In this series I will be looking at each of the individual nations of Faerûn in turn, in alphabetical order. This series is based around the status of each nation as of 1371-72 Dalereckoning (at the end of D&D 2nd Edition and the start of 3rd Edition). The maps are drawn from The Forgotten Realms Interactive Atlas CD-ROM and their respective 1st and 2nd Edition sources. They are not necessarily current for the 5th Edition of the setting (which is set c. 1496 DR).
- Ruler: None (loose coalition of affiliated city-states)
- Capital: Cimbar (disputed, pop. 110,843)
- Settlements: Airspur (22,282), Akanax (24,632), Erebos, Gaj, Heptios (9000), Luthcheq (61,580), Maerduuth, Mordulkin (35,000), Oslin, Pandrik, Rodanar (5000), Saden (900), Samnur, Soolabax (1800), Soorenar (73,896), Toreus, Tulach, Villon.
- Population: 3,386,880 (82% human, 6% halfling, 5% dwarf, 4% half-orc, 2% lizardfolk)
- Population Density: 13.52 people per mile², 5.22 people per km²
- Area: 250,460 miles² (648,688 kilometres²)
- Military: Mercenary companies including the Wraith of the Inner Sea, the Renegades, the Sailors of the Crimson Sea and the Society of the Sword
- Languages: Chessentan, Chondathan, Common, Untheric
- Religion: Anhur, Assuran (Hoar), Azuth, Lathander, Red Knight, Tchazzar (Tiamat), Waukeen
- Exports: Art, cattle, gold, grapes, olive oil, quality iron, silver, slaves, statues, weapons, wine
- Imports: Cheese, glass, horses, magic weapons, mercenaries, perfume, pork, slaves
- Sources: The Old Empires (Scott Bennie, 1990), “Backdrop: Chessenta” (Brian R. James, 2010)
Chessenta is a large nation extending along the southern coast of the Sea of Fallen Stars, from the city-states of the Vilhon Reach in the west to the Riders to the Sky Mountains in the east, and extending inland to the vast Chondalwood. Chessenta looks large and powerful on a map, but in reality, the nation is more of a confederation of city-states. The Chessentan cities spend immense amounts of time fighting and bickering with one another, but also have a strong aversion to outside interference: at the merest hint of external invasion or pressure, the cities can switch from being at each other’s throats to standing unified and strong in the face of adversity.
Culturally, Chessenta is a nation divided between east and west. Chessenta’s western regions mostly worship the Faerûnian pantheon and enjoy closer ties with western powers like Chondath and Turmish. However, the eastern parts of the country are still much more impacted by its history as part of Unther, and the Untheric pantheon remains popular in eastern parts of the country. Chessenta also maintains trade links with Unther and Mulhorand, and is one of the few nations to enjoy neutral-to-cordial relations with Thay, being close enough to Thay to enrich both nations through trade, but far enough away they have no overlapping or competing military, political or economic concerns, at least at present.
In geographic terms, Chessenta can be difficult to map because various city-states and townships along its fringes are constantly shifting from being vassals of Chessenta (or, more properly, one or the other of its major cities) to being fully independent to being aligned with a neighbouring nation. The city-state of Reth on the northern Vilhon Reach, for example, has moved several times from being aligned with Chondath, with Chessenta or retaining its full independence, which is the situation at present.
In broad terms, Chessenta covers an area boarded by the Chondalwood to the west and south west, the Adder Peaks and Winding River to the south, the Riders to the Sky Mountains and the Methmere to the south-east and the Fields of Pryollus and Mount Thulbane to the east. The lands east of the Pryollus and Thulbane are held by Threskel, a minor kingdom ruled from the city of Mourktar on the Alamber Sea. In the past, Mourktar and the entire Threskel region were part of Chessenta and many maps still show this to be the case, making Chessenta look larger and more powerful as a result. In reality, Threskel is independent of Chessenta. The Wizards’ Reach, a southern arm of the Sea of Fallen Stars, borders the nation to the north.
In the south-west, Chessenta contains the large body of water known as the Akanamere, a substantial lake. South and west of the lake lies the Akanal, an abundantly fertile stretch of farmland which would be one of the breadbaskets of Faerûn if it wasn’t relatively remote and in an area contested between Chessenta, Chondath and various independent townships and city-states.
To the north-west of the Akanamere lies an assortment of small townships known, rather over-grandly, as the Blade Kingdoms, founded by mercenary companies some centuries ago. These townships frequently skirmish with one another for power and influence, and provide some military muscle to neighbouring Chondath or Chessenta as required. If these bickering settlements could work more effectively together, it’s likely they could benefit from opening new trade routes between their two, more powerful neighbours, but so far this seems unlikely.
The centre of Chessentan power is the enormous Bay of Chessenta, occasionally called the Crimson Sea by one group of freesails which sell their military skills to the highest bidder. This nickname comes from the bloody wars fought between the cities of Chessenta for control of the bay. The cities of Soorenar, Luthcheq and Mordulkin constantly vie for control of the region but, as is the Chessentan way, are also capable of dropping their animosity at the drop of a hat and aligning against rivals, especially Cimbar to the north-west. Cimbar is the largest and arguably most powerful city of Chessenta, and often presents itself to the rest of Faerûn as the capital of the nation, a notion the other cities find either insulting or comical. The other major cities of Chessenta are Airspur and Akanax.
