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 the country of Thesk. Please click for a larger version.
  • Ruler: Merchant council
  • Capital: Effectively none, but Telflamm (pop. 23,361) exerts tremendous influence over Thesk, whilst Phsant is the largest country within the nation
  • Settlements: Culdorn, Ethvale, Fullpoint, Hill Town, Inkar, Milvarune (6029), Nyth (11,501), Phent, Phsant (21,564), Tammar (3594), Thassalra, Two-Stars (4854), Tezir-on-the-Marsh (Ethdale, Gref’s Ferry and Culmaster hold fealty to Telflamm)
  • Population: 855,360 (85% human, 8% gnome, 6% orc, 1% misc.)
  • Population Density: 5.10 people per mile², 1.97 people per km²
  • Area: 167,745 miles² (434,457.556 km²)
  • Military: Mercenary companies, some local militias
  • Languages: Common, Damaran
  • Religion: Chauntea, Cyric, Mask, Shaundakul, Tymora, Waukeen
  • Exports: Food, gnome goods, iron, Kara-Turan goods
  • Imports: Gold, horses, trade goods
  • Sources: Spellbound (Anthony Pryor, 1995), Unapproachable East (Richard Baker, Matt Forbeck, Sean K. Reynolds, 2003)

Overview

Thesk is a mercantile trading nation located west of Ashane, the Lake of Tears, and east of the Sea of Fallen Stars. Thesk straddles the Golden Way, one of the two major trade arteries of eastern Faerûn (along with the Road to the Dawn in Mulhorand) and has grown immensely rich on the transcontinental trade routes to Kara-Tur and the Shou Lung Empire.

Thesk’s borders are not well-defined, but broadly speaking run from the Forest of Lethyr in the north to the south-eastern foothills of the Dragonjaw Mountains in the south. The open countryside further south, the Singing Sands, are part of Aglarond. To the east, the shores of Lake Umber are claimed by Thay. The border of Thesk runs east to near Lake Umber and then north around the curving walls of the First Escarpment of Thay, then along the River Sur to where it flows into Lake Mulsantir. The western shores of Lake Mulsantir and Ashane then form Thesk’s north-eastern border.

The western border is formed by the coastline of the Sea of Dlurg, the Inner Sea and Easting Reach, except the broad stretch of land between the rivers Flam and Eth which are claimed by the nominally independent city-state of Telflamm and its vassal towns of Ethdale, Gref’s Ferry and Culmaster. The town of Nyth is Thesk’s north-western-most outpost, although it is effectively cut off from the rest of the realm by Telflamm’s territory.

Thesk is less of a coherent single kingdom that an alliance of quasi-autonomous cities that have joined together for mutual defence. The largest such city, and sometimes counted as the realm’s capital, is Phsant. The other major members are Phent, Tammar, Two-Stars, Milvarune and Nyth.

Thesk has an anomalous and sometimes confusing relationship with Telflamm, a large city-state on Easting Reach. Telflamm is easily the largest city in the region, is frequently labelled as a city of Thesk and often called its capital, despite being independent of Theskan control. However, Telflamm acts as the major port for cargo travelling along the Golden Way, the highway starts in the city and Thesk’s prosperity relies in great part on the goodwill of the Prince of Telflamm and his merchant advisors in how they set tolls and fees. At times the Prince exerts such authority over the other merchant lords of Thesk that he is effectively the head of state for the nation; at other times the two polities act with complete independence from one another. It has been suggested that the Prince of Telflamm could probably take effective control of Thesk if he so wished, but really cannot be bothered.

Thesk’s north-eastern territory is known as Ashanath, and consists of a vast, windswept wilderness and harsh, cold plains extending between the shores of Ashane and the eastern eaves of the Forest of Lethyr. On some maps Thesk’s borders are shown as encompassing all of Ashanath as far north as Lake Murthil; in reality, there are no Theskan towns or cities of note north of Two-Stars, and such hamlets or villages as exist in this region are completely independent. The region of Ashanath is divided between uninhabited wilderness and stretches located within the borders of both Thesk to the far south and Narfell to the far north.

