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History of Anauroch

Anauroch has a long and storied history, one which is so complex as to defy a simple summary.
It is a tale of achievement and catastrophe, of incomparable brilliance juxtaposed with unrivaled
folly, a tale that shaped modern Faerûn while changing the whole world forever.

The tale properly begins more than 5,000 years ago. At this time, the region was not a desert
but rather a great expanse of verdant grasslands, thick forests, chattering streams, and deep,
azure lakes. This was an age when humans were establishing empires. Far to the south,
Calimshan had already stood for more than a thousand years, while in the distant east, the
Imaskar had founded their godless realm and were growing in lore and might. But the people of
the grasslands were simple folk, mostly living a nomadic existence, driving fat herds across
fertile plains.

The First Age

In the northwest corner of their world was a vast body of water called the Narrow Sea, which
covered much of the area now known as the High Ice. Some of the nomads settled along the
shore and created tiny fishing villages. It was the birth of human civilization in this corner of
Faerûn.

Orcs prowled the land in great numbers in those days, and so it happened that seven villages
banded together for mutual protection. Their association was called the Alliance of Seven
Towns but soon became known as Seventon. The first ruler of Seventon was a cruel and
charismatic priest called Nether the Elder, an ambitious man who proclaimed himself king and
renamed the rapidly expanding nation “Netheril” in his own honor. Nether the Elder was killed by
an assassin’s blade, but this did nothing to slow the growth of the new kingdom.

At this time, elves were still populous in Faerûn, though their numbers had been severely
depleted by those epoch-spanning conflicts known as the Crown Wars. If the glory of the elves
was fading, they were still very glorious, and if their strength was waning, they remained strong
indeed. West of Netheril was the elvish kingdom of Eaerlann in the High Forest, while to the
south-east lay the mighty realm of Cormanthyr with its splendid capital, known to modern folk as
Myth Drannor.

The Eaerlanni observed the growing power of Netheril and sent envoys to establish friendship
and trade between their realms. The Netherese were awed by these majestic creatures and
were eager to learn all they could from them. The Eaerlanni were pleased to share their lore and
began teaching the humans some basic magic.
Empowered by their relationship with the Eaerlanni elves, Netheril expanded rapidly, engulfing
the grasslands and the nomads who occupied them. Even as their nation grew, so did their
magical power. Arcane knowledge was not hoarded but was freely shared amongst the
populace. Children of the affluent learned magic before they learned to read, and even the
illiterate shepherd knew a helpful cantrip or two.

The Nether Age

The Netherese had grown into a nation of spellcasters but they yearned for more knowledge.
Their arcane skills, though considerable, fell far short of elvish magic, and did not even match
those of the pagan sorcerers in Imaskar. The Eaerlanni refused to teach them the deeper
secrets of the Art, and the Netherese chafed under these restrictions. Relations with the elves
grew strained.

Events changed dramatically when, roughly 300 years after the founding of the nation, a
Netherese wizard discovered a set of golden scrolls in an old elvish ruin in the High Forest.
These extraordinary items, perhaps the most powerful artifacts ever to exist in Toril, described
the fundamental theory of magic in precise and complete detail. They were named the Nether
Scrolls. The origin of these documents was never discovered by the Netherese, though many
believe they were inscribed by one of the creator races.

An era of almost-frantic magical research and experimentation began in Netheril, and the
arcane might of the nation increased immeasurably. Within a few generations, the power of the
Netherese surpassed even that of the elves. Meanwhile, Netheril continued to grow, ultimately
covering all of modern Anauroch, and people now referred to the nation as an “empire.”

The Mythallar Era

A couple of centuries after the discovery of the Nether Scrolls, one of the greatest archmages of
history, Ioulaum, was born. He started his career in the military, where he was a celebrated hero
in the wars against the orcs. After retirement, he used his fame to gain unprecedented access to
the Nether Scrolls and focused his energy on magical research. Over the course of his
magically extended lifetime he made many remarkable discoveries, but his greatest
achievement was the ​mythallar.​

The first version of this device was remarkable to behold, resembling a 150-foot-wide crystal
ball. It acted as a conduit, channeling massive amounts of raw magic from the weave out into
the surrounding area. This enabled the production of relatively cheap “quasimagical” items,
which could only function when within a mile or so of a mythallar.

