Art by Joakim Olofsson
It didn't take me long to decide where I wanted to set my first campaign. The generic D&D world was too bland and featureless for me and I didn't have time to make my own, so I knew I would have to choose a published campaign setting. By that time I had already played the Baldur's Gate series of video games (some of the best games ever made) and they had given me a real feel for the Forgotten Realms, and some love for it, too. I'd also read some of R.A. Salvatore's Drizzt Do'Urden books by then and they gave off a bit of the Realms feel. I asked my friend Dan for the book for my birthday and Christmas in 2001 knowing that I would put it to good use. Little did I suspect that I would still be using it in 2007, and running the same campaign. We would call it our "main campaign," and though we took time to play other things, we played the same campaign for four or five years.
I did not base my game on a city already presented in the Realms, however. I already had a city in mind by the time I got the book and I'd visualized it to such an extent that none of the published cities could match up. I wanted to make a home town for my player characters that was based more on my vision than the book, so I decided to simply place my city in the Realms. After doing some reading I knew I wanted to set my city in the North, and I picked a spot at the juncture of the River Surbin and the River Rauvin. I came up with a name for the city fairly easily and it has been called Thandell ever since. Based on my vision of the place, I knew it would be Lawful Good overall, but with a frontier sort of ruggedness. Thandell would not have the elegance, delicacy, or shiny optimism of Silverymoon. Below is a map showing the locations of Thandell and its closest neighbors.
Map © Wizards of the Coast, edited only to show the city of Thandell
Thandell & Mithral Hall
I quickly went about fitting Thandell into the landscape. I decided that Thandell was allied with Mithral Hall since the two cities shared history and hardship. I altered the timeline so that Mithral Hall was reclaimed from the dragon Shimmergloom in 1173. Thandell was founded in 1177 and it immediately sought relations with the dwarves. Instead of just asking for aid, Thandell offered what help it could spare and suggested an alliance of mutual friendship. The dwarves were wary but in too precarious a position to remain aloof. After some debate, the dwarves chose to ally with Thandell, though the nearby city of Nesmé had also offered an arrangement. Their pact was signed in 1185 but it had already been in effect since 1178, when the dwarves decided to test Thandell's resolve.
Since then, dwarves have come to settle in Thandell and in modern times (1380s) they make up about 16% of the population. As gestures of good will, Thandell has always been open to dwarven settlers and has taught the dwarven language to most of its citizens (it is a bonus language for Thandell-based characters). In return, the dwarves have offered a great cleric, Marcon Vengeancehammer, as a liason between the cities and an instructor in Thandell's academy. Thandell has regular correspondence with the dwarves of the Hall and the rulers of both cities communicate freely.
A Brief Political History
The main political conflict of the area arises from the proximity of the cities. Mithral Hall spreads out below ground, so it is not typically involved in conflicts with nearby surface cities. Nesmé, on the other hand, has a powerful grudge against Thandell. Founded in 1007, Nesmé enjoyed the full flow of trade down the riverways before Thandell staked its claim on the land. Nesmé was a very important stop on the path between the Northern and dwarven wares and the final destination of Waterdeep. Sending wares by land was often too perilous; it took too long and attacks were frequent. The Nesméans offered their services to assure relatively safe passage down the river, complete with guards, and the city as a waystop for merchants. Nesméan rulership grew quite fat on the profits and Nesmé's walls were fortified by success. Despite all logic, Nesmé managed to hold out against the trolls and flourish. The great profit margin in the spring, with the thaw of the rivers, made their massive defenses possible.
The settlers of Thandell came out of Everlund to the east, determined to forge their own place. They'd had no real relations with Nesmé at that point and bore their neighbor no ill will, but Thandell's location was too good to pass up. The land was at the heart of two waterways and it had good soil (once the ground was thawed). The River Rauvin offered some protection against the trolls of the moors and the Moon Wood offered its own resources. Thandell's settlers were hardy and crafty and when push came to shove, they herded the trolls of the moors towards Nesmé in order to save their fledgling city. Thandell also gained the good will of the dwarves, cutting Nesmé off from profitable relations.
