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.
he City of Cults has its share of unsavory but colorful local characters who visitors should be wary of or might want to do business with. Here are a few of them.
This beautiful young human female wizard is known across the city for her sweet, polite manner—even while being menaced or attacked—for her derriere-length almost-white blonde hair, for her large and dark blue eyes, for being a source of spellcasting for fees, and for selling spell scrolls for fair prices (a trifle less, to friends). She won't go adventuring under any circumstances. Her name is obviously false, her background is mysterious, and she won't tell the same story twice about her heritage. Those who try to trap her discover that she teleports away without hesitation, and she takes her revenge later. Some of those revenges have been grisly indeed; she seems to know a spell that can turn someone inside out, forcing all their bones to the outside of their bodies.
Unknown even to the most skilled and persistent spies the drow and yuan-ti in Kormul can hire, Sarindra is actually a shapechanged (by means of a powerful, multilayered spell akin to a mantle) illithid.
"She" is busily trying to build a network of contacts among adventurers, and she wants to acquire knowledge about them—whereabouts, debts, interests, and other things that will give this mind flayer holds over them, for later use.
By day, no one can find Sarindra. By night, she is in the upper rooms of one of six local clubs (usually The Flantard, an adventurers' club dominated by humans, or Vorulph's Barrelworks, a club above a cooperage [barrel-making shop] where longtime Kormulans like to congregate to gossip, drink, and lend or pay off small debts). She rents small private rooms adjacent to all the clubs she frequents, wherein she'll cast spells for hire that are safe to unleash in such surroundings. Most of her castings involve removing curses from, or applying magical disguises or temporary augmentations to, adventurers who pay her fees up front. She never asks questions, and she reveals where she dwells in Kormul to no one. Those who try to follow her discover she ducks down into this or that cellar, and then . . . disappears.
This broken-nosed, burly, middling-height drunkard of a retired adventurer is actually a false drunk, though he has the ruddy face of one who's broken blood vessels all over his visage through brawling and over-imbibing.
Both the drow and the yuan-ti know he's a spy for the Harpers, because he's not very subtle when gathering information or very discreet when reporting to the regular contacts among the traveling caravan merchants who visit Kormul. What they haven't yet realized is that Tirlagar is a deliberately obvious Harper spy—a decoy to distract attention from the constant subtle shuffle of other Harper spies operating briefly in the city.
For his part, Tirlagar enjoys his role, because he loves the seedy, dangerous place he has ended up in, and he derives great satisfaction in swindling swindlers and slowly amassing a real estate empire, building by building, becoming the landlord of the worst buildings and improving them just enough that they won't fall down soon.
He can more than live comfortably on the rents—because he eats simply and drinks far less than most who meet him believe he does—and he runs a side business breeding and raising doves, for food. He'll happily share dove recipes with anyone, and his "impress and cow belligerents" trick is to wring the neck of one of his doves and calmly start to devour it raw in front of them.
This massive four-armed orc is hideously ugly, in part because a long-ago axe attack almost split his face in two, and it healed badly. He has a huge vertical scar marking where the two halves of his skull fused together imperfectly, with the viewer's left side of his face noticeably lower than the right side. His ears were slashed to ribbons, his torso is crisscrossed by old yellow-white protruding sword scars, and he has a growling temper and baleful belligerence to match his horrid looks.
So formidable is he when he stumps around Kormul with his six armed-to-the-tusks orc bodyguards, that he's often hired to deliver threats, demands for repayment of loans, and break down doors when someone has been barred from a business or tavern, and wants in.
What makes Belorghal of more than passing interest is his intellect. Hidden behind his looks and manner is a lover of poetry and collector of maps who's constantly paying for new stories, both fanciful entertainments and scraps of news and rumors from afar. On rare occasions, beautiful elf females visit Kormul and stay with him—and local disbelieving rumor is that they are all his lovers who bring him coin and gifts as well as their caresses. Belorghal occasionally befriends a weak or wounded visitor to Kormul, seemingly on a whim, and becomes their protector and ally (unless or until they betray him or seek to swindle him). He's also a master at the forge, specifically at repairing armor with skill and in astonishing haste; he has earned much coin speedily re-equipping traveling adventurers over the years.
This mysterious being—or group of beings—is a rising local power in Kormul, who has bested both drow traders and yuan-ti dealers. They are becoming really alarmed about him, because he survives attempt after attempt on his life, and because they don't understand who he (if it is a "he") truly is.
The Marahuud lends and changes money, and he seems to command an endless supply of coinage from all over Faerûn (not to mention all manner of gems and tradebars, when those he's dealing with prefer such). He also barters, but shifts the goods he thus acquires along into other hands speedily, renting an ever-shifting sequence of warehouses to store those goods in (so when drow or yuan-ti try to destroy his wares—typically through arson—they can find no target to hit out against).
Most of the time, the Marahuud looks like a huge, fat ogre mage—but when menaced, he vanishes in a literal flash of light, and where he was, there's now either a neogi or an adult purple dragon, who's fully aware of everything that was said and done to the ogre mage. So is this one shapeshifting creature—who commands all the powers of each of its forms?—or is it some sort of strange amalgam or "time-share" (to use a modern real-world term) telepathic and translocational (teleporting at will) union of three creatures?
Even Elminster isn't certain, though he leans to the latter, and believes there's a fourth, never-seen-in-Kormul creature, perhaps a hag, who coordinates or "balances" the linkage.
Whatever the true nature of the Marahuud, he—or it (or they?)—hires adventurers to fare far across the Realms and bring him back lore about certain long-dead wizards. If pressed as to why, he says he believes many floating skulls and the like are preserved archmages of the past, whose knowledge of arcane magic he can harness if he treats them properly.
When drinking with visiting wizards and adventurers, he has excitedly shared with them his notion of devising or rather rediscovering what certain Netherese and even earlier spellcasters had and knew about long, long ago: an arcane engine or magical energy battery that could power wards, mythals, and what he calls "mythal strike" super-weapons. Whether this is a fanciful dream or a red herring he puts forth to conceal his true interests remains to be uncovered.
What is certain is that the Marahuud (his name is a title, origin unknown, revealed by himself to Kormulans upon his arrival in the city six summers ago) has handed reverses—many of them swift and fatal—to both drow and yuan-ti who have challenged him. The survivors are offering increasingly large sums of coin to anyone who can harm or slay the Marahuud, or at least lay bare his (its?) true nature.