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), as borders have changed and some towns and cities have fallen, whilst newer ones have risen.
- Ruler: King Tharmakkas IV, Bey of Murghôm
- Capital: Murghyr
- Settlements: Alzayat, Athab, Delbyl, Diyala, Fars, Ghaws, Graumot, Hashimyl, Hatra, Isa, Isfasan, Jurash, Khuld, Kilastann, Madan, Mulharahold, Phannaskul, Port Ghaast, Rume, Sinilyr, Somraggah, Sughra, Taj, Thalathat, Thandyl, Tuulish, Umarah, Ustann, Wakirnayskul, Zindalankh
- Population: Unknown
- Area: 226,689 miles² (587,121.815 km²)
- Military: Strong militias and allied mercenary companies
- Languages: Common, Muhjuri, Mulhorandi
- Religion: The Mulhorandi pantheon, the Muhjari
- Exports: Copper, jasper, chalcedony, date palms, giant sturgeon, lumber
- Sources: Old Empires (Scott Bennie, 1990), Horde Campaign (Curtis M. Scott, 1990), The Horde (David Cook, 1990)
- Ruler: Caliph Abu Bakr
- Capital: Dhaztanar
- Settlements: Anbar, Baduraya, Banawari, Banu, Darabjind, Dar al-Kalif, Darabjind, Darrabhal, Duirtanal, Estanil, Fustat, Harb, Iliphanar, Isabadah, Jurjan, Khalis, Maristan, Merv, Naysabur, Nihawand, Phelzel, Quas al-Hasani, Quas al’Tarik, Qumis, Saaid, Semkhrun, Semlithol, Shahar, Simman, Siniyat, Takrit, Taquasma, Uman, Wadieska’b, Zabad
- Population: Unknown
- Area: 326,713 miles² (846,182.785 km²)
- Military: Strong militias and a very strong navy on Brightstar Lake
- Languages: Common, Muhjuri, Mulhorandi
- Religion: The Muhjari, the Mulhorandi pantheon
- Exports: Horses, Duir leather, leather goods, lumber, ships
- Sources: Old Empires (Scott Bennie, 1990), Horde Campaign (Curtis M. Scott, 1990), The Horde (David Cook, 1990)
Murghôm and Semphar are both former vassals of the Mulhorandi Empire and, before that, were part of the great Imaskari Empire which expanded across much of south-eastern Faerûn before its destruction over three millennia ago. The two nations are similar in some respects, sharing both Imaskari and Mulhorandi cultural traditions, but they are also bitter trade and political rivals, competing by fair and unfair means for supremacy, though they have usually stopped short of full-scale war.
The two nations are among the easternmost kingdoms of Faerûn; only the disputable lands of the Utter East lie further east than the latitude of Semphar’s borders. Many maps of Faerûn do not even show the two kingdoms, stopping instead at the edge of Thay and Mulhorand. To put this further in context, the capital of the Shou Lung Empire in Kara-Tur, Kuo Te’ Lung, (2,800 miles to the east) is significantly closer to Semphar’s capital than Waterdeep is (3,400 miles to the north-west). Cartographers and sages sometimes argue about whether the two nations are truly part of Faerûn at all, and should be better classified as part of Taan (the so-called Hordelands), if not Kara-Tur itself. However, their ancestral ties to Mulhorand and their location to the west of the generally-accepted continental divide of the Yehimal usually sees them as counted as part of Faerûn.
Murghôm lies east of Mulhorand, along the western and northern shores of Gbor Nor (Brightstar Lake) and the Sempharwater. It controls the lakeside and most of the course of the strategically important Rauthenflow, which connects Brightstar Lake with the Inner Sea via Mulhorand. It is bordered by the Mountains of Copper in the north and the Plains of Purple Dust (the northern arm of the great Raurin Desert) in the south, whilst its north-eastern border is marked by the Haqar River. The Plain of Heroes beyond is disputed between Murghôm and Semphar, and its currently effectively a buffer zone between the two nations (with Semphar effectively bound by the River Estan on the other side of the plain). On paper, Murghôm controls the lands north as far as the Spiderhaunt Peaks, but in practice its border mostly stops at the Shalhoond, the Great Wild Wood, which effectively bars the region from the Tuigan-controlled steppes of Taan to the north. The capital, Murghyr, sits at the junction of the Rauthenflow and Murghol rivers, very close to the Mulhorandi border (so close that the Mulhorandi, with permission, use an office based in Murgyr to oversee its own far eastern preceptures).
