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.

A map of Thay and the surrounding lands. Please click for a larger version.
  • Ruler: The Council of Zulkirs
  • Capital: Eltabbar (pop. 123,120)
  • Settlements: Amruthar (41,040), Anhaurz, Ankhur, Belizir, Bezantur (136,800), Delabbar, Denzar, Escalant (28,728), Ezreket, Hurkh, Keluthar, Mophur, Murbant (5000), Nethentir (1872), Nethjet, Nurethretos, Pyrados (50,000), Sefriszar, Sekelmur, Solzepar, Surag, Surthay (17,784), Szul, Thasselen (10,000), Thazrumaros, Tyraturos (58,000), Umratharos, Whitebranch (800), Zolum
  • Population: 4,924,800 (62% human, 10% gnoll, 10% orc, 8% dwarf, 5% goblin, 4% halfling, 1% misc.)
  • Population Density: 13.99 people per mile², 5.40 people per km²
  • Area: 351,777 miles² (911,098.247 km²)
  • Military: The Gnoll Legion, the Griffon Legion, the Undead Legion, hundreds of Red Wizards skilled at battle magic, various allied orc tribes, some mercenary forces
  • Languages: Common, Dwarven, Goblinoid, Gnoll, Halfling, Mulhorandi, Orc, Thayan
  • Religion: Bane, Cyric, Gargauth, Kelemvor, Kossuth, Loviatar, Malar, Shar, Talona, Umberlee, the Mulhorandi pantheon (among the Mulan and slaves)
  • Exports: Artwork, fruit, grains, jewellery, magic items, scriptures, timber
  • Imports: Iron, magic items, monsters, slaves, spells
  • Sources: Dreams of the Red Wizards (Steve Perrin, 1988), Spellbound (Anthony Pryor, 1995), Unapproachable East (Richard Baker, Matt Forbeck, Sean K. Reynolds, 2003)

Overview

Some nations in Faerûn have a reputation for corruption, such as Calimshan, or for being strict places to live, like Dambrath. But none has the forbidding reputation for evil and danger as much as Thay.

Thay is located in the east of Faerûn, with its back to the Sunrise Mountains and the endless-seeming plains of Taan beyond. It occupies the immense Plateau of Thay, a highland region extending westwards from the mountains which drops from the tall peak of Thaymount down towards sea level not in gentle, rolling countryside or hills, but through jagged, sheer escarpments. These escarpments, punctured here and there by switchback roads or rivers dropping down the cliffs as rapids or sheer waterfalls, are almost impossible to summit without magical aid, giving Thay an almost impregnable set of borders. However, they can also act as a prison, making it very difficult to get out of Thay, which given the nation’s vast number of slaves works in the government’s favour.

The nation extends westwards to the Umber Marshes on the border with Aglarond and north to Lake Mulsantir and the Gorge of Gauros, which collectively form the border with Rashemen. The Surmash in the north-west and the River Sur form the border with Thesk. Thay’s southern borders extend down from the escarpment to incorporate the northern coast of the Alamber Sea along the plains known as the Priador. The River of the Drawn forms the border with Thay’s former imperial master, Mulhorand, in the south-east. Until recently, Thay also secured control of the island fortress known as the Alaor, but lost control of the island to Mulhorand after it was devastated in a tidal wave. Thay is inevitably planning to retake the island, but is also wary of the costs of a larger war with the resurgent Mulhorand.

Unbeknown to Thay, a hidden realm lies on its doorstep. The rock gnome nation of Songfarla has endured in and under the Sunrise Mountains for millennia. Powerful illusions blanket the realm and its numerous tunnels and caverns, preventing the Thayans from discerning its existence.

Thay’s capital city is Eltabbar, located near the centre of the nation on the shores of Lake Thaylamber. Its largest and most important city is the port of Bezantur, one of the largest cities on the Inner Sea (outsized only by Skuld, Unthalass and Gheldaneth). Amruthar, Tyraturos, Pyrados and Surthay are also important administrative centres. Thay’s most remote large city is Escalant, which was captured by Thay during the Salamander War, and remains vulnerable to a rebellion.