Ioulaum devised another, spectacular, use for the mythallar. Using magic of unprecedented
power, he sliced the top off a small mountain and inverted it. He then embedded the mythallar in
the heart of the rocky mass, using the vast amounts of raw magic it channeled to create a huge
floating platform, on which he built a luxurious city. He called this city Xinlenal and the wealthy
flocked to it, now able to literally as well as metaphorically rise above the common mob.

Soon, other powerful wizards followed Ioulaum’s lead and within a few decades there were no
less than fifty such enclaves floating above the fertile lands of Netheril. These cities became the
true authority in Netheril, flying where they wished and taxing the lands below as they chose.
The monarchy was dispensed with, and once a year the most powerful wizards came together
in a great Council of High Mages to decide matters of state.

But the city rulers were mostly a law unto themselves. People now spoke about “High Netheril,”
being those who lived in the floating enclaves, and “Low Netheril,” being those who remained on
the ground. Ioulaum lived on, having seemingly discovered the secret of perfect longevity.

Golden Age

The birth of the Chronomancer, over 1600 years after the founding of Netheril, is often said to
mark the beginning of Netheril’s Golden Age. The Chronomancer was a great explorer, and
under their leadership the Netherese constructed amazing skimmers that flew across the land,
created dozens of planar gates to discover the multiverse, and even began to travel through
time itself.

Spell research continued apace, with mighty archmages perfecting spell formulations that
remain in use to this day. One example is Volhm, the most celebrated wizard of her era. Though
a gentle soul, she devised the famous lightning bolt and shocking grasp spells.

At the same time, Netheril began to expand beyond her traditional borders, and they even built
ships capable of flying into the void beyond the world. Trade was established with every corner
of the continent, and the nation prospered as never before.

Shadowed Age

And yet, as the centuries wore on, troubles began accruing to the empire, and there were signs
that Netherese magical innovation had reached its zenith and was set to decline. Indeed, over
the preceding centuries many of the fabled Nether Scrolls had gone missing, and now the final
ones were stolen in a daring raid. It was an incalculable loss.

A greater threat, however, was spawned beneath the very ground that the High Netherese
declined to tread upon. The activities of Netheril had disturbed a monstrous, antediluvian race
known as the phaerimm. These hideous and aberrant beings, highly sensitive to the flow of
magic, perceived the mythallars as great, weeping sores on the Weave itself, sores which
interfered with their own practice of magic. Humans they saw as little better than vermin and
they devised a means to exterminate them permanently.
Using arcane powers unknown to humanity, the phaerimm created a spell known as the lifedrain
which began sucking the vitality out of the land. Starting in the extreme north, the grassy lands
of Netheril began transforming into a sandy desert. This was the beginning of Anauroch, an
elvish word meaning “great sandy sea.” The Netherese archmages were perplexed and could
do nothing to stop Anauroch.

Karsus was born around 3100 years after the founding of Netheril in the floating enclave of
Spiel. He may well have been the greatest wizard to grace the pages of Faerûn’s long history.
He cast his first spell at age 2 and was proclaimed archmage at the remarkable young age of
22.

Karsus made many astounding innovations, but as he approached his 350th year, he grew
increasingly concerned about the lifedrain that had now turned a significant part of northern
Netheril into desert. He spent several years studying the phenomenon, yet no conventional
magic remedy seemed to help.

Karsus devised a bold plan. He created a fearsome spell, known as Karsus’s Avatar, that would
allow him to displace Mystryl, the goddess of magic, and take control of the Weave. This, he
believed, would enable him to end the lifedrain and save Netheril. He perfected the spell in his
laboratory but then demurred at casting it, hoping another way could be found.

The Fall

Events came to a head when the archmage Ioulaum disappeared. Panic spread throughout the
realm at the loss of this ancient, peerless wizard, and Karsus decided it was time to act. He cast
his epic spell and, as planned, he assumed the power of Mystryl. This event became known as
“Karsus’s Folly.”

Knowledge and arcane energy both flooded into the body of the archmage, and he instantly
realized his recklessness. His mortal frame was unable to contain the power of the goddess,
meaning he could not maintain the Weave as she had done. The Weave began to collapse.