Semphar lies around the eastern shores of Brightstar Lake and the Sempharwater, extending east to the Teyla Shan or Godswatch Mountains and south to the Raurin Alta or Raurinshield Mountains. Semphar has occasionally tried to extend its borders further east towards the towering Katakoro Mountains (the northernmost arm of the colossal Yehimal, the tallest mountain range on the planet) and the nation of Khazari, but it has never been able to sustain such efforts. East of Howling Gap, the countryside opens up and it becomes almost impossible to defend against Tuigan raids out of the north. Most of Semphar is covered by the enormous Plain of Semphar, which is criss-crossed by numerous rivers, giving rise to an abundance of farmland and small villages and towns. Semphar’s capital city, Dhaztanar, overlooks the Sempharwater at the mouth of the River Tarkhold and markes the western end of the Silk Road, which winds its way eastwards to the Shou Lung Empire. Control of trade along this road has made Semphar fabulously wealthy. Sea links across the Sempharwater link Dhaztanar to the Murghômi city of Zindalankh, from where the Road to the Dawn extends westwards to Mulhorand and its capital of Skuld on the Inner Sea.
Both nations are predominantly human, although a small number of dwarves live in the Mountains of Copper and Teyla Shan, and a small number of elves in the Shalhoond and surrounding towns. Goblin-kin can be found in the Shalhoond and, remarkably, large numbers of them have found honest (ish) employment in Semphar’s lumber industry. Scattered tribes of orcs, descendants of the Orcgate Wars, still dwell in the Sunrise Mountains in the far north-west.
As related at length in the history of Mulhorand, the origins of both Murghôm and Semphar go back to the great Imaskar Empire, which dominated much of south-eastern Faerûn for almost six thousand years. In fact, the Imaskari province of Nemrut enclosed what are now the Plains of Purple Dust and all the southern half of Murghôm, whilst to the east it founded the province of Semphar, effectively matching the boundaries of the modern nation (which some Semphari take to mean that their country predates Mulhorand itself by many millennia, which delights them no end). The great Imaskari cities of Etremo, Omhouz and Ciar lay within Nemrut, whilst Epem, Umad and Klebri lay within Semphar, with the island-city of Bhaluin lying between both on Brightstar Lake.
With the destruction of the Imaskari Empire in 2488 BDR (Before Dalereckoning), the conquered lands broke away, initially forming very small kingdoms or independent settlements. The Mulan, fleeing the desertification of the former heartlands of Imaskar, moved west beyond the Dragonsword Mountains, founding Mulhorand along the eastern shore of the Alamber Sea in 2135 BDR and Unther along the western shore in 2087 BDR.
In 1500 BDR, Mulhorand’s eastwards expansion brought it to the shores of Brightstar Lake. All of modern Murghôm was annexed, and Mulhorand formally claimed the lands of the Plains of Purple Dust and the Raurin Desert, but quickly found the desert impossible to tame. Defeated in that objective, instead it moved east and conquered Semphar in 1482 BDR. Mulhorand ruled both vassals firmly, but found attempts to expand yet further east stymied by a lack of resources and by clashes with tribes and bandits. The fortress of Semkhrun was founded in 1124 BDR to help fortify Semphar.
In 1071 BDR, with the conclusion of the Orcgate Wars after a devastating conflict that saw the death of the Mulhorandi chief deity Re and the destruction of much of the empire, Mulhorand was unable to maintain control over its far-flung dominions. First Semphar and then Murghôm rebelled, breaking away to become independent states. At first Murghôm and Semphar cooperated for mutual protection against Mulhorand, but Murghôm, at least, soon found a way of appeasing Mulhorand with trade deals along the Rauthenflow and even allowing Mulhorand to station a precepture capital within Murghôm’s own capital city of Murghyr, a rather bizarre arrangement that, improbably, continues to this day.
At one point (c. 360 BDR) the throne of Murghôm was set to pass to Myrkul Bey al-Kursi, the Crown Prince, but he had set out to explore Faerûn. Falling in with Bane and Bhaal, they formed the evil alliance known as the Dead Three and confronted the dark god Jergal. Jergal, God of Death, had wearied of his responsibilities and agreed to peacefully give up his powers to the three, who became the new God of Death (Myrkul), Strife (Bane) and Murder (Bhaal). Myrkul never really thought of his homeland again.