Thay is a former province of Mulhorand, known as Delhumide, that rebelled over four and a half centuries ago under the leadership of a magical cabal known as the Red Wizards. However, the realm’s newfound freedom was quickly lost as the Red Wizards formed a strict, authoritarian government. The Red Wizards have ruled the nation with an iron fist ever since, their power augmented by alliances with orc and gnoll tribes in the mountains, otherplanar entities and the liberal use of the undead in their armies. The average citizen of Thay has a small degree of freedom (unlike the slaves, who have none), but the merest hint of insurrection is crushed with overwhelming, brutal force.

Thay’s international image is poor, and the nation has launched countless attempts to invade or annex all of its neighbours at one point or another. Some Thayans have recently shown signs of wanting to change Thay’s image abroad, forming strategic and tactical alliances with other groups across the continent and focusing on a new idea of magical mercantile trade, but it is slow going.

History

The region today known as Thay was once called Delhumide, a vast area of highlands, plains and cold mountains lying on the northern fringes of the Mulhorandi Empire. It was settled and colonised by Mulhorand circa 1500 BDR (Before Dalereckoning).

In 1087 BDR, the Theurgist Adept Thayd, the Last Apprentice of Imaskar, rebelled against Mulhorand. He conquered Delhumide and was poised to invade Mulhorand’s heartlands before he was defeated. Thayd was executed, swearing vengeance. Unbeknown to the Mulhorandi, Thayd had established a vast portal to the homeworld of the formidable grey orcs. In 1081 BDR the orcs discovered the portal and mounted a massive invasion of Toril.

The Mulhorandi allied with Unther and defeated the orcs in the Orcgate Wars (1081-71 BDR), though only at immense cost. Multiple Mulhorandi and Untheric deities were slain in the process along with many thousands of troops, but the alliance was victorious and Mulhorand re-established control of Delhumide.

The area remained stable for almost two thousand years, until the cult known as the Red Wizards rose to prominence in the late 9th and early 10th century of Dalereckoning. The origins of the Red Wizards are obscure, some believing they were a minor cult of Halruaa exiled from that land centuries earlier for the misuse of magic, others that they arose spontaneously from within Delhumide’s slave underclass.

Whatever the case, the Red Wizards desired freedom from Mulhorandi rule and found willing allies among the religious cults and the slave underclass, who chafed under the rule of the administrative governor. In 922 DR, the Red Wizard Jorgmacdon struck a deal with the powerful tanar’ri Eltab (who had played a role in the fall of the ancient empires of Narfell and Raumathar) and the demon led the destruction of most of Mulhorand’s occupying army. Eltab was severely tested in the process, and weakened so much that the Red Wizards were able to imprison Eltab in a cunning trap.

The city of Delhumide was completely levelled and the Red Wizards and the people of Delhumide completed the rout of the Mulhorandi forces, fortifying the River of the Dawn against their return. Ythazz Buvaar was acclaimed as the leader of the rebellion, a powerful Red Wizard with significant magical skill. The Mulhorandi did not take the defeat lying down and the Pharaoh of Mulhorand took the field directly, seeking to inspire his troops through his divine presence. This failed to impress the Red Wizards, and no less than three pharaohs of Mulhorand fell during the single year of 922: Mahorustep I, Horustep II and Ramenhorus II. Mulhorand subsequently abandoned the campaign, unnerved by the ability of the Red Wizards to neutralise their supposedly immortal god-kings.

By 932, the Red Wizards had captured the city of Kensten on the Alamber Sea, which they renamed Bezantur and turned into their largest city and most important port. However, they also built a custom-designed new capital called Eltabbar, located near the centre of the nation on Lake Thaylamber. Unbeknown to anyone outside the senior ranks of the organisation, the city was actually a gigantic sigil which acted as a prison for Eltab.

