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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.
There are places all over Faerun that seem alive with magic. Some of them are heralded by glows at night, tensions, cracklings in the air, and the presence of plants and animals that are twisted or "tainted" from the norm.
Sometimes these locales surround portals, or deepspawn, or the sites of decayed and once-mighty wards or mythals, and sometimes they're due to leakage from artifacts of great power, or the echoes of spell-battles.
And sometimes, they're the aftermath of huge spells gone awry.
Whereas those other causes of magic tend to result in small spots of restless magic (such as groves or ruins; the Border Kingdoms are dotted with many such), the sites of titanic spellcastings, or spellcastings gone awry, tend to be much larger.
Not So Hospitable Thar
One such place is the land of Thar, north of the Moonsea, the site of three or more fallen kingdoms, though "Thar" was only the name of the second last of those, an ogre realm. Today, Thar is rocky and near-barren wilderland, ruled by no one, and among the many snakes, lizards, rabbits, and birds, strange monsters prowl there: manticores, perytons, leucrotta, bulettes, and ibrandlin. Year after year, adventurers and caravan merchants and guards report encountering them in such abundancedespite the hungry bands and tribes of ogres and orcs that forage Thar constantly, seeking meat mealsas to almost outstrip belief.
Either deepspawn or another force is aggressively repopulating Thar with monsters of magical origin, or something magical about Thar itself causes these beasts to reproduce often and to flourish.
These creatures are both numerous and vigorous despite Thar's near-barren state, which is itself curious indeed, given that water isn't scarce there, coastal farmlands lie just to the west of it, dust storms aren't frequent and not all of Thar has been scoured to bare rock. Ground mosses, lichens, and grasses are abundant, but trees are not. Before the last two centuries of heavy human travel and prospecting, however, standing and leafless dead trees were everywhere. Great forests of ready firewood got used as such, and trees entirely lacked swamps around their trunks, as evidence of the usual cause of "standing deadfalls." So what slew all the trees, more or less at once, and inhibited wind- and bird-seeded saplings from growing and renewing the tree canopy?
Some sages argue that when more usual food is scarce, magical creatures are the only life that can thrive, but others counter that dragons are not the only creatures that can hibernate or go torpid for long periods, awaiting rare times of plentiful food to revive and gorge. Many desert lizards, toads, and the like do so all the time, lying buried and as if dead for months or even years until rains come to flood the land, food becomes briefly plentiful, and they rouse to devour, only to lapse back into torpor again and await the next Sending from the Gods.
So magical monsters are far more numerous than they should be, something killed most of the trees more or less all at once, and the human prospectors of the 1300s DR rediscovered what the ogres and later the orcs who dwelt in Thar already knew: that in many spots spread throughout the rolling hills and rocky clefts and ridges of Thar, those small spots of intense magic can be found, places where betimes "the air fairly crackles."
Some of these sites have been used to forge magic weapons or recharge magic items; there are tales of individuals having innate talent for the Art being "awakened" to the use of magic by visiting such places (sometimes inadvertently, and with no intent nor preparations). So it's abundantly clear that "the land called Thar is a-crawl with magic," to use the words of the sage Raethaeral of Arabel, who wrote that in his chapbook The Weave in the Moonsea North, published in 1389 DR.
It seems that in the remote past, something magical happened that blasted Thar so that it hasn't yet recovered, and that left behind its own echoesmagical radiations that affect the fauna of the area to this day.
The Testament of Yhorlanglarorl
Few indeed have heard of this tome, written by Myrmeen Lhal in the first year of her "dragon guardianship" of Cormyr, alongside Vangerdahast. And no wonder: only one copy exists, and its current whereabouts are unknown, though it seems likely that Dove of the Harpers took it into a place of hidden safekeeping, perhaps in the hands of the High Heralds, or in a fastness of Those Who Harp. It seems Myrmeen Lhal met and conversed with one Yhorlanglarorl (pronounced "Yorl-ANG-galar-orl"), a copper dragon of great age and frailty, whose tales she found so fascinating that she set down some of them as "essential lore of the Inner Sea lands."
One of those tales concerned "the Pride and Folly of Embrurshaile," and told of the crowning deedor misdeedof Embrurshaile (pronounced "EM-brurr-shale"), an elder black she-dragon who hated and feared neighboring dragonkind, from the "Purple" Dragon of Cormyr to the silver and copper dragons who dwelt in the land southwest and south of Cormyr (of whom Yhorlanglarorl was then a junior member).
It seems Embrurshaile could not abide being unable to destroy or conquer and enslave other dragons upon a whim. She was adamant that no other dragons stronger or near equal to her must exist within her chosen domain, which stretched from the Earthspur Mountains and the Galena Range to the Far Hills and the Orsraun Mountains (that is, what is now the Moonsea North, the Dales, Cormanthor, Cormyr, Sembia, Tunland, and all of the coastal lands and city-states of the Dragonmere, the Neck, and what was Starmantle).