Thesk is an unusually multicultural nation. Humans make up the bulk of the population but there is a strong gnome populace, particularly in the Dragonjaw Mountains, where a friendly family of copper dragons also resides. Isolated numbers of dragonkin can also be found. Central Thesk is also home to numerous orcs, members of the army that Zhentil Keep left behind to help guard against a Tuigan resurgence. Subsequent troubles for the Zhentarim meant these orcs have been more or less forgotten about, and other orcs have arrived from across Faerûn to bolster their numbers. Remarkably, these orcs have taken to more civilised pursuits, finding gainful employment in mines in the Thesk Mountains, as well as caravan guards along the Golden Way. Orcs are often found in taverns and markets in Theskan cities behaving no worse than any other citizen.

Thesk is also home to not-insignificant numbers of Shou, both traders from the Empire who have remained behind to open markets in Faerûn and a successive wave of immigrants searching for new opportunities in the lands to the west. Even some Tuigan can be found in Thesk, survivors of Yamun’s army who were unwilling to make the long trek back to their homeland and have found new employment as guards or bandits.

Until recently Thesk has been an obscure and almost unknown nation, but its fortunes have risen due to the opening of the transcontinental trade routes. Thesk was also the site of the final battles of the great Tuigan War of 1359-60 DR, and saw the defeat of the Tuigan army outside Inkar. Since the end of the war, Thesk has enjoyed much greater and more profitable trading relationships with the nations that came to its rescue, particularly Cormyr across the Inner Sea.

History

In ancient times, Thesk was considered too windswept and barren for settlement. The Mulhorandi expanded north-westwards to envelop all of the Plateau of Delhumide in their empire, but did not proceed further, instead fighting several inconclusive wars with the Rashemi people to the north and then holding their borders.

After the Orcgate Wars concluded with the Battle of the Gods in 1071 BDR (Before Dalereckoning), a group of ex-mercenaries founded the realm of Ashanath along the western shores of the Lake of Tears in 1064 BDR. Some of their fellows established territories in the Great Dale to the west. By 946 BDR the Nentyarch Thargaun Crell had unified all the tries of the Great Dale into the founding clans of Narfell. Ashanath resisted and was destroyed. Narfell expanded west to the Easting Reach and south to encompass all the lands today controlled by the Great Dale and some of northern Thesk. In 160 BDR, Narfell was destroyed in the Great Conflagration with its neighbour Raumathar, and the scattered remnants of the Nar tribes moved far to the north. Thesk was left uninhabited once again.

By 800 Dalereckoning, citizens of Impiltur, tiring the nation’s constant wars against the demons striking out of the Rawlinswood, moved south and east across Easting Reach, settling the coastlands almost as far south as Aglarond, or Velprin as it was in those days. Scattered homesteads, isolated farmlands and small towns were established between 800 and 850.

In 917, an enterprising and well-funded merchant from Impiltur, Windyn Balindre marched from the Inner Sea to Lake Mulsantir in search of a trade route to the furthest east. He negotiated passage across Rashemen and then through the northern-most arm of the Sunrise Mountains (the High Country) onto the plains of Taan. Remarkably, he was able to strike a route across Taan, through the Quoya Desert and to the gates of the Dragonwall. In 920 he returned to Lyrabar laden with silks and spices, becoming the talk of the city. He founded the Royal Company of Shou Lung, obtaining a royal charter from King Peverel to back his efforts to establish regular trade with the far east.

By 925, the Royal Company of Shou Lung had established a number of waystops and supply posts along the route from the coast to Taan. The largest and most important of these was a permanent port on the coast, between the rivers Eth and Flam. However, the death of King Peverel with no issue in 924 had plunged Impiltur into instability and chaos. By 926 the Royal Company of Shou Lung had relocated to the burgeoning new port on the Easting Reach, which Windyn Balindre named Telflamm, with himself as its first Merchant Prince. Nominally, the city retained ties with Impiltur.

Almost immediately, in 927, the thieves’ guild known as the Shadowmasters were established in Telflamm. The guild was unusual in that that instead of merely worshipping Mask, God of Thieves, they dedicated themselves fully to his tenets, becoming as much a religious organisation as a criminal one.

In 958, the next-largest supply post along the new trade route had grown large enough to become a city in its own right, and was named Phsant. Other trade towns, including Phent, Inkar and Tammar, soon followed. By 1038 the Great Glacier had retreated from Damara in the north, sparking renewed settlement of that region and the start of trade goods flowing south to the Easting Reach, further enriching the region through increased economic development.

