History of the Realms
It is a time of great change in the Realms, and while the rivers of history continue to flow and change around the world, news travels only as quickly as the next caravan, or the winds behind the next sailing ship. Many pockets of civilization are (perhaps blissfully) unaware of the true extent of the events taking place even now around Toril.
The following represents only a small portion of the events of the Moonsunder campaign, and is intended to help those new to the campaign to “catch up” with the rest of the campaign as it happens. The following information is considered “common knowledge” for all player characters, and is intended to help form the foundation for knowledge gained throughout the campaign.
Ancient History (in Brief)
Much of Toril’s ancient past is known only to the most learned sages of the land, and even they are forced to fill in large gaps with their best guesses as to what has come before.
For the common folk, the history of Faerun is littered with contradictions and exadurations, depending on the speaker or the story. What is clear is that Toril is a very old world, older than the current extent of “civilization” might suggest. Today’s world has seen the rise and fall of countless empires and kingdoms, and entire races have been born and have subsequently fractured during the world’s existence. And the proof is everywhere, from the ruins of great elven nations to etchings and artifacts dating back even further.
Most common folk of the Realms know this—the gods existed before there was a Toril for them to war over, or life to guide and shape in their never-ending struggles.
When one thinks of “history,” in the modern world, one generally begins with the elves. Long before humans learned to build their own huts or forge tools more complicated than slivers of stone, the elves were spreading throughout the world, building first small enclaves and villages which eventually became great empires and amazing works of art and magic. While only the elves could say for sure where it began (and perhaps not many of them, at that), what is known commonly is that, at the height of their civilization, the elves fell into a great war with one another. While they had always battled for survival against the dragons—far more numerous in that age—and the constant threats of the monstrous races that still plague them today, The Crown Wars represented generations’ worth of suffering and conflict for the elven people that only ended after an entire branch of their kind, the Illythiir, were driven underground as punishment for their devotion to corrupt, fell magics. The dark-skinned Illythiir became what all men and women of the Realms know today as the drow, the fallen elves banished to the deep places of the world and forced to wear the darkness of their hearts upon their very flesh.
When the Crown Wars finally came to a close, the elven peoples were decimated, as were their traditional homelands, the deep forests of the world ruined and burned to a fraction of their ancient size and majesty. In the wake of the Crown Wars, the two elven civilizations that remained began to rebuild. It was during this time that humanity started its long march towards civilization, and, in the beginning, the elves acted as their stewards, teaching them the ways of art and language and magic in exchange for trade goods, food, and friendship.
The greatest human civilization to ever grace the Realms, to this day, was at that time little more than a group of fishing villages in the heart of Faerun’s northern plains. The rise of Netheril also signaled the beginning of the decline of elves in Faerun, what has become known amongst The People as “The Retreat.” The rise of Netheril was slow, by human standards, but to the elves, seemed to happen virtually overnight. It began when the folk of Netheril happened upon an elven artifact of great magical knowledge, known now only as The Nether Scrolls. The scrolls contained many secrets of true magical power, knowledge that the elves shared with none but their own kind. With them, the Netherese learned at an astounding rate, using them to unlock the true potential of The Weave, studying the wisdom within them and using that knowledge to invent entirely new types of magic never before seen in the Realms.
Netherese society grew at an amazing pace, and at its highest posts sat great archmages. Wondrous artifacts and works of magic were born in the five millenia of Netheril’s rein, the greatest and most well-known being their fabled flying cities. Every citizen of Netheril, it is said, wielded minor magics, thanks to the great works and knowledge of their archmage rulers, and Netheril spread to take over much of Faerun.
The rise of Netheril is not nearly as widely-told as their fall, however. Within a single day, the time it took for one single spell to be cast, the entire civilization came crashing down to earth, quite literally. Karsus was a great archmage of his time, perhaps the greatest of the day. Unfortunately for Netheril, and for the wider world, though, the only match for Karsus’ talent was his arrogance. Seeking the power of the gods, themselves, Karsus devised a spell of power never seen in the world since. For a fleeting, incredible moment, Karsus became a living god, usurping the divine energy of Mystryl, then-goddess of magic, hoping to use it to help ensure the continued survival of his beloved people.
However, only after the spell was cast, and his body swelled with divine energy, did Karsus truly realize his folly. Mystryl, the one goddess in all the Realms capable of repairing the damage to the Weave that the great Netherese constantly caused by their careless use of The Art, became powerless. The very world, itself, was in danger of unravelling, as magic throughout Toril began to go wild. In her final act, a last bid to save magic from being destroyed forever, and the planet along with it, Mystryl sacrificed herself, thus severing the link between she and Karsus, ending his spell before it could be truly completed. The death of Mystryl caused all magic in the world to stop, all at once. Karsus, petrified by his own spell and still filled with a glimmer of divine power, watched helplessly as the entire empire fell from the skies, the magic keeping them aloft suddenly dead.