Thandell quickly cut deep into Nesmé's profits, and a war inevitably occured. From that point onward, the cities found many reasons to hate one another and they engaged in formal battles at intervals (once they'd built up their forces enough). These battles have often been cut short by other enemies in the area - the trolls from the moors threaten both cities, as do orc hoards from the Spine of the World. Everlund has lent aid and men and has also developed a distaste for the Nesméans. Silverymoon has only offered to work toward a lasting peace. Hoping to bring the cities together, Silverymoon has offered membership in the Lord's Alliance to all three - and they have all refused.
Thandell is a Lawful Good city under the rule of a monarchy; it has had no other style of government since its inception. A few members of Everlund's royal line and some members of Everlund's noble families were among Thandell's founding settlers. They brought the system of monarchy with them but they established a separate monarchy from Everlund's. Since they are limited in number, the blue bloods of Thandell have kept strong ties to Everlund's nobility through marriage. Thus, Thandell and Everlund view themselves as sister cities, despite their distance.
The current ruler of Thandell is a case in point. King Athelm was born in Thandell and he took his wife, Queen Aerell, from the stock of Everlund. Since his death, Queen Aerell has not remarried but has ruled with the aid of her council of advisors (and, most recently, with the input of her son). Thandell's rulers have always had the option of a council of advisors, though some have chosen to forgo the offered help. The Council of Nine was an option set forth by the founders of Thandell to best aid the decisions of the monarchs, but it was never demanded by law. Tradition states that the council is to be comprised of the most knowledgeable people in the city from the following fields: trade, diplomacy, health (of the citizens), construction (and city planning), war tactics, the academy, the affairs of the royal house, magic, and history. One person must fill each seat; although it has been argued that Mistress Talindra could sit in for history and magic, she has only been given the seat of magic (but it has always been her seat, every time the Council has been used).
Most recently, Queen Aerell arranged for eligible nobles of Silverymoon, Everlund, Waterdeep, and other cities in the North to journey to Thandell for the express purpose of proper matchmaking. The occasion was designed to introduce Princess Merdecia, to society and to provide suitable mates for both the Princess and her older brother, Prince Daereth. To everyone's surprise, the Queen invited eligible people from Nesmé as well, apparently in an attempt to start friendly relations with Thandell's rival. The meeting lasted about a month, culminating in the Grand Ball and an attack by a spurned and angry Luskan. In the end, and of their own free will, Princess Merdecia married Alovander Onaris of Silverymoon and Prince Daereth married Gerana Zallorn of Nesmé. If the royal succession plays out as planned, Thandell will have a Nesméan queen once Queen Aerell dies. The gathering also ended in many other marriages and alliances - and some serious problems with Luskan. The full effects of this maneuver have yet to be seen.
City Alignment: Lawful Good Population: 14,000
Earth Genasi: 1%
Great Wyrm Tribe 2%
Barbarian: 2% (Great Wyrm)
There are a number of locations that are important to Thandell for social, religious, and other assorted reasons. Several locations are important in our game because the player characters have become more involved with them due to events, NPCs, or their own efforts. Through the use of the Stronghold Builder's Guide, nearly all player characters have commissioned their own houses and one has raised his own business.
The temple of Helm is the largest temple in Thandell to date; it is also the most extravagant, though it pales beside the lavish temples in places like Silverymoon. The late king Athelm was named for the deity and he commissioned the church as an act of devotion. The full story of the temple may be found by clicking here. Within its walls, the temple of Helm also hosts shrines dedicated to Kelemvor, Tyr, and Hoar.
The temple of Lathander was the first church built after the settling of Thandell. It has changed locations more than once, however, and its original building no longer stands. The temple hosts shrines to Brandobaris, Tymora, Waukeen, and Yondalla.
The temple of Moradin was built a decade or so after dwarves first started to settle in the city. It has been moved to a new location only once, in order to obtain larger premises. It has regularly hosted shrines to Berronar Truesilver, Dugmaren Brightmantle,
Dumathoin, Flandal Steelskin, Garl Glittergold, Sharindlar, and Vergadain. In 1384, Thorik Wyvernbane commissioned a shrine to Gorm Gulthyn, guardian of all dwarves.
