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: Overmaster Elduth Yarmmaster
- Capital: Ordulin (pop. 36,330)
- Settlements: Daerlun (52,477), Huddagh, Kulta, Mulhessen, Saerb, Saerloon (54,496), Selgaunt (56,514), Surd, Tulbegh, Uarhold, Urmlaspyr (26,239), Yhaunn (20,184), Yuthgalaunt
- Population: 2,462,400 (96% human, 3% halfling, 1% misc.)
- Population Density: 27.78 people per mile², 10.73 people per km²
- Area: 88,630 miles² (229,550.65 km²)
- Military: Local militias, numerous mercenary companies and adventuring groups, most notably the Silver Ravens
- Languages: Common, Chondathan
- Religion: Loviatar, Shar, Sune, Tymora, Waukeen
- Exports: Books, food, livestock, pottery, spiced sausage, silk, weapons, wine
- Imports: Anything
- Sources: Pirates of the Fallen Stars (Curtis Scott, 1992), Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting, 2nd Edition (Jeff Grubb, Ed Greenwood, Julia Martin, 1993), Sea of Fallen Stars (Steven E. Schend, 1999), Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting, 3rd Edition (Ed Greenwood, Sean K. Reynolds, Skip Williams, Rob Heinsoo, 2001)
Sembia is a young, rich and powerful nation in the Heartlands of Faerûn. Located on the north-western coast of the Sea of Fallen Stars, Sembia is bordered by Cormyr to the west and the Dalelands to the north, and maintains an extensive network of trade alliances across the Inner Sea. Sembia possesses one of the largest fleets on the Inner Sea, to protect its mercantile interests.
The realm extends from the Darkflow in the south-west, which forms the border with Cormyr, in a north-easterly direction towards the southern rim of the Scar, the immense canyon surrounding the River Ashaba, which forms its north-eastern border with the Dalelands. The southern and south-eastern borders are formed by the coast of the Inner Sea. The north-western border is more debatable, but is generally held to be the Infested Hills, Thunder Peaks, Arch Wood and the hilly uplands along the borders with Tasseldale and Featherdale.
Sembia is effectively an alliance of several large city-states which have banded together to resist absorption by Cormyr and for mutual defence and enrichment. These city-states are Selgaunt, Saerloon, Daerlun, Urmlaspyr and Yhaunn. The nation’s capital, Ordulin, is actually one of the youngest and smallest cities in the realm. It was originally Moondale but was peacefully annexed by Sembia and turned into a custom-built capital some three centuries ago.
Sembia is something of a land of contradictions. It is made up of semi-autonomous city-states, but it also has a distinct national character and identity, and it has expanded its power through diplomacy but also limited, decisive military action. As a mercantile nation it believes peace is good for business, but also robustly defends its borders from interlopers. It works mostly in its own interests, but occasionally allies with Cormyr, the Dalelands and other nearby powers for mutual benefit. However, it is also something of a greedy and avaricious nation, one day holding firm to strong ideals (like resisting Zhentarim infiltration of the nation) and the next selling those ideals out for a profit (working with the Zhentarim in areas of mutual interest, like Scardale). Sembia’s contradictions and unpredictability make it an unreliable, but necessary (due to its size and power), partner of Cormyr and the Dalelands.
The lands held today by Sembia were, of old, forested and part of the Arcorar, the Great King Forest, part of the immense forest of Cormanthor which in those days stretched across the entirety of what are now Cormyr, Sembia and the Dales, and extended into the Moonsea and Vast regions. The southern forests retreated due to various causes (such as increasing dragon activity in the Thunder Peaks) and humans began to settle in the area.
The region first became of note in 1660 BDR (Before Dalereckoning), when three Netherese floating cities were destroyed over the south-eastern coast. The resulting magical explosions formed Selgaunt Bay.
The region remained largely uninhabited until the realm of Cormyr was founded in 26 DR. Cormyr expanded along the coast, absorbing the city of Marsember, but then focused its expansion inland into the areas formerly inhabited by the elves. Increasing trade between Cormyr and the new nation of Chondath (founded in 144) attracted Chondathan interests to the area and, in particular, the idea of establishing trading posts directly in the region. In 380 Chondath sent settlers and troops to establish the trading outposts of Chondathan and Chancelgaunt. The two outposts quickly prospered and expanded into larger cities, linked to Cormyr to the west and the powerful elven empire of Cormanthyr to the north. Sub-colonies were later founded, Urmlaspyr as a port and centre of religious worship to the west and Yhaunn as a quarry town in the north.
Twenty years after their founding, the colonies had to resist a major orc invasion out of the Thunder Peaks. Chondath had to send half its army to help repulse the attack, but the value of trade in the new region made the expenditure worthwhile. As the colonial territory expanded, some border frictions with Cormyr threatened to become more serious, until King Azoun I visited Chondath in 389 and established good relations and firm boundaries.