The collapse of Mulhorandi control north of the River of the Dawn and its replacement by the bellicose new nation of Thay in 922 sparked concern in Telflamm, but the new kingdom took some time to begin moving in their direction. In 1086 Thay captured the towns of Nethjet and Nethentir on Lake Umber, and in 1110 launched a brief invasion towards Phent. The towns and cities of the region allied with Telflamm and Impiltur to turn back the invasion. Around this time the region of Thesk became the country of Thesk, with the city-states unifying for mutual protection. Telflamm’s role in this alliance became debatable, as it drifted back and forth between being a vassal of Impiltur, part of Thesk and an independent city in its own right.

In 1099, there was a renewed push to open trade routes from Faerûn to Kara-Tur, and by this date the trade route from Telflamm to Shou Lung had become known as the Golden Way.

In 1177, Princess Delile Balindre finally renounced all of Telflamm’s ties with Impiltur and declared Telflamm to be an independent city-state.

By 1351, Thay had established good diplomatic relations with Telflamm and established an embassy and trade concession in the city, to the concern of some locals. However, it was deemed worth the risk to discourage Thayan interests in an invasion of Thesk.

In late 1359, the Tuigan armies of Yamun Khahan invaded Thay, allied with the Red Wizards and then invaded Rashemen. Despite initial successes, the Tuigan were eventually driven to the shores of Lake Ashane and may have been destroyed had the Red Wizards not intervened to open a dry path across the lake to allow the Tuigan to escape. This left almost 100,000 Tuigan troops on nominally Theskan soil, albeit a remote part of the nation.

Thesk appealed for aid to the rest of Faerûn. Fortunately, it found a willing listener in King Azoun IV of Cormyr. A year earlier, King Azoun had been in Dhaztanar in Semphar when the Tuigan began their massive, continent-spanning war and was deeply concerned about the threat they might pose to Faerûn. Even as the Tuigan moved into Rashemen, Azoun was busy calling in every diplomatic favour he could to assemble an army large enough to meet the Tuigan in battle before they could reach the Inner Sea. Azoun was surprised at the success he had, with the dwarves of Earthfast, the rulers of Zhentil Keep and the rulers of Sembia, the Dalelands and Impiltur agreeing to commit troops to the operation. Additional mercenary forces were hired, and Azoun committed a large detachment of Cormyr’s own Purple Dragons and War Wizards to the operation.

The Tuigan had been delayed by the notoriously poor weather in Ashanath, which had prolonged their winter stay, but they had also started moving. They began moving on Tarsakh 17th, taking Tezir-on-the-Marsh eight days later and Two-Stars on Mirtul 17th.

More than 30,000 troops from across Faerûn landed in Telflamm and by Kythorn 8th were swiftly marching up the Golden Way. On Kythorn 15th the Tuigan encircled the town of Tammar, compelling its immediate surrender, and immediately marched on Phsant. Phsant, a much larger and more heavily defended city, was besieged.

On Kythorn 24th the Alliance army reached Inkar and established a camp outside the city. The two sides agreed to a parlay, meeting on Flamerule 2nd. Azoun suggested that the Tuigan take the loot they had so far secured (which was considerable) and return home. Yamun refused. Yamun was particularly unimpressed with the Alliance army, which he outnumbered at least two-to-one and possibly three-to-one, although he was intrigued by the various nonhuman creatures who fought alongside it, particularly the thousands of orcs sent by Zhentil Keep under the command of their charismatic General Vrakk. Azoun believed that the Alliance’s mages would tip the balance against the Tuigan, possibly unaware that that Tuigan shamans and various allied spirits had so far defeated the magic of the Dragonwall, the Shou wizards and briefly humbled the Red Wizards and Wychlaran of Rashemen. However, the Tuigans’ own magical resources had been sapped by the long war and its troops had suffered grievous losses over the previous year, with only a third of their original numbers remaining following the battles in Semphar, Khazari, Shou Lung, Thay and Rashemen.