The people of Delhumide hoped for a better life free from Mulhorandi rule, and were promised as much by the Red Wizards. However, within just a few years they realised they had merely swapped the theocratic rule of the Mulhorandi for the magocratic rule of the Red Wizards. In almost every respect, their lot worsened rather than improved, as the Red Wizards brooked no challenge to their authority and enforced their edicts with magic and undead servants. Several attempts slave rebellions against the new rulers were crushed without mercy.

The Red Wizards fortified their borders and quickly managed to antagonise almost all of their neighbours. They launched their first invasion of Rashemen to the north as soon as 934 but were soundly defeated by a combination of the berserker Rashmi warrior spirit and the magic of the Wychlaran, the famed Witches of Rashemen. Thay’s use of inexhaustible undead on the offensive was matched by Rashemen’s use of immortal elemental spirits on the defensive, allowing both nations to effectively fight massive wars with surprisingly low casualties on both sides.

In 976 Mulhorand attempted to retake Thay by invading across the River of the Dawn, but their unimaginative tactics and inability to counter Thay’s magic resulted in a sound defeat. By 1020 Thay had developed unique forms of fire magic which made it even more dangerous. The following year, the Red Wizards’ efforts to infiltrate other parts of Faerûn had been detected and opposed by the organisation known as the Harpers, resulting in a series of major skirmishes with Those Who Harp in the Dalelands.

By 1030, the sometimes-anarchic infighting amongst the Red Wizards had been quelled by the establishment of the Council of Zulkirs. However, the establishment of the council was not universally welcomed and some Red Wizards broke away at what they saw was overreach by senior members. The resulting civil strife within the organisation was not fully quelled until 1074, when the last renegade group of Red Wizards was destroyed. Ythazz Buvaar was proclaimed the First Zulkir, but he soon grew bored of politics and retired to Bezantur to pursue his magical research.

In 1098 Thay launched a huge invasion of Mulhorand, seeking to either conquer its former master or at least start expanding its borders down the eastern shores of the Alamber Sea. However, it misjudged Mulhorand’s competence on the defensive and was defeated at the Battle of Sultim.

In 1104 Szass Tam was born. In childhood he showed a staggering aptitude for magic, and was quickly inducted into the ranks of the Red Wizards. His skill with death magic was particularly impressive and he was inducted into the School of Necromancy. In 1157 he slew the Vampire Zulkir, Nyressa Flass, and took her position as the Zulkir of Necromancy. In 1159 he transformed himself into a lich after sustaining mortal battlefield wounds during an attempted invasion of Rashemen. In 1201 Tam allied with Narvonna Kren and Nymor Thrul, the zulkirs of invocation and illusion, to launch an ambitious invasion of Aglarond, by pinning their army on the Watchwall and then outflanking to the south via the Yuirwood. Tam played his part perfectly but his allies’ incompetence saw the invasion turn into a fiasco. Tam was so furious that he killed Thrul outright. Aglarond subsequently fortified the Yuirwood, invoking the magical defences of the Yuir to make an future attack via the Yuirwood as doomed as direct assaults on the Watchwall.

In 1232, Szass Tam intervened in the Harpstar Wars between the evil malaugrym and the Harpers, executing the so-called “Harper King,” the lich Thavverdasz, for infringing on what Tam saw as his area of control. Tam toyed with the idea of continuing the war against the Harpers, but was dissuaded when he directly faced Elminster in spell-battle and was soundly defeated. This began a lifelong enmity with the Old Sage and the Harpers that continues to this very day.

Thay’s attempts to conquer the region continued, and continued to fail. In 1192 Thay was defeated by Aglarond in the Battle of Singing Sands. In 1197 Thay was again foiled in an invasion of Aglarond at the Battle of Brokenheads. In 1260 Aglarond launched an ill-advised offensive against Thay, with King Halacar’s army overrunning Thay’s defences simply due to the unexpected ferocity of the attack. Thay crushed the Aglarond army at the Battle of Lapendrar.