In 902, the cities of Hlath and Reth rebelled against Chondath. Chondath tried to retake the cities, but Hlath’s archmage, Whinonas Ferentier, unleashed a magical plague which devastated Chondath. The city of Ormpetarr declared independence, forming the nation of Sespech and, inspired, Chondathan and Chancelgaunt followed suit in 914. The two cities renamed themselves Saerloon and Selgaunt respectively and declared the founding of the nation of Sembia. Cormyr and the Dalelands quickly recognised the new nation, rather having a close neighbour and ally rather than a staging ground for a larger, imperial power. These secessions permanently crippled Chondath, reducing it from a continental power to a merely regional one.
The architect of Sembia’s independence was Rauthauvyr the Raven, a skilled war-leader, but he was uninterested in ruling as a king. Instead, he founded the Merchant’s Council, a body made up of the mercantile and civic leaders of the cities. They elected an Overmaster or chairperson to serve seven-year terms as the effective leader of the realm.
Sembia’s early history was devoted to expansion – Daerlun, Urmlaspyr and Yhaunn quickly joined the growing nation, and Sembia fought the elves of Cormanthor to establish a border in the north-west and establish a trade route to Hillsfar – and defending its mercantile interests. Sembia exerted significant influence over neighbouring Moondale and by 1070 had absorbed the region into Sembia proper. Moondale Town rapidly expanded into the custom-designed city of Ordulin, which became the new capital of Sembia. The other Dalelands saw this “peaceful conquest” as a warning and became more careful of their ties with the growing nation.
An early conflict broke out with the pirates of the Inner Sea. Sembia amassed a substantial fleet to destroy the pirates, but instead this fleet lost more than half its numbers in an ambush in the Pirate Isles in 1180. Sembia eventually rebuilt its fleet and, in concert with Cormyr and Impiltur, destroyed the pirate forces in the naval Battle of the Fallen in 1209 (though again at the cost of the loss of most of Sembia’s fleet). Sembia later suffered badly in a plague in 1253.
In 1294, the pirate lord Methlas the Meticulous used a formidable intelligence network, miscommunications and careful manoeuvring to establish firm control over the Pirate Isles. However, his lieutenant Thevren usurped him before launching direct assaults on Selgaunt and Saerloon, leaving both ports in flames. Thevren had the wherewithal to intercept communications between Cormyr and Sembia, and even convinced Sembia that Cormyr was behind the attack, but he was then slain by Methlas’s mistress, Thilana, who took over control of the pirates. Thilana was slain in turn in 1306 by Laershala of the Emerald Eyes, whose lack of care and attention in planning raids led to a brutal retaliatory campaign by the combined navies of Cormyr and Sembia. Laershala was killed in 1314, leaving the Pirate Isles without a single leader. In 1346 the pirates again inflicted a humiliating defeat on Sembia in the Battle of Lisen Sands.
In 1306 Sembia was drawn into the Moonsea War, allying with Phlan, Hillsfar, Melvaunt and Zhentil Keep to defeat Mulmaster. Sembia was drawn into Moonsea politics for a while, before it refocused on events closer to home. In 1340 Sembia sent military forces into Featherdale when it came under attack by the Cult of the Dragon. Sembia successfully destroyed the Cultist forces, but subsequent attempts to annex Featherdale through political intrigue failed.
In 1356, Lashan Aumersair of Scardale launched a military campaign to unite the Dalelands by force. He captured Featherdale, Tasseldale and Harrowdale in rapid succession, but was checked in battle in the Dun Hills by the combined armies of Archendale, Battledale and Deepingdale. Whilst their armies were locked in combat in the west, Sembia quietly assembled a “peacekeeping force” and sent it north overland to capture Scardale Town itself, supported by naval forces landing in the town’s harbour. Forces from Zhentil Keep and Hillsfar liberated Harrowdale and marched south to Scardale Town, whilst additional troops from Cormyr helped the Dalelands break the back of Lashan’s army in the west. Sembian mercenaries also attacked Lashan’s flank, effectively breaking his force altogether. Lashan himself disappeared in the fighting.
In the aftermath of the victory, the question of the disposition of Scardale arose. Sembia stated that Scardale posed a serious threat to Sembia’s northern frontier and Sembia should retain control. The other Dalelands, anxious not to see Scardale absorbed as Moondale had been, argued that they should take governance of the region and encourage the rise of a new, less belligerent internal government, helped by their Cormyrean allies. Hillsfar claimed it had been “invited” by elements in Scardale to help liberate the town and should have a say in its governance. Zhentil Keep made no claim on the town itself, but offered “peacekeeping” troops for the use of all sides. Eventually it was decided to create a council, the Parliament of Advisors, to jointly rule Scardale Town, which the locals soon found intolerable (with Harper and Zhentarim agents intriguing incessantly, and Cormyrean and Sembian soldiers constantly bickering). The Parliament appointed Myrian Beechwood, a priest of Waukeen, as the new Lord of Scardale. Beechwood was a superb diplomat, but the Parliament constrained his power and prevented him from achieving much until 1368, when he decided to retire.