The First Battle of the Golden Way was fought outside the city of Phsant on Flamerule 3rd, 1360 DR. The initial stage of the battle was successful, with Azoun’s troops using both superior ranged weaponry and magic to inflict massive casualties on the Tuigan side. However, several Heartland cavalry commanders, believing their heavy horse would chase these barbarians’ light steeds from the field with barely an effort, mounted a charge without Azoun’s command. The Tuigan drew the Alliance cavalry into a trap and almost wiped it out completely. Only Azoun’s steadfast leadership and, to his surprise, the steel battle discipline of Vrakk’s Zhentilar orcs prevented a rout. The late arrival of the dwarves of Earthfast turned the tide. The Tuigan dispatched a cavalry force to wipe out the arriving dwarves and were quite unprepared for the dwarves’ devastating crossbow volleys, followed by forming tightly-packed pike squares which obliterated the Tuigan horse with ease. The dwarven squares then marched into the melee and acted as the anvil to the orcs’ hammer, squeezing a large chunk of the Tuigan army between the two and destroying it. Yamun, sensing the tide had turned, managed to withdraw the rest of his army in good order.

The battle had been somewhat inconclusive, with the Tuigan failing to unseat the Army of the Alliance from its position. However, the battle had turned into exactly what Azoun had tried to avoid, a battle of attrition. The result of the tally was that the Tuigan had suffered over 30,000 casualties to the Alliance’s 15,000, but the Tuigan could afford to lose a third of its army to crush almost half of the Alliance. The loss of the Alliance’s heavy cavalry was a serious blow. However, the Alliance’s heavy infantry had not suffered any significant losses at all, and both the orcs and dwarves had make an excellent accounting of themselves. The Tuigan’s ability to absorb and negate magic also seemed to have reduced from early battles.

The Alliance army pulled back west to near Inkar, where two thick forests closed in on the Golden Way. The army established a new defensive line and the dwarves set to digging thousands of holes across the road. Illusionists then masked the holes with magic.

On Kythorn 5th, 1360, the Tuigan attacked once more. Exploratory skirmishing began, with the Tuigan trying to burn out the forests to stop any flanking manoeuvres and the Alliance mages summoned water magic to extinguish the fires and start turning the field into a muddy quagmire which would prevent the Tuigan horses from charging. Yamun realised he had a narrow window to employ the Tuigan cavalry advantage so launched a massive charge on the Alliance position. Realising the khahan was personally leading the attack, Azoun’s wizards created a magical bridge over the holes in the field and then collapsed it behind Yamun; the Tuigan leader and his bodyguard thus crashed into the Alliance lines whilst thousands of Tuigan troops and horses behind them were killed in a massive crush as the front ranks fell into the holes across the battlefield. Azoun and his handpicked bodyguard of 200 men engaged Yamun’s elite and slaughtered them, Azoun himself ending the khahan’s life.

At the news of the khahan’s death, the Tuigan horde broke apart into several bickering factions and retreated east. It appeared their plan was to return to the Tuigan homeland to pick a new leader and then return, but this never came to pass. The sons of Yamun fell to infighting and the tribes conquered by the Tuigan years earlier rebelled. Many of the retreating Tuigan were killed as they tried to re-cross Rashemen to get back home, though some did eventually escape via Thay or going the long way around north via Narfell.

For Thesk, the victory saved the nation. The destroyed towns were quickly rebuilt, and the grateful nation established new, generous trade alliances with Cormyr, Sembia, Impiltur, Earthfast and Zhentil Keep. The Theskans particularly honoured King Torg mac Cei, Ironlord of Earthfast, who gave his life in the Second Battle of the Golden Way to ensure victory. However, the orcs of Zhentil Keep had been ordered to remain in Thesk and establish a Zhentarim outpost in the kingdom. The Theskans cautiously agreed to this, whilst Azoun hoped he had not delivered Thesk from the Tuigan only to give them to the Black Network. Fortunately, this was not the case, and the Zhentarim orcs soon became integrated into Theskan life and society. As the Zhentarim became distracted by various issues at home, they almost forgot about the orcs, who for their part seemed happier to align themselves with a friendly and even grateful nation that was happy to pay them for honest work.

Within a few years, the Golden Way had been fully reopened and gold started flooding into Thesk’s coffers once more. There were still problems, though. In 1362 Thay’s armies crossed into Theskan territory and then swung north-east to approach Lake Mulsantir. Thesk readied its armies, but the Thayans avoided attacking any Theskan troops or towns, instead using Theskan territory to try to springboard an invasion across Ashane into Rashemen. The attempt was defeated by the Wychlaran.