The temple of Torm is small but martial and takes part in the defense of the city and surrounding environs. It hosts no shrines to other deities.
The temple of Sune easily has the most colorful history of all Thandell's churches, even though it is the most recent among them. It started out as something of a misbegotten child and has been abandoned more than once, but has perservered through love. The temple was an unlikely addition to the city in the first place, given Thandell's more practical and hardy nature. A local paladin of Sune named Aseir - well known for his flings and his liberal spending habits - produced the money to have it built in 1381. Though the temple was large, it was sparsely built on a relatively small budget, especially given the splendor of Silverymoon's temple. The Thandell temple quickly became something of a joke and the populace dubbed it "the love shack." Aseir did not tell the temple of Sune in Silverymoon about his plans, nor did he ask for clergy to be sent. He installed some of his own people to tend the temple, one of which was a very young cleric of Sune. Soon after, Aseir had a severe falling out with the presiding cleric; she left the city and, not long after that, he fell from grace and also abandoned the church. Well-meaning people (who had followed the paladin) kept the love shack going until a priestess was sent. Greatly dissatisfied with her lot, the new priestess soon shut the temple's doors and left the faith. The same well-wishers reopened the church until proper reinforcements were sent from Silverymoon. Another paladin of Sune, Gaderian Fireheart, has been installed at the temple's head. It is said that since a paladin caused the temple so much trouble, a paladin was sent to set things right. Since Fireheart's arrival the temple has undergone much renovation, though it has not been fitted out too luxuriously. Though the locals still call it the love shack, they do so with far less derision.
Other Major Locations
Art by Stephen Garrett
Mistress Talindra's tower predates Thandell altogether and has stood for about 400 years on the same spot. The tall, cyllindrical stone tower is known for its many magical defenses and its selective entrance policy. Royalty, commanders, and students may only enter when granted permission; all others know to stay out. Guests are only allowed into specific rooms; very few people know how many rooms the tower has or what the accomodations are like. Local bards have composed many songs speculating about the tower, including the drinking ditty, "When I Get On Up to Talindra's Bedroom."
The Thandell Academy grounds are the most expansive of any single establishment in the city. A large courtyard dominates the entranceway to the complex; this yard is regularly used for training exercises. A great multistory stone keep hosts classrooms, barracks, some small private bedrooms, mess halls, and bathing facilities. Another stone building serves as the academy's supply depot. A collection of low stone houses are off to one side for the use of the instructors and commanders. The Academy has its own wall and gate, though the gate is generally open.
A relatively small castle houses the royal line of Thandell. Everybody refers to it simply as "the castle" and although few are allowed inside, it is one of Thandell's most noticeable buildings. It is publicly known that the castle has a very large throne room on one of its upper floors; this room served as the primary ballroom during the recent matchmaking ball. The Queen, Prince, and Princess are the current residents of note; the royal bastard, Olaeron, lives in a nice home apart from the castle grounds.
The Thandell city walls are 40 feet high in most places and are made of stone. They are wide enough for patrols to walk and observe the surrounding landscape. Defensive towers exist at intervals to provide shelter, storage, and cover. Each tower is liberally supplied with arrow slits as well as quantities of fire-making materials to combat the plentiful trolls. The walls encompass the entire city at this time; they have been expanded several times over the years to allow for further development.
