D&D General Ed Greenwood: The Origins of Mirt the Moneylender

It’s the spring of 1965, and in an unassuming house in a back corner of the ritzy North York neighborhood of Don Mills, a tall, thin, shy geek of a boy is sitting in the dimly-lit den of the family home, scribbling tiny words in pencil all over a piece of paper.


ALL over: when you’ve covered it horizontally, you turn it 90 degrees and write lines the other way, across the first lot. Then curl up and along any edges you’ve left empty, once the rest is full, so as to delay turning it over to the last possible word. Not because you’re poor, or paper is in short supply, but because you’re being raised by maiden aunts and grandmothers who grew up through two world wars and a depression, so nothing gets wasted. And you’re writing on slit-open and flattened, ironed brown paper grocery bags for the same reason. Real paper for your own, and access to your Dad’s boat anchor of an Underwood Eight typewriter, await in the future.

For right now, you’re afire with creativity, writing about an aging, wheezing, fat—and usually sporting food and wine stains all down the ample belly of whatever he’s currently wearing—floppy-old-sea-booted merchant (that’s spelled “swindler”) and moneylender, Mirt. Once a mercenary captain, Mirt the Merciless, but that was long ago. And before that, a jovial adventurer with his firm friend, Durnan, before they both struck it rich in Undermountain and Durnan had the good sense to retire and marry his childhood sweetheart, buy the Yawning Portal, and “settle down.”

Mirt had…less common sense. So his share was spent carousing and building a mercenary company until, as “the Old Wolf,” he grew too old to taste victory and almost too old to keep his life, and so had to retire into his current occupation.

Which is where I first met him, cobbling together his character from a combination of Shakespeare’s Falstaff, Guy Gilpatrick’s drunken ship’s engineer Glencannon, and Poul Anderson’s Nicholas van Rijn (one of the delights of my life was getting to meet Poul, not long before he died, and thank him in person; to my everlasting delight, he was pleased and enthusiastically encouraging). I saw Mirt as no longer young enough to outfight or outrun foes, so he has to outwit them. Which meant that a typical Mirt tale ended with him fleeing town a bare stride ahead of the authorities, his established rivals, and the new enemies he’d made during the story.

Which meant he was moving south from port to port along a coast, which by the end of the year I knew was the Sword Coast, of a continent that by the next year I knew was called Faerûn, in a world we real-world types knew as “the Forgotten Realms.”

From Fireshear, in the first tale, on south, Mirt showed me the Sword Coast, and brought the Realms to life. In stories that have never been published.

Oh, there is a “first” Realms story, entitled “One Comes, Unheralded, To Zirta,” which was first given away as a chapbook at an early Gencon and has seen “official” print since, but it was a tale I went back to often, to tweak and then add to, and then as I got a little better as a writer, to chop off the tangential bits to make into their own stories and restore some coherence and focus to what was left. So it was and is the first Realms story, but the tale as printed today is a descendant of the original. In Realmslore, Mirt departed that story on a caravan up the Sword Coast interior, then began his swindling run south from port to port.

When he reached Waterdeep, I knew I’d come home. This was the city I wanted to live in, to really explore, and I did. Eventually it (and Undermountain beneath it) became the focus of the first D&D gameplay in the Realms, with Shadowdale blossoming as the second; the first was the original party, the Company of Crazed Venturers, who began conquering the world in 1978, and the second was the first of the mini-campaigns I ran at the various public libraries I worked at, with campaigns set in Cormyr and other places such as Scornubel, Battledale, Highdale, and Serpent’s Cowl soon following.

And the Realms began to get richer and deeper along with them, because now it wasn’t just me writing fantasy fiction for my own entertainment, I had players who wanted their characters to have day jobs and to buy property and to know what wine and ale they were drinking and to have the recipes for the food their imaginary characters were chowing down on. They wanted to look in every darned shop and caravan wagon and know what was inside. Where did the goods come from, why were they priced like that, and how was the economy doing, anyway?

Oh, and what’s all the local gossip? What’s it really like to live here, day in and day out?

For another thing, what about the daily lives of all the monsters? How were they different than the humans?

And because Eddie was just as excited by exploring this imaginary world as they were, he sat right down and wrote answers to every question, starting to lay down the layers of detail that drive some gamers nuts and that others love. Fifty-odd years after I started work on the Realms, I still work on it every single day, both officially and unofficially—because the questions from gamers never stop coming, and now they don’t have to wait for conventions to ask me, they have e-mail and Facebook and Twitter to reach me by.

So here I sit, four hours before I have to get up and drive a hundred-some miles to have heart surgery, answering them.

Because I love doing this.

That’s what the Realms is: a love letter to all the friends I’ve made in gaming and writing, and all of our imaginations.
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Ed Greenwood

Ed Greenwood

Forgotten Realms Creator


I enjoyed this piece. It is great to read the origin of The Realms direct from the source. Best wishes for your surgery and subsequent recovery, Mr. Greenwood.


And here I thought someone was just trying to be funny by opening an account for Ed Greenwood a mere 2 weeks ago.

You're a legend, man. Good luck with your surgery!

Love these tales of the Realms. The original boxed set for the Realms blew my young mind back in the day. Bought Niles Moonshae novel at the same time and read it on a road trip with my dad.
Anyway, all roads lead back to Greenwood. Please, keep it coming: the stories, the new writing and gaming, all of it.
Get well soon!

Ian Danton

I remember that grey box with such fondness. I just had another look at it now. So much excitement that came with new Campaign Setting for the AD&D game! Thank you so much for sharing Ed - all the best for the surgery!


Before I discovered any of his novels, I fell in love with his "Ecology" articles in Dragon. Best of luck to you, Ed - I hope everything went well while you were under the knife! Now comes the recuperation; I hope you're back to full strength as soon as possible and back to doing what you love best.



Second Most Angelic Devil Ever
Before I discovered any of his novels, I fell in love with his "Ecology" articles in Dragon.
Me, too. I told my best friend "If they ever publish this guy's world, I'll run our first true campaign in it."

That friend arrived at my house one day and said "Guess what...."

So I had to keep my word. I bought the Grey Box on a Friday afternoon. By Saturday afternoon we were playing in our first actual campaign.

Thank you, Ed. 👍


Hope you feel better Ed, best wishes.

I wish other big FR names would also write this kind of behind the scene stuff too, because this is fun.

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