Mystryl was reborn in a new form, now known as Mystra, and with her birth, so too was reborn the Weave. She managed to save only three of Netheril’s great flying cities before they hit the ground, the rest already beyond even her ability to save. In one brief moment of history, the entire world was changed—not only did High Netheril cease to exist, but the very nature of magic had been altered permanently by the newly reborn Mystra.
Today, Netheril is a distant memory, but while other empires have risen and fallen since, no human civilization has ever reached such heights again.
Mostly forgotten about by the average human are the elves and the dwarves. While the elves struggled against constant incursions and even predation by the expanding human settlements throughout Faerun, the dwarves had been building empires of their own under the stone. Eons of war against the drow, the mind flayers, and all manner of fallen, deep-earth beast had taken a toll upon the stout folk, and once-great civilizations were slowly abandoned, or were crushed by war. To make matters worse, the dwarven birth rate—never prodigious to begin with—was on the decline. Faced with losses in battle that they could not replenish, dwarven communities around Faerun, one by one, started closing their doors and hunkering down amongst themselves, desperate to stave of extinction. Dwarves became more rare, and fewer, with every generation.
The elves had a similar problem, though it was not their birthrate that caused their numbers to drop so much as migration. From their height, more and more elves sought the fabled elven sanctuary of Evermeet, a lush and magical island far to the west, hidden somewhere in the vast Trackless Sea. As their lands were taken over by humans, their influence and security constantly threatened and diminished, many preferred to leave Faerun altogether and live in true, lasting peace within Evermeet, rather than continue to struggle against the tide of humanity and the changing of time.
Over fifty years ago, the world experienced another moment of great upheaval and change. Known as the Time of Troubles, it was a time when the gods, literally, walked amongst the mortals of Toril. In the Year of Shadows, several of the gods of Faerun were destroyed, some by rival deities and some by mortals, like Cyric, Midnight (Mystra), and Kelemvor, who rose up to take their places.
Twenty years ago, the city of Waterdeep, after suffering the assassination of it’s beloved Lord Piergerion, underwent a period of great political and social change. Over the course of the next year and a half, several armies are sent out into the countryside, at least one venturing as far as northern Tethyr, sent out on missions that are still largely unknown today. Among the old timers that remember their march, though, a measure of distrust has taken hold regarding Waterdeep.
Dwarves, once on the decline in Faerun, have slowly begun to expand beyond their mountain homes once more, their numbers increasing since the Time of Troubles. Called “The Thunder Blessing” by the dwarves, an unexpected—and welcome—population spike has been seeing record birth rates. The dwarven culture, teetering on the brink not that long ago, has been growing ever since, and new campaigns have begun to retake older territories abandoned in generations’ past. The elves, on the other hand, seem to have become even less common in the Realms.
Magic, too, seems to have begun a slow, steady decline in the wake of the Time of Troubles, whether by coincidence or not. While never quite “common,” practitioners of the Art are becoming more rare each year, and rumors have begun spreading about older, wiser, well-known and well-respected mages “changing” in various ways, some abandoning their homes and others “going crazy.” Rumors of large-scale magical battles in northern Tethyr, central Amn, Baldur’s Gate, and even the gates of Waterdeep have only helped heighten the general sense of unease that the common folk have regarding magic.
In the year 1415 DR, the Year of Raining Tears, the history of the Realms changed once more. Throughout the previous autumn and winter, an unusual visitor appeared in the night sky. What started as another wandering star became known as “Winterflame,” due to its whispy white shape that reminded observers of a candle flame. Over the months, Winterflame grew brighter and larger in the sky, vanishing for over a month before reappearing again. Throughout the Spring of The Year of Raining Tears, Winterflame grew larger and more vibrant, rivaling the full moon in brightness, size, and beauty.
On the eleventh day of Summertide, the unthinkable happened. Around the world, people looked towards the sky in horror: Selune had shattered, reduced to an expanding cloud of white and red fire, scattered from the place where Winterflame had once drifted. Stars fall from the sky almost nightly, some clearly visible even during the daylight. Red, green, and blue fire dance in the night’s sky, high above Toril, every night, now, and the ruins of Selune continue to spread across the night sky, touching each horizon now as if a wide river of stars and dust. Only the Tears mark where Selune once glided through the Sea of Night, seeming almost alone and pitiful now without her cold radiance to accompany them.
Nobody knows what really happened that night, but every person alive today tells a similar story; as if all at once, the world over, the men and women of Faerun dropped where they stood, each falling into what are universally described as “nightmares.” While some don’t remember the content, every last person uses the same words; “Vivid,” “Realistic,” and most importantly, “Nightmare” to describe what they experienced. Some awoke mere hours after passing out, while others were in the grips of their nightmares for days, suffering from what has been described as a fever. Many never awoke from the fever, and still others awoke maddened, their minds replaced by the unthinking fury of a rabid animal.
To date, nobody knows just what the destruction of the moon will mean for the Realms in the long-term, though most see it as an ill omen portending future catastrophes. The sea has stopped breathing, and many wild animals and more savage monsters have become an even bigger danger than they once were.
What will become of Toril, now, is anyone’s guess.