In 1280 Thay launched a long-planned invasion of Mulhorand by land and sea, backed up by formidable magical might. The city ofSultim fell during the first part of the invasion and the Thayan forces advanced into the Mulhorandi heartlands. However, Thay failed to discriminate along the nebulous border between Mulhorand and its sometimes-vassal of Murghôm to the east, and sacked and destroyed several Murghômi villages. As a result, when the Mulhorandi army assaulted the Thayan force from the south, the Thayans were surprised to find the vengeful Murghômi army attacking from the east. The Thayan force barely avoided complete destruction and was forced to return to Thay, lacking the manpower to even hold Sultim.

In 1320 the Simbul became the Queen of Aglarond. An implacable foe of Thay whose magical might even exceeded that of Elminster, her very presence in Aglarond dissuaded many Thayan schemes and invasions against that nation. For a time Thay experimented with other stratagems, such as a plan to take control of important people across the continent via their dreams. This plan was discovered in 1323 and those responsible destroyed.

In 1356 Thay established its first major external alliance, with the Tharchioness of Eltabbar striking a marriage pact with Lord Selfaril of Mulmaster, one of the most powerful city-states on the Moonsea. They would wed in 1366.

In 1357 Thay launched a bold plan to conquer the Priador and the city-states along the south coast of the Aglarond Peninsula, using salamanders and other fire elementals. The plan backfired when the fire elementals rebelled, leading to a mass conflagration along the coast and the destruction of the Thayan armies. The situation was only salvaged by Szass Tam’s intervention, who used his undead legions to destroy the fire elementals and secure control of the cities of Thasselen, Murbant and Escalant, ensuring Thay was able to show a modest victory for the high cost.

In late 1359, the zulkirs were planning a renewed invasion of Rashemen when word arrived that a huge host of men had entered Thazar Pass and overrun the frontier garrison. Thay sent in its vaunted Griffon Legions, only to see it almost completely destroyed..

Szass Tam intervened directly, assuming control of Thay’s remaining armies and assembling a vast undead horde to meet the invaders on the field. He learned the invaders were the Tuigan, one of the warrior clans of Taan, the so-called Endless Wastes that lay between eastern Faerûn and north-western Kara-Tur. The Tuigan leader, Khahan Yamun, wished to be acknowledged supreme ruler of all the world, a notion which Tam regarded as quaint. Impressed by the Tuigans’ military acumen, he suggested an alliance against the northern kingdom of Rashemen. Yamun agreed, and led the Tuigan back north to invade Rashemen from the south-east whilst the Thayans invaded from the south. Together they could crush Rashemen.

The plan proceeded and the Rashemi were caught by surprise, but the Tuigan were delayed by the need to stop and reduce Citadel Rashemar before proceeding into the nation proper, whilst the Thayans became bogged down (as normal) in the Gorge of Gauros. The Wychlaran used summoned creatures and magically-manipulated weather to slow the Tuigan advance whilst the Rashemi fortified the Gorge against the Thayan attack. The Tuigan nevertheless entered Rashemen but clever Rashemi tactics drew them south-west towards Mulsantir on the Lake of Tears rather than north against the capital at Immilmar. Avalanches and snowstorms forced the Thayans to abandon their offensive, allowing the Rashemi to march north and attack the Tuigan, pinning them against the Lake of Tears. However, the Red Wizards decided to part the waters of the lake, allowing the Tuigan to escape into Thesk.

The zulkirs pondered further supporting the Tuigan offensive, but cut off from resupply and retreat, and with the combined armies of the west drawing in, they decided it was probably not worth the effort and abandoned Yamun’s cause. Yamun’s army was subsequently destroyed at the Second Battle of the Golden Way.

In 1362 the Thayans decided a reversal of their strategy to save the Tuigan, by invading Thesk and then swinging north-east to cross the Lake of Tears by magical means. However, the Wychlaran had prepared for this contingency after seeing the Red Wizards’ original tactic and used water elementals to drow the army as it tried to cross. In 1365 Thay tried to invade Rashemen with small, mobile forces skirting the Sunrise Mountains themselves (rather than advance via the Gorge of Gauros) after flooding parts of northern Rashemen through magic. The Wychlaran threw back the invasion with rock elementals.