A curiosity lies on the south-western coast of the Bay of Chessenta, where the River Adder spills into the sea in a confused tangle of reeds and fetid marshland, known as the Adderswamp. Amidst half-sunken ruins from ancient times, a community of Sebek-worshipping werecrocodiles and wererats have established their own refuge, the so-called “City of the Werecrocodiles.” The city has limited contact with the rest of Chessenta or, indeed, greater Faerûn.
Chessenta began life as a vassal of Unther. As is well-known, the ancestors of the modern Untheric and Mulhorandi people, the Mulan, were enslaved by the ancient, evil empire of Imaskar and forced to work for the Imaskari mage-lords in horrendous conditions. The Mulan gods responded by sending their avatars to destroy Imaskar in 2488 Before Dalereckoning (BDR). The resulting magical cataclysm created the Stone Desert, Raurin, and the Mulan people spread north and west to the shores of the Alamber Sea. The group of Mulan led by the god Ra remained on the eastern side of the Alamber Sea, founding Mulhorand in 2135 BDR. The Mulan led by the god Enlil crossed the Alamber to found Unther in 2087 BDR.
Unther and Mulhorand fought six years of border wars starting in 1967 BDR but eventually agreed to a common border along the River of Swords, with Mulhorand expanding east and north and Unther expanding west and south. Over the next nine centuries the two empires spread as agreed, Mulhorand conquering the lands around Brightstar Lake as far east the Teyla Shan and north onto the Delhumide Plateau, whilst the First Untheric Empire expanding south into the Shaar and as far west as the Chondalwood and Akanapeaks, where it fought border conflicts against Jhaamdath. Caught in the middle were the Turami people of the fertile plains along the Akanamere, who were either destroyed or eventually fled altogether from the region.
Both empires were laid low by the Orcgate Wars, which commenced in 1081 BDR when one of the last surviving Imaskari wizards was captured and executed, but not before opening an enormous gate to the orcish homeworld high in the Sunrise Mountains. Millions of orcs flooded into Faerûn before the gate could be sealed. The Orcgate Wars were unrelenting and bloody, and so alarming that armies from across Faerûn arrived to contain the threat. Despite this, the sheer scale of the invasion was so imposing that the Mulhorandi god Ra felt compelled to intervene directly, battling four avatars of the chief orc god Gruumsh outside the walls of Skuld, the City Eternal, itself. Three of Gruumsh’s avatars were slain before Ra’s avatar was destroyed. Because the Mulhorandi gods had imposed a greater amount of their divine essence than normal to be able to travel to the Realms, Ra’s destruction apparently meant the total death of the god (or at least his aspect on Toril), but he was saved by his ally Horus and merged with his essence to become Horus-Ra.
The chaos of the Orcgate Wars and the near-total-death of Ra alarmed Enlil, who fled Toril in 734 BDR, leaving his son Gilgeam to rule Unther as God-King (although some belief Gilgeam slew his father in a treacherous ambush instead).
In 255 BDR, the High Mages of Nikerymath, the great elven kingdom of the Chondalwood, destroyed Jhaamdath with a killer tidal wave, forming the Vilhon Reach and drowning hundreds of thousands of people below the waves. The removal of Jhaamdath opened the way for further westwards conquest and colonisation by Unther, but by this time Unther under Gilgeam had become corrupt and decadent in the extreme and failed to take advantage of the situation. Instead, survivors of Jhaamdath and newcomers to the region founded the city of Alaghôn in 37 DR and Arrabar in 50 DR. These founded the nations of Turmish and Chondath respectively in 132 and 144 DR.
A series of invasions of Unther’s outlying territories by tribes of the Shaar c. 200 DR spurred a resurgence of Untheric power. The Second Untheric Empire is said to have gained power around this time. Unther extended its influence to the north coast of the Wizards’ Reach, founding a series of colony cities south of the Yuirwood, but this was the last major expansionist push of the Untheric Empire. In 679 DR, Unther lost control of these city-states altogether, spurring the collapse of the Second Untheric Empire. Unther’s possessions in the Shaar were also lost.
The increasingly erratic rule of Gilgeam over the next three centuries led to the unification of the cities of western Unther under the great warrior-hero Tchazzar of Cimbar. In 928 DR, Tchazzar declared the western cities to be independent and unified as the nation of Chessenta. Unther launched an invasion to retake control of the region but, according to legend, Tchazzar defeated Gilgeam in single combat, driving the God-King from the field in disgrace. The Untheric armies’ morale collapsed and they fled back to Unther. Tchazzar ruled Chessenta as a unified empire for the next ninety years before vanishing in 1018 DR, having defeated a sahuagin incursion along the coast. After Tchazzar’s disappearance, he appeared to many of his people in dreams and visions. He was acclaimed a god and elevated to the head of the Chessentan church.