In 1364, the Sharkjaw pirates of the Inner Sea launched a surprise attack on Telflamm, securing the port and then the palace. Telflamm’s militia was unable to fully dislodge them. Mercenaries and troops from across Thesk responded, but it was the activity of the Shadowmasters which finally unseated the pirates. The priest-thieves of Mask undertook clandestine assassinations of the pirate leaders, trapped them in festhalls which were then burned down and carried out a brutal, ugly war of cloak and dagger in the shadows. By the end of the process, the Sharkjaws had been annihilated and Telflamm returned, nominally, to the control of the Merchant Prince. But the Shadowmasters let it be known to the prince  who he had to thank for his salvation, and it was a debt they fully intended to collect.

Government

Thesk is a loosely-governed nation, with each city-state having its own individual governmental structure. Each city choses a representative, and all of the representatives then meet once a year in a different city to discuss matters of common import. If an emergency situation arises, the representatives gather more quickly (usually by magical means). The cities of Nyth, Phent, Phsant, Tammar, Two-Stars and Milvarune, and the smaller settlements of Thassalra, Ethvale and Tezir-on-the-Marsh are usually represented at such councils. A representative of Telflamm also attends, and sometimes representatives of the nation’s orc and gnome populations if they have matters to raise with the rulers.

Thesk has no capital city as such, but Phsant nominally fulfils that role as the largest city within Thesk, and Telflamm is sometimes used as a meeting place and fallback position given both its location on the Inner Sea and its substantial size.

Thesk enjoys good relations with Aglarond, Rashemen and Impiltur, and excellent relations across the Inner Sea with Cormyr, Sembia and Zhentil Keep. Its relations with Thay used to be quite frosty, but in recent years Thay has invested in an embassy in Telflamm and improving trading relations. The Thayans using Theskan territory without permission to attack Rashemen nine years ago has not been forgotten, but the fact that Thesk is militarily the weakest of the four nations surrounding Thay and the most likely to fall should Thay ever launch a concerted attack is also well-understood in Thesk, which tempers expectations of how the relationship should develop.

Spearmouth Dale, to the north of Phsant, is technically part of the Great Dale but enjoys good relations with the city of Phsant, with Lord Thellblade engaging in significant trade with the city. Mettledale, further to the north-east, has fallen under the rule of a tyrannical mage named Vosthor who rules over the dale with an army of cutthroats and thieves. The rulers of Phsant and Tammar have complained about Vosthor’s conduct to the Nentyarch of the Great Dale, but to little avail so far.

Thesk has complex relations with Telflamm, with the general feeling that Telflamm should “cast the spell or stop gesticulating,” with regards to its on-off status as part of Thesk or not. In past years the rest of Thesk was wary about being dominated by Telflamm, but with Phsant growing rapidly into a viable rival to Telflamm’s power and Milvarune and Nyth developing as alternative ports, that fear is no longer as pressing, and Telflamm’s economic might and riches would be considered great assets to the fledgling nation.

Thesk has no standing army as such, but each city maintains a small, well-trained militia, and the presence of thousands of battle-hardened orcs who have agreed to fight for Thesk if the need arises again is, oddly, reassuring. Thesk also has one ace in the hole in the form of the copper dragon Filauxerimos and his family who lair on Cape Dragonfang and have developed good relations with Thesk and could come to the nation’s aid in dire need, although some believe that the dragon is too fickle and his understanding of the urgency of non-draconic affairs is limited to be a reliable ally.

Thesk does have one significant internal threat: the Shadowmaster guild has spread from Telflamm to have chapters in most settlements of the realm. The guild is busy manipulating affairs in the country from behind the scenes to its own, inscrutable purposes.

Religion

As a mercantile nation, Thesk is strong in its devotion to Waukeen, Goddess of Trade and Wealth, and Tyrmora, Goddess of Luck. Thesk’s wide-open plains are home to many farmsteads, so Chauntea is also venerated. Thesk is often the jumping-off point for great journeys and adventures into the vastness of the east, so Shaundakul, patron of travellers and explorers, is also a popular god.

Thesk does have a darker side though, with an underground religious movement dedicated to Cyric present, and the Shadowmasters are strong in their devotion to Mask, though some are believed to have also flirted with worshipping Shar, Goddess of Shadows, instead.

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