Myrian was succeeded by Khelvos Dermmen. Initial attempts to restore good governance in Scardale was upset by the outbreak of the Shaking Plague in 1370, which killed a significant portion of the population of the town and encouraged the removal of the occupation troops. The administration of the dale was removed to the town of Chandler’s Cross to the west. Sembia stationed troops near the border to prevent any plague victims from crossing into Sembian territory.
In 1360, Sembia agreed to lend support to King Azoun IV of Cormyr in his war against the invading Tuigan armies of Khahan Yamun. Sembian troops joined the so-called Grand Alliance as it made for Thesk and fought alongside troops from across much of Faerûn. After victory was achieved, Sembia was disappointed to find lucrative trade contracts (its primary motivation for the action) with Thesk and Telflamm had been quickly snapped up by Cormyrean and Zhentarim interests instead, limiting Sembia’s profit from the exercise. Sembia’s poor return from the investment made them lukewarm when Azoun proposed a more permanent strategic alliance between Cormyr, Sembia and the Dalelands, an idea which quickly withered on the vine.
In 1369, merrow attacked the Sembian outpost of Uarhold on the island of Prespur. The Sembians fought off the attack. The Cormyrean fortress of Palaggar at the other end of the island aided the Sembians in rebuilding.
Between 1369 and early 1371, Cormyr was ravaged by internal political discontent and a war with the neighbouring goblins and a powerful red dragon, which eventually cost the life of King Azoun IV. Sembian interests got involved in the politics, but Sembia was unwilling to risk its military forces in taking advantage of Cormyr’s plight…but it also failed to come to Cormyr’s aid when it was in need. The Steel Regent, Princess Alusair Obarskyr, remembered this when she came into power and began rebuilding Cormyr’s power, resulting in a cooling of relations between Sembia and its most powerful neighbour.
Sembia is ruled by the Council of Merchants, which is made up of the richest merchants in the realm and representatives of each city and major settlement, advised by economic and military experts. The Council is headed by the Overmaster, a chairperson who sits for seven-year terms. The current Overmaster is Elduth Yarmmaster, a shrewd and popular politician who has served two terms.
Each city in Sembia has some autonomy in how it is ruled, as long as it complies with the Council and the Overmaster’s commands. Each of the cities maintains a distinctive character, with Urmlaspyr being home to numerous temples and Daerlun being constantly drawn into the political intrigues of nearby Cormyr, whilst Selgaunt and Saerloon are divided between ancient, bickering noble families and mercantile interests.
Each Sembian city maintains its own watch and militia, with mages and priesthoods agreeing to help Sembia based on individual arrangements. Attempts by various Overmasters to form a standing army and mages’ military, modelled after Cormyr, have been resisted out of suspicion of overreaching and tyranny. However, in recent years the Sembian mercenary force known as the Silver Ravens, led by Miklos Selkirk, has become the effective standing army of Sembia. When a larger conflict threatens, the Ravens become the core of a new levied army and work to train these forces into an effective blocking force, whilst the more experienced Ravens handle the most dangerous missions.
For this reason, despite Sembia’s much greater population, size and (on paper) resources, Sembia is not deemed a significant military threat to Cormyr’s far larger and more skilled Purple Dragons and their supporting War Wizards.
Sembia enjoys strong trade relations with almost all the powers of the Inner Sea and Moonsea, and has a long-standing alliance with the Moonsea city-state of Hillsfar. It has a complex relationship with Cormyr, with which it has been an ally, an enemy, a friendly neutral, a trading partner and an antagonist, sometimes in rapid succession (or simultaneously in different areas). Sembia also has a complex relationship with the Dalelands, who fear Sembia’s long-term plan is to annex the entire region as it did with Scardale and tried to do with Featherdale and Scardale, but also benefit from trade with Sembia and military cooperation against the monsters of the Thunder Peaks.
Sembia allows worship of the entire Faerûnian pantheon, although gods more dedicated to chaos, disruption and destruction (Talos and Cyric in particular) are not very popular, a key reason when the Zhentarim have had mixed fortunes in infiltrating Sembian society and politics. Waukeen, Goddess of Trade, and Tymora, Goddess of Luck are both very popular, and Sune also has a strong following. Shar is believed to have strong underground cults throughout Sembia. The sea gods, Umberlee and Valkur, also have followings in the nation’s ports.
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