In 1367 the Red Wizards razed pats of the Ashenwood, driving its monstrous denizens into the civilised parts of Rashemen. Whilst the nation was plunged into chaos, Thayan assassins teleported into Mulsantir and Immilmar to kill the nation’s leaders. The assassins were almost immediately caught and executed. Soonafter, the zulkirs Lauzoril, Aznar Thrul and Nevron allied to launch an invasion of Rashemen. Szass Tam deliberately leaked plans of the invasion to the Simbul, who warned Rashemen and allied with them to destroy the invading Thayan army. Tam thus discredited three political rivals and gained more power over the Council of Zulkirs.

Towards the end of that year, Szass Tam embarked on a complex plan to release the demon Eltab from his prison below Eltabbar, but then immediately enslave him as his personal minion, which would allow him to seize full control of Thay. Thanks to a band of adventurers sponsored by the Wychlaran of Rashemen, the plan was disrupted and Eltab escaped from his prison (partially destroying Eltabbar in the process), defeated Szass Tam in battle and disappeared into Thaymount to plot his revenge. Tam believed he had trapped Eltab again in a demoncyst, but this prison was flawed and, not backed up by the massive magical seal of Eltabbar, was in danger of failing at any time.

Tam’s own reputation was damaged by this fiasco, so he moved quickly to rebuild Eltabbar and launched a renewed invasion of Aglarond in 1369 which failed.

Later that year, as the goddess Tiamat slew Gilgeam, God-King of Unther, the immense volcano known as the Ship of the Gods exploded with tremendous force, sending a tidal wave raging northwards along the Alamber Sea. The wave crashed into the Alaor, Thay’s fortified island naval base, and destroyed it, leaving few survivors. Moving with unexpected speed, Mulhorand sent “relief” forces to the island, but militarily occupied the island and then fortified it with ships and magic, to the disbelief of the Thayans. Thay made preparations to retake the island, but was aware of the risk of sparking a full-blown war with the resurgent empire.

In 1370 Thay launched an invasion of Rashemen using magically-propelled boats across Lake Mulsantir, but once again the plan was defeated, with the Wychlaran deploying their own sorcerous ships in response. In this year a Thayan mercantile consortium, allied to several of the zulkirs, suggested opening trading enclaves in various cities across Faerûn to enrich Thay through trade rather than conquest. Despite some opposition, the scheme was allowed to be tested via Thay’s ally Mulmaster, and proved surprisingly successful. Plans to open further trade enclaves in countries like Chessenta, Calimshan, Chondath and Sembia soon gathered pace, despite the distrust and disapproval of groups like the Harpers.

A map showing the tharches or administrative provinces of Thay. Please click for a larger version.

Government

Thay is divided into ten administrative regions, known as tharches. Each tharch is ruled by a tharchion or tharchioness, who has wide-ranging autonomy within their province. If a tharchion or tharchioness tries to grab too much power or mistreats their tharch to the point that productivity or security is compromised, the other tharchions will step in to remove them, or petition the zulkirs to do the same.

Above the tharchions sits the Council of Zulkirs, who rule both Thay and the organisation of the Red Wizards. The Red Wizards are the true, supreme power in Thay and all other Thayans exist to service their will. There is some accountability to the organisation – a junior Red Wizard who barges into a village and starts ordering people around will eventually be slapped down for overreaching – but not a huge amount. The tharchions and tharchionesses have complex alliances and ties with the various zulkirs to protect themselves, leading to Thayan politics being a complex web of shifting alllegiances.

The Council of Zulkirs is made up of eight individuals, each representing one of the traditional schools of magic. Some zulkirs remain mostly aloof from politics, whilst others scheme incessantly. The most powerful and influential zulkir, as well as the most infamous, is Szass Tam, Zulkir of Necromancy. Tam is notable for his complex schemes and plots which extend across much of Faerûn. However, despite appearances, Tam is not the unquestioned leader or ruler of Thay and the Red Wizards, something he has to be occasionally reminded of by his fellows.