The barbarian quarter is a recent addition to Thandell, brought about by necessity but also involving a great deal of diplomacy. A group of the Great Worm tribe got caught up in the most recent war with Nesmé (in 1379), which was interrupted by an extreme magical event. Most fighting-condition Great Worm men were decimated by the conflict and the remainder of the tribe was forced to take shelter behind the walls of Thandell. In the dangerous days that followed, the tribe realized that it could not leave and expect to survive. The wise Fanya became provisional leader gained power by general assent, with the understanding that she would step down when the favored Onan was ready to take power. Due to his dragon birthmark and natural gifts, Onan has been groomed to lead a tribe that is increasingly tied to Thandell. He has nurtured genuine friendships with notable locals like Lance Daymar and Thorik Wyvernbane, knowing that he will have to understand many new things to guide his tribe's progress. The Great Worm tribe is no longer the only one taking shelter in Thandell. Members of the Red Tiger tribe in the Cold Wood have fled the lycanthropy infesting their kin; some have taken temporary refuge in Citadel Felbarr while others have come to Thandell. This new expansion of the barbarian population has already brought about open conflict between the two tribes - and the barbarian quarter is already too full to allow more residents. It remains to be seen how many barbarians will stay, and which tribe will be the dominant one in Thandell.
Player Character Places
The company known as The Thandell flyers provides the services of trained dire hawks to the city at large. These unusual mounts are used to deliver goods, correspondence, and occasional travelers to nearby locations at fast speeds. The company also promises honesty and reliability, given that it was created by the paladin Lance Daymar and continues to report to him. The flyers have only been in business for about two years but they have attracted a lot of attention during that time. The impressive birds are a luxury few thought Thandell would ever afford; prior to Lance's flyers, only Silverymoon boasted flying mounts north of Waterdeep. The paladin Lance has been regularly sent on special missions for Thandell, some quite public and others deeply secret; the townsfolk figure that he must have been rewarded quite handsomely to afford the expensive birds. It is well known that Lance is an excellent rider and that he has been granted a special hippogriff mount by his god. Most people figure that's why the paladin wanted to start such a business. What many townsfolk can't figure out are the paladin's hiring policies - not only does he employ a man with a tail and a half-drow as his managers, but he also employs a half-orc and a snake-like man as some of his guards. For a time the public was put off by the bizarre staff, even though the half-orc and snake-man only worked at night, but eventually the business proved to be too convenient for those who could afford it. It continues to draw customers, and doubts as well.
Bevan Wyvernbane is the proprietor of Burl'Na'Fuld inn and tavern, which specializes in dwarven cuisine and drink, as well as warm hospitality. Bevan has been in the business before in far away Darmshall, but his former inn was burned down in retaliation against his distant cousin, Thorik Wyvernbane. Already attached to Bevan's daughter, Eliora, Thorik brought both father and daughter the many miles to Thandell. After a few years of working and making local ties, Bevan was able to open a smaller place. Though Burl'Na'Fuld is not as lovingly worn-in as the old location in Darmshall, it is cozy by most standards and proudly boasts a friendly atmosphere. Bevan employs a variety of people, including some Great Worm barbarians. Bevan has had to replace his daughter's considerable cooking talents since her marriage to Thorik but he doesn't mind one bit. When Thorik and his friends are in town they tend to use the tavern for most of their parties, and Eliora has recently produced Bevan's first grandchild. No doubt young Talven Wyvernbane will become a fixture at Burl'Na'Fuld - which could be passed on to Eliora's firstborn someday.
Hearthstone Toys is a small but quaint shop run by its sole employee, Lenodus Hearthstone, a master craftsman from the Waterdeep area. Lenodus worked for several years to raise some money for his store; what he could not provide was made up by a close friend. As a cleric of Berronar Truesilver, the aged Lenodus usually offers his spells and services for free on a regular basis at the local temple of Moradin. As a master toymaker, Lenodus makes a variety of toys, not only based on age but also on price. He strives to make sure that nearly anyone can find something they can buy for their children at his shop, and he has been known to give away toys as well. Local dwarves know that Lenodus' closest kin are in Waterdeep. Only a select few, like his dear friend Thorik Wyvernbane, know that Lenodus' son has grown cold to him and has refused to let him see his granddaughter. Lenodus has found something of a new family in Thandell, and he plans to leave Hearthstone Toys to his granddaughter upon his death.