Yet she was clearly not as old, wise, worldly, or mighty as most of her draconic neighbors. Moreover, her temper and bold public behavior had announced her presence and intentions all too clearly; there was little to no hope of taking any of them unawares, or tricking them into vulnerability so she could pounce and slay. Even if she managed that with one rival, the others would surely be warned, and they might even rise in common cause against her, to overwhelm and destroy her.
So another way must be found. Embrurshaile had a natural hunger for magic, which was why she craved the magic items that lay in the hoards of other dragons so much. Only time could make her older, and only experience could make her wiser, but perhaps she could increase her mastery of magic. To do so through the instruction of others would be perilous indeed, for she already knew of wyrms who'd been enslaved by powerful wizards they'd allied with, or agreed to serve temporarily in exchange for payment. Yet there were creatures of magic, creatures who fed directly on magical energy, and even creatures who served deities of magic and were empowered by them.
According to Yhorlanglarorl (whose veracity Myrmeen Lhal admits she had no way of verifying), he and the silver dragons Bhaerindulandur ("Bare-in-doo-LAN-dur") and Perythammar ("Pair-ith-THAM-mar") had been magically spying upon Embrurshaile, and they guessed her intent from brief mutterings loud to herself as she worked, and by the spell she crafted.
Embrurshaile sought to craft a spell to try to make creatures of Thar magical, so she could devour these creatures, and over time, by absorbing their essence, make herself more and more magical. She based her magic upon some ancient dragon castings, devising a spell that Yhorlanglarorl insists was sound in principle, but not in execution, being based on an incomplete understanding of the Weave forces she was seeking to harness, and not recognizing that just because she was going to drain both magical and life energies to power a spell that was far beyond her abilities, that did not mean she would be able to properly shape the forming magic, or control it to bring about the effect she sought.
Elminster agrees that such a magic might be so wrought as to be sound as magic, butsetting aside moral concerns, and the disapproval of some deities this might bringis based on a simplistic belief that "eating a warthog will make you part warthog," which, as he puts it, "does not follow. At least, not for those of us who are not already part warthogs."
Embrurshaile began by assembling many magic items to power the spell. She painstakingly crafted proper means of linking and draining these, and then set about rounding up and magically penning the wild beasts she sought to work upon, both the native creatures of the area and specimens of the magical beasts that are now so prevalent in Thar, that she hunted, seized, and brought back alive from all over Faerun (coming to the notice, and rousing the ire, of many other dragons in the process, though she cared not). When this was done, she set about what she thought was the key to the spell: capturing, magically binding, and slaying a young dragon to drain its life force during the casting of her great spell.
She had kept this part of her working so secret, and pounced so swiftly, that the dragons spying on her (who all had ongoing affairs of their own) didn't notice it until the casting began, the draconic victima young blue female from somewhere "beyond Ulgarth"was dying, and Embrurshaile's magic started to go spectacularly wrong.
According to Yhorlanglarorl, the effort essentially went wild, stripping the land itself of life (the trees) after the blue wyrmling's essence was gone and the life-draining effect of the magic continued. In the end, it robbed Embrurshaile herself of her lifeor perhaps reduced her to something akin to a dracolich. Yhorlanglarorl is uncertain, because the explosive aftermath of the spell destroyed all scrying and prevented new scrying spells from working for a considerable time. She collapsed in a great fury of unleashed wild magic that brought about the proliferation and imbuement of vitality into those magical creatures that still roam Thar today, and her efforts ultimately consumed Embrurshaile and all her ambitions.
What Came After
Other dragons Myrmeen Lhal spoke with informed her that Embrurshaile had a younger brother, one Iyrauroth, who hated and feared her, and had for centuries avoided her by hiding on continents distant from Faerun. Embrurshaile's death was so spectacular that all dragons who were awake felt it, and through the Weave they received confused glimpses of the magical cataclysm.
Iyrauroth must have learned of his sister's demise in this way, for he almost immediately traveled from afar, with his many young (sixteen sons and daughters at that time), and seized her domain, taking over her many lairs (her own cavern and those of many lesser dragons she'd slain) in the Galenas and elsewhere.
Iyrauroth kept firm control and command over his progeny, and used them as an army, flying and fighting together to enforce Iyrauroth's will and defeat formidable foes. With them, he later destroyed Northkeep, and still later the ogre capital of Tharniir, shattering the ogre realm of Thar.
More than one of Myrmeen Lhal's draconic sources said that many dragons sought to covertly slay various of "Iyrauroth's get," and so reduce this army of dragons, long before the fall of Iyrauroth, so that Iyrauroth would not merely be replaced as commander by his most ruthless offspring. Several of the dragons Lhal spoke with believed that given time enough, Iyrauroth's progeny might well have found a way to harness "the magic still festering in Thar" and increase their own mastery of magic.
This in turn hints that some dragons today, or tomorrow, may try to do just that.