Thay is in an approximate constant state of war with the nation of Rashemen to the north, and has launched frequent invasions of its northern neighbour via the Gorge of Gauros, usually to little avail. Thay keeps up such attacks in an attempt to whittle down Rashemi resolve and patience, and since Thay effectively has an infinite pool of manpower to draw upon, as it usually uses undead in the vanguard of its armies, it is of little cost to them. However, Thay has not had a serious opportunity to overwhelm Rashemen since it allied with the Tuigan, and that attack was broken due to the onset of winter and the Tuigan’s subsequent defeat in Thesk.

Thay also has hostile relations with Aglarond to the west, and occasionally (though not as frequently as with Rashemen) tests the Aglarond defences along the Watchwall and the Umber Marshes.

Thay is pursuing better ties with Thesk to the north-west and the free cities of the Aglarond Peninsula to the south-west, and has negotiated new trade agreements with Chessenta to the south-west. However, all of these nations remain wary of Thayan intentions.

Thay had been pursuing better relations with Mulhorand to the south, its once master state which it had believed had become corrupt, decadent and easier to deal with in recent centuries. However, Mulhorand has become hugely resurgent in recent years, modernising its army and navy with outside help, intervening across the border in Unther as it descends into chaos and, most recently, using its navy to capture the Alaor from Thay after it was devastated in a tidal wave. Thay is extremely cautious over these developments, since Mulhorand is the only nation on its borders which can rival its power.

Religion

Religion is a complex subject in Thay. The Red Wizards brook no magical challenge to their dominance, but they also see religion as a useful force to keep the common people and slaves in line. Religion is allowed to flourish in Thay as long as it is understood that the priests will never challenge the power of the Red Wizards. The Red Wizards also tend to see the dark gods as potential allies rather than awe-inspiring beings to be worshipped, which is irksome to both the gods and their clerics, but the rewards from such alliances and the unquestioned worship of millions of Thayans go some way to mitigating this.

The dark gods are understandably the most popular in Thay, with Cyric and Shar enjoying a lot of popularity. Bane, both in his own right and that of his “son,” Iyachtu Xvim, was also traditionally very popular until his demise during the Time of Troubles. Clashes between the priesthoods of Cyric and Bane have been stamped out, with force, by the Red Wizards. Gargauth, Kossuth, Loviatar, Malar and, along the coasts of the sea and the lakes, Umberlee also enjoy strong followings in Thay. Kelemvor is the only non-evil god to officially enjoy a large following in Thay. Remarkably, the gods of magic have little popularity in Thay, as Mystra and Azuth both hugely disapprove of the use of magic for outright evil.

There are a lot of underground religions in Thay, however. Farmers and farmhands privately worship gods like Chauntea and Lathander, but keep such practices secret for fear of reprisals. Thay’s immense population of slaves often worships the Mulhorandi pantheon, hoping that their prayers will result in their liberation as their distant Mulan ancestors’ did from the Imaskari.

Tharches of Thay

Thay is divided into the following tharches, or administrative regions:

  • Thaymount (or High Thay), administered by Tharchion Pyras Autorian
  • Alaor, nominally ruled by Tharchioness Thessaloni Canos but currently under Mulhorandi occupation
  • Delhumide, Tharchion Invarri Metran
  • Eltabbar, Tharchioness Dmitra Flass
  • Gauros, Tharchioness Azhir Kren
  • Lapendrar, Tharchion Hezess Nymar
  • Priador, Tharchion Aznar Thrul
  • Pyrados, Tharchioness Nymia Focar
  • Surthay, Tharchion Homen Odesseiron
  • Thazalhar, Tharchion Milsantos Daramos

Zulkirs of Thay

As of 1371, the current makeup of the Council of Zulkirs is as follows:

  • Zulkir of Abjuration: Lallara Mediocros
  • Zulkir of Alteration: Druxus Rhym
  • Zulkir of Conjuration: Nevron
  • Zulkir of Enchantment: Lauzoril
  • Zulkir of Divination: Yaphyll
  • Zulkir of Illusion: Mythrell’aa
  • Zulkir of Invocation & Evocation: Aznar Thrul
  • Zulkir of Necromancy: Szass Tam

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