In 1280 DR, Thay launched a devastating invasion of Mulhorand that overran the north of the country and devastated the port city of Sultim. However, Thay did not respect the border with Murghôm and its depredations spilled over into the neighbouring country. The Murghômi were unimpressed and joined their army to Mulhorand’s, helping drive the Thayans back out of the country.
Tharmakkas IV took the throne of Murghom early this century and established a reputation as a general and warrior. However, he became obsessed with defeating his rival to the east. He launched two invasions of Semphar out of Port Ghaast, marching east to invade Semphar via the Plain of Heroes. Twice the Semphari defeated him in the First and Second “Reclamations.” On both occasions Tharmakkas attempted to win Mulhorand’s support, but failed. Tharmakkas’ rule has proven unpopular has he has become obsessed with invading Semphar and building up Murghôm’s navy and army to this end, at the expense of the civil development of the realm.
For its part Semphar had grown very wealthy with the construction of the Road to the Dawn and the Silk Route (or Silk Road), both occurring around 1099 DR after the establishing of fresh trade contacts between the lands of the Inner Sea and the Shou Lung Empire. Semphar’s coffers soon overflowed, its cities became stunning architectural feats and its rulers very rich and very overconfident.
Of course, these trade caravans began to attract bandit raids, and Semphari mercenaries began hiring themselves out to protect the caravans as far as Khazari, or even into Shou Lung itself, which became another source of wealth. Caliph al-Hamid, the Lion of Semphar, reorganised the military along relatively modern lines in the early 14th Century and sponsored the development of the military arts to help secure the trade routes. But in 1352 there was a sharp uptick in these raids. They became organised and larger, with sometimes hundreds of men showing up to take possession of an entire trade caravan. Many nations around the Inner Sea, including distant Cormyr, had started making a lucrative profit out of the intercontinental trade, and representatives of these lands began petitioning the Semphari to do something more tangible in securing the trade route.
At the start of 1359, the Caliph Abu Bakr called a great meeting in Dhaztanar to discuss the crisis. It had become known that the Tuigan, formerly a minor people of the northern steppes, had conquered the other tribes and forged them all into a single nation and power. They now demanded punishing amounts of tribute on all trade passing through their lands. When the leader of the Tuigan, the Khakhan or “Khan of Khans” Yamun, was told of the great council, he sent his own representative, General Chanar Ogh Kho, with 10,000 “bodyguards,” to present his terms. These terms were simple: accept Yamun as the “Emperor of All the World” and pay his taxes, or face his wrath.
The general was almost laughed out of the room, despite his formidable escort, and his demands were rejected. Yamun, furious at the insult, ordered the Tuigan to simply invade and conquer all of Semphar instead.
Yamun’s son Hubadai led the assault. He assembled 50,000 men for the invasion and divided them into three armies. The first, 20,000 strong, marched south and then west through Howling Gap, proceeding directly along the Silk Road towards Dhaztanar. As Semphar sent troops east to meet them, the second and third armies invaded via Fergana Pass in the north. After defeating the border garrison at Quas al’Tarik, the armies then passed through the Shalhoond and razed the Caliph’s summer palace at Dar al-Kalif (the Crystal Palace, not to be confused with the identically-appearing and named palace in Dhaztanar) and split again, 10,000 men moving south via Taquasma, Anbar and Siniyat. The other 20,000 moved west via Duirtanal and Nihawand.
The invasion was planned in detail and meticulously executed. Most of the Semphari army was out of position, facing the first invasion to the east of Iliphanar, when news of the secondary and tertiary assaults arrived from the north, with the capital left defenceless. The Semphari gave battle anyway, but soon found themselves outnumbered and outmanoeuvred. Dhaztanar’s outer walls were breached and the outlying districts plundered. On Mirtul 19, 1359, the Caliph surrendered.
The Tuigan kept the organisation and hierarchy of Semphar intact. Caliph Abu Bakr was retitled Satrap, and swore loyalty to Khahan Yamun. He pillaged the capital and the countryside to meet a heavy tax imposed by Yamun on his new holding. However, Bakr also initiated a whispering campaign via his former spy networks, with the people being told that the Tuigan had planned great atrocities if Bakr had not appeased them with first his own gold and jewels and then the riches of the country. As such, Bakr achieved the difficult balancing act of both appearing to be a loyal supplicant of the Tuigan but also a hero working to save his people from occupation.
