For those interested in Dungeons and Dragons, it’s simply not possible to ignore the Forgotten Realms. TSR’s 100-pound Gorilla of a campaign world has been in every iteration of Advanced Dungeons and Dragons, from 1e to the current 5e.
I played quite extensively in a AD&D 2nd Edition campaign that was epic in scale and brought about a number of changes from the published canon of the world. This short article describes some of the key changes and is staple reading for anyone playing in a campaign I’m running in the Realms. I present it here as a resource to point players to, but also in case it inspires any readers to create their own alternative histories.
History of the Realms
Each race has their own creation myth and typically it contradicts those of other races. However, it is broadly accepted that Dragons came first, followed by the Elves, then the Dwarves and then the rest followed up. In the main the races were created in the image of their Gods, though that does get confusing with humans as they have multiple pantheons.
Empires rise, empires fall and eventually the Elves decide that they would engage in a Retreat to the sacred isle of Evermeet (like a poor man’s Tolkein). Which brings us closer to the world we know now.
Just over 30 years ago an event that became known as the Time of Troubles occurred. At this time the Gods of the world were cast down from their heavenly homes and forced to walk the earth as (incredibly powerful) material beings. Some of these Gods were killed and a handful of mortals ascended in their place.
One of these mortals, a thief called Cyric, became the most evil and malevolent God known to the Realms. His clergy were at the root of much of the strife that beset the Realms. About 15 years ago the Realms were plunged into the widest-ranging and most destructive war that they had seen (the first truly global conflict that had been seen for over two thousand years).
This war, called the Cyric Wars or the Radiance Wars, was instigated by Cyric in the guise of a being called “Radus”. He used a completely new form of magic (“Radiance magic”) that didn’t appear to rely upon the magical weave that underpinned magic previously. The fighting was indiscriminate and very, very many innocents were killed either by the battles themselves or the after effects of Radiance Magic which caused a great sickness to spread (akin to radiation poisoning of the real world).
The adventuring group, the Heroes of the Sacred Gate (of which the Helmite Paladin Alexander Rojan, the Elven Mage Khayle Amberweave and the human Druid Heartsease are the most renowned), were instrumental in mobilising against the armies of Radus, identifying that it was an avatar of Cyric behind the attacks and then travelling to Cyric’s home plane and destroying him once and for all.
The effects of the Radiance Wars were significant, in terms of both political and magical consequences:
- A number of countries, particularly in the west of Faerun, were fractured and re-formed under new leadership (the Dalelands, Cormyr and Sembia are good examples of this)
- Khayle Amberweave took up the vacant post of Sur-Coronal (effectively High King) of the Mainland Elves and seeks to re-establish the demon-infested city of Myth Drannor
- The magical gates that linked the various regions of Faerun, and also linked them to the outer planes have ceased to function or become inconsistent
- Individuals that have extra-planar heritage have started to physically manifest signs of that heritage leading to Tieflings, Aasimar and others appearing in the Realms
- The prominence of Helm (God of Protection) rose significantly, in large part due to the actions of King Rojan; however, Bane, God of Strife and Tyranny, appeared once more leading to religious scholars fearing that there is a way to bring back otherwise considered “dead” Gods
- Dragonborn, previously unknown to the Realms, of all colours have been seen. Many of these have claimed that they have always resided in the Realms, causing great concern in some circles.
- The Dead Magic and Wild Magic zones that were “created” during the Time of Troubles have mostly been eradicated
- Some small areas of the Realms have become inhospitable to living creatures; some brave (foolhardy?) adventurers that have entered these areas have reported finding creatures mutated or otherwise twisted by the lingering impact of Radiance Magic
All of your characters will have lived through the Radiance Wars, and in some way been shaped by them. Even if they didn’t have a direct impact on them the questions that arise from the fall-out need to be considered.
It is highly likely that you will have lost loved ones to the wasting disease caused by Radiance Magic, fought in the Wars themselves, or felt the change in how magic worked around you. The Radiance Wars are a good place to start thinking about your character’s background and history as they shook up the whole of the Realms and created both threats and opportunities for all.