In reality, although this did not become apparent for many years, Tchazzar was a red dragon with a flair for the dramatic and a vague wish to rule over others, although having established himself as ruler of a human empire he found the day-to-day experience of rule tedious and abandoned the position once he’d gotten bored of the benefits. He did find the experience of being worshipped as a god most satisfying, however.
Chessenta retained its unity in the face of constant Untheric threats to retake its former vassal. However, by 1117 DR it had become clear that Unther was no longer capable of mounting such an expedition (and, indeed, barely holding itself together) and Chessenta began to fragment. Mordulkin rebelled against the rule of Cimbar and was followed in 1154 by Akanax and Soorenar, which besieged Cimbar and forced the King of Cimbar to agree to harsh limits on his power. This effectively saw the end of Chessenta as a unified kingdom and its transition to a loose-knit alliance of city-states.
Between 1317 and 1320, Chessenta was ravaged by the Great Plague. Mordulkin was particularly badly affected, leading Luthcheq to attempt a conquest of its neighbour in 1324. This campaign was defeated thanks to magical intelligence gained from inside Luthcheq’s walls, leading to a prolonged period of persecution against wizards in the city.
In 1358 DR, the Time of Troubles struck Faerûn. During the resulting crisis, the goddess Tiamat was slain by Gilgeam in Unther. To avoid permanent destruction, Tiamat dispersed her divine essence between three powerful dragons of the region. Foremost among these was Tchazzar. Tchazzar became even more powerful and tracked down and destroyed the other two dragons, Gestaniius and Skuthosiin. However, the combination of the three divine essences destroyed Tchazzar and saw Tiamat reincarnated to continue her battle against Gilgeam.
Also, during the Godswar, Hoar manifested in Akanax and led the city to war against Cimbar, Luthcheq and Soorenar, conquering all of those cities thanks to Hoar’s formidable presence. Hoar then led the combined armies in an invasion of Unther, but he was defeated in combat by his rival god Anhur. The Chessentan army quickly returned home.
In 1365, the Great Bone Wyrm Alasklerbanbastos (an undead dracolich) and a coterie of young dragon followers descended from the Riders to the Sky and laid claim to all the lands of Threskel and north-eastern Chessenta, including Mordulkin. The vampiric green dragon Jaxanaedegor declared himself Viceroy of Threskel and flew to Mordulkin to demand it pay tribute to the new Dragon King. Mordulkin complied, but almost immediately started plotting on how to remove the threat. The other cities of Chessenta, which were not being immediately threatened, did not intervene.
Chessenta has no unified government as such, although, very nominally, the Sceptanar of Cimbar is empowered to act as a spokesman for all Chessenta (although the other cities are not bound to any agreements reached by the king without their ratification). In practice each city has its own government:
- Cimbar: A city of philosophy and art, noted as possibly the cleanest and most well-maintained city in Faerûn. However, Cimbar also has a formidable military and one of the largest fleets on the Inner Sea. Cimbar is ruled by the Sceptanar, an elected representative advised by the Senate. The largest and most powerful city in Chessenta, but not large or powerful enough to oppose any two or three of the other cities combined (usually Airspur, Soorenar and Luthcheq).
- Akanax: A city ruled and organised in a military fashion, ruled by a king with absolute authority. In practice, the king delegates day-to-day control of the city to a military tribunal.
- Heptios: A city of philosophers and traders, disdained by others for being “soft.”
- Luthcheq: The City of Madness is ruled by the Karanok family, devotees of the bizarre entity Entropy and, like that entity, are opposed to the existence of magic, and seek its destruction. Wizards are routinely burned at the stake. Luthcheq’s economic and military power is formidable and its priests are distressingly skilled at negating the use of magic against the city.
- Mordulkin: A city of mages and guilds, currently ruled by King Hercubes Jedea. An implacable rival to Luthcheq and traditional ally of Cimbar.
- Soorenar: A somewhat chaotic city ruled by a triumvirate of lords from the Thurik, Yashur and Brolkchant families. The city operates under the legal system of the Code of Enlil, which permits crimes to be carried out as long as they can be justified to serve the greater good, the determination of which is somewhat arbitrary.
Chessenta is mostly a religiously tolerant land, with temples to many gods being located in the major cities. The people worship a mixture of gods from the Faerûnian pantheon, where Azuth, Lathander, Red Knight and Waukeen are respected, and gods from the mostly-defunct Untheric pantheon, most notably Anhur, Hoar (in his local guise as Assuran) and Tchazzar. Tchazzar, the Father of Chessenta, has a following despite not rewarding followers with spells (apart from a brief period during the Time of Troubles) and his apparent destruction after the Time of Troubles. Hoar is notable for his impressive temple, the Thunderous Hand of Vengeance in Akanax
The weirdest form of worship in Chessenta is in Luthcheq, where the city’s rulers are dedicated to worshipping Entropy, in particular the idea of Entropy as a natural force for negating magic. This manifests itself as a pathological hatred of wizards and regular pogroms against mages which sweeps through the surrounding countryside. The Mulhorandi god Sebek also has a small but devoted following in Unther. The centre of his worship is the City of Werecrocodiles in Adder Swamp.
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