Thorik Wyvernbane's house is notable in several ways. First, it has grown since its original construction. Not only does it have a sizeable basement level and a ground level, but it also has a newer second floor with accomodations for more people. The Wyvernbane home has hosted a number of guests over the years, what with Thorik's penchant for bringing folks back to Thandell with him. Thorik's comrade Grabthroat Shinkicker has a bedroom and a crafting room on the ground floor, though he is often gone on business with Thorik. Other notable residents include a gold dwarf and a dwarf recently brought back from petrification after a few hundred years. If that wasn't enough, Eliora is known for her many friends and acquaintences - and excellent hospitality. There's always something cooking in expectation of housemates and guests - and hopefully the head of the house, who is often gone for long months.
Lance's house is small, made for one occupant, and most of the time it doesn't even have that. The paladin of Hoar is away from home regularly, sometimes for months at a time, which might seem like an open invitation to thieves. His reputation keeps many away, as does his god - he does follow a deity of vengeance, after all. But his carefully placed locks also help to deter uninvited guests. Perhaps more importantly, Lance appears to wear most if not all of his wealth on his person, leaving little for household luxuries. The few who are invited into his home can't help but note the many weapons he has mounted along the walls and his assortment of liquors; the paladin has a tradition of buying the most common weapon and drink from every town he visits. Guests might also notice a layer of dust, if the paladin hasn't been in town for a while. A number of people seem to keep an eye on Lance's house when he's away, including some of the exotic people in his employ.
Delila's house is notable in several ways. First, it shelters the granddaughter of Mistress Talindra - a skilled wizard in her own right - and a trio of fire mephits that appear to have taken a shine to the young half-elf. The house also holds Thandell's known royal bastard, Olaeron, reportedly the son of Prince Daereth and a tavern maid. The trim two story abode was a gift to the newly wedded couple from Mistress Talindra and the royal line. It was given complete with furnishings, a small arcane lab in the basement, and a recommended maid. Though it is not lavish, it is quite an impressive gift. It remains to be seen how much Delila will get to enjoy the spacious quarters; since she has joined one of Thandell's farthest-traveled groups, it's likely she'll be away much of the year.
Corkaury and Branda's house holds no shortage of interesting people. Corkaury and Branda themselves are retired rogues of skill. Their only daughter, Camara, once traveled with Thorik, Lance, and company across Faerun. She had a strong reaction to an ancient artifact they found along the road - and before the group could understand why, she was taken from them. Her room remains just as it was on the day she last left it. Corkaury and Branda's beloved niece, Tika, also traveled with Lance's group and she has a room in the house too. Tika spent much of her younger years in her aunt and uncle's care learning their stealthy ways. Tika once had a house of her own but it was destroyed by rivals; few know the details of who attacked it or why. Now a mother herself, Tika stays at her aunt and uncle's home not only out of necessity or family ties, but also for safety. Her children are in fact half-dragons and though their father is present, he is relatively young and the children need all of the protection they can get.
Aseir's former house was once full to overflowing, though it didn't start out that way. Early on, only Aseir and Lance lived there. When other people started to show up with nowhere else to stay, Lance bought his own house so they could use his room. Aseir's home soon hosted many fascinating people; the paladin even welcomed a half-orc and a half-drow to stay. Aseir was away for long stretches but the people he left behind continued to draw considerable interest. For awhile, townsfolk threw things like garbage at the house, making a clear comment to those inside. Since the strange visitors didn't leave and remained under the protection of powerful people, the outbursts stopped. Some people took Aseir's unconventional housemates as proof of his fall from grace; when the paladin did fall, however, it had nothing to do with those who believed in the best in him. None of Aseir's followers went with him into darkness, nor did he ask for their loyalty. Although the city could have made Aseir's home an asset of the church he built, the authorities gave the house to his former followers instead. Some have left Thandell, while others have moved to different parts of the city. The most exotic people remain - Tace, a man known to have a tail; Silath, a snake-like man; and Maenala, a white-haired half-drow. These same folks now work for Lance. The halfling Rayma is the most "normal" member of the house, and she continues to work at the temple of Sune. There are persistent rumors that Drizzt Do'Urden stops by to visit the only half-drow in town but no one has been able to get a good sighting of the famous son of Menzoberranzan - which, coincidentally, lies almost directly beneath Thandell's lands.