Making Rethmar Come Alive

So we have our bones for Rethmar, the basic “what’s the place look like, and who governs it, with what enforcement” stuff. Now, onto the lore that makes the place come alive. That I actually did first, surfing as far as I could on the ideas that came to me, the “what stories can I tell here?” before I turned around and derived the bones (last column) from.

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So what is this stuff of life?

Well, it can be broken down like this (again, just one way of doing things, not ‘The Right Way’ unless it works for you):
  • Power Groups And Prominents (cabals, factions, and local wheeler-dealer, influential NPCs)
  • Current Clack (the news, rumors, and gossip going on right now)
  • Recent Events, And What’s Going On (how we got to here over the last few years, and what’s still unfolding, whether it’s being talked about, or locals realize it, or not)
  • What’s Whispered About (the secret, behind-the-scenes intrigue and lawbreaking, and who the local shady characters are)
I would normally tackle them in the order I’ve listed them, for the first run-through, then go back and add things under each category that occurred to me, and if I was using Rethmar in ongoing play, I’d go on adding and updating elements as play unfolded.

However, as it happens, Rethmar isn’t quite “just a name on a map.” It has a little past history (previously published Realmslore, or if you like, “unfinished business”). And that business just happens to be something in the last, Whispers, category, so let’s go and update it first, to nail down the specifics so the new stuff I come up under all four categories is less likely to contradict anything established.

I’m talking about…

The Claunkrar Coster

The Spellplague wrought havoc with the Claunkrar Coster (then the dominant force in Rethmar), because its hidden, secret leaders were an uneasy cabal of beholders and illithids, most of whom collected magic items and were engaged in extensive magical experiments to increase their personal power and longevity (it was obvious to all of them that tensions within the leadership were growing towards an inevitable open, violent struggle for supremacy—which they all wanted to win, not just weather).

As a result of their heavy dabblings in magic, most of these leaders went mad, or were destroyed, when magic went wild in the Spellplague, and the gates (portals) of the Crawling Treasure network were twisted awry. Most of those gates are now deathtraps or weird magical fields rather than functional translocation links, and the Claunkrar Coster is no more, its ‘grunt’ on-the-ground agents having scattered to build their own lives in the widespread devastation of the Spellplague (after their leaders went silent and the gates of the cross-Faerûn network they were building turned deadly.

A handful of still-functioning gates are still hidden in various cellars and back rooms across Rethmar, but most folk alive today don’t know where they lead to, and dare not use them.

A few twisted-by-the-Spellplague, insane beholders and illithids survive, too, in hiding in or under Rethmar, and elsewhere across Faerûn. They no longer command any part of the former Coster. What did survive of the Coster (which was originally named for its founders, the adventuring band Claunkrar’s Storm of Swords, whose now-long-dead leader, Ildro Claunkrar, was a boorish but cunning red-bearded brawler from the Tashalar) is a smuggling, kidnapping, and thieving society of a few dozen humans under the command of half a dozen doppelgangers, the descendants of those hired to liaise between the beholders and illithids, and the human on-the-ground Coster agents before the Spellplague hit. They remain a shadowy presence in Rethmar, more whispered about over tavern tables than seen, for their style these days is to be so deft, subtle, and low-profile as to escape as much notice as possible; they’re interested in making a living, not dominating or conquering or getting rich.

So the Coster, now nameless, survives as a very stealthy local “dark deeds” cabal run by doppelgangers who will use their shapeshifting ability to see like elderly female shopkeepers, maimed street urchins, and so on to seem not lurking and dangerous in all interactions with the PCs. They will manipulate pawns along Rethmarren rather than coming into direct conflict with the PCs, if at all possible, but they will work against any PCs who seem interested in wresting control of Rethmar away from the Belt, or starting their own local “shady guild.”

All Rethmarren know of the Claunkrar is that “they served monsters, creepy monsters, and we’re not sure they ever all really went away,” so that anything mysterious or sinister that happens in Rethmar is blamed on them.

