornubrian countryside.
Those adventurous enough to seek these caches out could learn the truth of these matters for themselves.