Mystryl sacrificed her being to repair the Weave and at that moment, all magic in the world
briefly ceased. As Karsus perished, burned alive by magical energy, he saw the mighty cities of
Netheril come crashing down. Mystryl was instantly reincarnated in a new form, Mystra, and
magic was restored.

Three of the great floating cities were high enough to survive the brief magical outage: Asram,
Anauria, and Hlondath. The survivors abandoned the floating cities and established realms of
the same name in the still fertile regions of southern Netheril. These are sometimes referred to
as the “survivor states” or the “lost kingdoms.” Within a few hundred years, pestilence and
conflict destroyed Asram and Anauria.
Two of the floating cities survived through divine intervention. Opus was transferred to Ysgard
by Selûne, goddess of the moon. Shade was transferred to the Shadowfell by Shar, goddess of
darkness.

The fate of the other Netherese survivors varied. Many of them renounced their magic skills and
embraced a simpler life. Those that pushed west into the Savage Frontier became the
ancestors of the Uthgardt barbarians, while those who remained and adapted to the arid
conditions of Anauroch are most likely the ancestors of the Bedine.

Other Netherese, mighty mages, retained their magical heritage. One group founded the
magocracy of Illusk on the Sword Coast, another group settled the Nelanther Isles near
Calimshan, and a third group headed south on skyships, to establish the magical nation of
Halruaan.

Soon after, the survivor state of Hlondath finally succumbed to the encroaching desert, and the
population migrated east to the Dalelands and the Moonsea. With the fall Hlondath, it could truly
be said that Anauroch had finally consumed all of Netheril.

And it seemed that the desert might perhaps devour all of Faerûn. But at this moment, a
mysterious group of beings called the sharns managed to trap the phaerimm behind a magical
barrier called the Sharn Wall. The lifedrain spell was weakened, though not terminated.
Anauroch continued to grow but at a reduced pace.

Over the next thousand years, Anauroch became home to various monstrous races, such as
gnolls, asabi, hobgoblins, and lamia. For much of this time the only human inhabitants (aside
from adventurers seeking Netherese artifacts) were the hardy Bedine. But nearly two centuries
the current date, the Zhentarim began exerting influence over Anauroch, and established a
caravan route through the desert. This became known as the Black Road (see chapter 4 for
more information).

Empire of Shadow

Whatever equilibrium had developed in Anauroch was shattered when the City of Shade
suddenly returned after a 1700-year-long exile in the Shadowfell. The Shadovar (as the
inhabitants called themselves) immediately began searching for powerful Netherese artifacts in
the ruins of Anauroch. They also set about restoring fertility to the desert, and established
several settlements, such as Landeth, Rasilith, and Oreme.

Although but a single city, Shade was home to many incalculably powerful mages, some of
whom had been transformed into sinister creatures known as shades. The Shadovar were
determined to reestablish the Empire of Netheril and soon found themselves in conflict with the
surrounding powers, scoring an early victory over the Zhentarim with the destruction of Zhentil
Keep.
Despite their arcane might, after a century of struggle the Shadovar found themselves beset on
all sides. They were at war with the elvish city of Myth Drannor to the south, fending off gnoll
and hobgoblin raids from the north, facing open rebellion from the Bedine within, and were also
conducting running battles against the Phaerimm, some of which had escaped the Sharn Wall.
They were at breaking point.

At a climactic battle in the year 1487, the City of Shade was brought crashing down onto Myth
Drannor, destroying both cities in the process. Although a few settlements remained, the
Netherese Empire was no more.

Modern Anauroch

In the ten years since the destruction of Shade, Anauroch has largely reverted to its prior
physical condition. Netherese claims to have restored the fertility of the desert turned out to
have been greatly exaggerated.

The Bedine roam southern Anauroch in much the same way as they have for centuries,
although now they have several Netherese towns to contend with. Northern Anauroch is bound
with ice while the central region is dominated by monstrous races.

The newly resurgent Zhentarim have rekindled their interest in Anauroch; having reoccupied
their fortress at Ravaerris on the desert’s eastern fringe, they are attempting once more to
assert their control over the Black Road. Meanwhile, the few surviving Shadovar are planning
their next move, while other powers are taking a renewed interest in the Netherese artifacts
beneath the sands. There are interesting times ahead for Anauroch.