The Tuigan turned their attention eastwards, with Yamun leading his troops on an invasion of Khazari and then breaching the Dragonwall before embarking on an ambitious invasion of the Shou Lung Empire itself. The magnitude of this task caused Yamun to initially recall all but 5,000 troops from Semphar, and then reduced the garrison furth to 2,000 men.
Despite this tiny garrison, the Semphari feared to rebel because Yamun’s armies could simply return. But Yamun’s forces suffered grievous losses during their campaign in Shou Lung and, rather than consolidate their victories, chose instead to invade Faerûn itself at the end of 1359, crossing the Sunrise Mountains to first invade and then make alliance with Thay, before invading Rashemen. Bad weather forced the Tuigan to winter on the plains of Ashanath, giving the western nations of Faerûn time to assemble a relieving army under the command of King Azoun IV of Cormyr. On Flamerule 5th, 1360 DR, the allied armies met and defeated the Tuigan at the Second Battle of the Golden Way. With this victory and Yamun’s death, the Tuigan empire effectively collapsed.
When word reached Dhaztanar, the Satrap Abu Bakr declared himself Caliph once more. His troops rose up against the severely outnumbered Tuigan and Semphar regained its sovereignty.
Both Murghôm and Semphar are hereditary monarchies. In Murghôm the ruler is known as both the King and the Bey, the latter an ancient Imaskari and Mulhorandi term. The King of Murghôm is sometimes also referred to as a Bey of Mulhorand, part of the fiction Mulhorand propagates that Murghôm is but a vassal state, which Murghôm is sometimes happy to go along with in return for favoured trading rights.
The current King of Murghom is Tharmakkas IV. Tharmakkas was once a young and vigorous warrior with an appetite for military adventures. However, his two failed invasions of Semphar left him bitter and angry. He has spent most of the latter half of his reign turning Port Ghaast into a massive military encampment and constantly trying to raise enough troops to launch an effective invasion of Semphar. He has also tried to interest the vigorous young Pharaoh of Mulhorand, Horustep III, in supporting his adventures but the Pharaoh is more concerned with the looming threat of Thay and the massive unrest sweeping Unther. Tharmakkas is now old and, it is believed, senile. The Council of Atamans, regional governors, seem to be hoping for Tharmakkas to pass soon so they can repair trade relations with Semphar.
Murghôm’s economy is based on its control of the Rauthenflow and thus taxation of all trade from the Alamber Sea to Brightstar Lake. Mulhorand’s looming presence and its insistence on fair trade with Semphar means these taxes are kept relatively light, despite Murghôm’s enmity to its eastern neighbour. Murghôm also has massive copper mines through the Mountains of Copper. Murghôm has a large but somewhat ill-disciplined army and a small navy.
Semphar is ruled by the hereditary Caliph of Dhaztanar. The current Caliph, Abu Bakr, is famed for his political acumen and wily ability to survive, as well as a surprisingly strong grasp of public relations. He may be somewhat indolent and corrupt, but he knows the value of how he appears to the common people. The fact that he not only survived the Tuigan conquest and occupation of Semphar in 1359-60 DR, but prospered from it remains astounding.
Semphar has a relatively large, strong, modernised army, with integrated magic-users, although its defeat at the hands of the (vastly superior in numbers) Tuigan still smarts. Semphar also maintains a large navy on Brightstar Lake to protect its shipping.
Murghôm worships the Mulhorandi pantheon and respects the authority of the Mulhorandi priesthoods over their land. The Faerûnian pantheon has a very limited presence, despite the kingdom being the original homeland of the dark god Myrkul.
Semphar follows a philosophical-religious ideology known as the Muhjari, which draws on the veneration of the One in Durpar in some respects, although it is exclusive rather than permissive. The actual gods worshipped by this faith are somewhat mysterious, as the Muhjari are private and do not answer questions rooted in idle curiosity about their faith. Some believe a link between the Muhjari and the Durpari tribes of Raurin who worship the god Anu, whom they hold to be the “True Faith.” Most Muhjari, though, are somewhat tolerant of other faiths, but one extremist sect has banned the followers of other gods from practicing their faith or showing their symbols. The Muhjari preach temperance, the absence of alcohol and the veneration of nature.
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I really thought I knew most of the nations of the Realms but you have really been surprising me with some of these. It’s a joy to read about all new places and histories I never knew about.