While we’re in the What’s Whispered About category, let’s finish it off with the only other things being whispered about locally: that “things are stirring under the town,” in the vast labyrinth of the Underdark that every Rethmarri knows is right under their cellar floors, and “stretches to Waterdeep and beyond!” …and that Belters Manthar Horndren and Ravendra Cardegult came very close to slaughtering the rest of the Belt and proclaiming themselves Lord and Lady of Rethmar, a scheme halted only after their covert love affair ended in mutual loathing, and because the Grimhelm took it upon himself to abruptly execute, as a warning to all, a handful of Marmaces whose first loyalty had drifted from serving the Belt to serving Horndren and Cardegult.

Right, battle lines drawn and last category taken care of. Back to the other categories.

Right now, Rethmar has no local costers, and the chaos of the Spellplague put paid to the town’s bases for other costers, so there really are no local power groups beyond those we already know about, and only one ambitious local personage who’s successful enough to be prominent: the energetic, scatterbrained, hundreds-of-schemes-always-on-the-go wealthy buffoon Amalrus “the Walrus” Gordroun (CN hm owner of forty caravan wagons always faring across Faerûn earning him coin). He’ll happily involve the PCs in many schemes, most of which will end in disaster unless the PCs ignore Gordroun’s meddling and make them succeed.

As for current clack: Rethmar is always awash in wild rumors brought by wayfarers and the caravan traders passing through town, who like to earn free full tankards by making up or exaggerating colorful “news” that’s seldom anything close to the truth. The result of some of these tales is that many Rethmarri believe most of Faerûn is about to erupt in war, and recruiters will be along any day now, with this or that latest caravan. They also think that dragons are spawning hungry live young that are marauding up and down the Sword Coast, folk in Cormyr and Sembia are growing tentacles from their heads, and flying cities are riding the clouds across Faerûn, seeking new places to anchor—like Rethmar, with its plentiful water.

Which brings us to recent events, and in Rethmar all that’s happened over the last decade of any lasting significance is that refugees from other, Spellplague-torn places have come in their hundreds to settle in Rethmar, and the town has grown thereby. With many citizens who are warily suspicious of outlanders from afar, and the trouble they may well bring with them.

All of what I’ve jotted down here doesn’t amount to much, but it’s enough to make Rethmar feel alive, to me. I’d augment this like crazy if ongoing play was going to feature this as a base setting, but if the PCs are just passing through, Rethmar has enough to “feel real” to me.

Your mileage may, of course, vary, so by all means start changing things, adding a lot, and slipping those dungeons under Rethmar’s cellars. Perhaps something from Down Below breaks through, one night, to plunder and maraud and spread terror through the good folk of Rethmar. And all the rest of them, too…
 
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Ed Greenwood

Comments

MaskedGuy

Villager
There really is nobody like Ed when it comes to world-building playable locations, NPCs, organisations etc....
Well, yeah, everyone has their own style so nobody is like anyone else when it comes to their own style :p

Sorry if that sounds too cranky, but I have similar reactions whenever someone tells in public how their GM is the best one in the world :D I'm like "What better than my GM?!" But seriously, I liked the article, it was great
 

Morrus

Well, that was fun
Staff member
Well, yeah, everyone has their own style so nobody is like anyone else when it comes to their own style :p

Sorry if that sounds too cranky, but I have similar reactions whenever someone tells in public how their GM is the best one in the world :D I'm like "What better than my GM?!" But seriously, I liked the article, it was great
Well, I have the best dog in the world, so there! Second only to the dog I had before him, who was also the best dog in the world.
 

Scrivener of Doom

Adventurer
Well, yeah, everyone has their own style so nobody is like anyone else when it comes to their own style :p

Sorry if that sounds too cranky, but I have similar reactions whenever someone tells in public how their GM is the best one in the world :D I'm like "What better than my GM?!" But seriously, I liked the article, it was great
Yes, and you will notice I never said Ed was the best. I think he is in the context I described, but that's subjective and I made my post was as objective as possible while still conveying an opinion. But I admire the way you used passive aggression with a great deal of finesse and subtlety.... ;)
 

PMárk

Explorer
Thanks Ed, your articles are quite inspiring, since I'm currently preparing start my first full-on Realms Campaign with some old friends, some of them who never played rpgs. We're using 3.5e and the FRCSG. It's highly rewarding to get a peek inside the methods and thought processes of the creator of the setting itself!
 

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