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D&D General RETHMAR, Rathole of the Shaar

So how to turn a name on a map of the Realms into a place that “feels real”? Well, I start with an idea in my head of what’s there—and regardless of whether I’m developing a locale for a story or for gaming adventures, from that base idea I leap straight into what gamers now call “adventure hooks.”


But by the time I’ve finished a first good look at any spot, I’ve laid down its bones, which I’ll run through here and now for what has hitherto been a mere name on a map: Rethmar, a dot on a trade-road crossing the Shaar.

Next column, we’ll go beyond the bones into what breathes life into a place. But first, ‘the Bones.’ Which I derived from what had to be there, to support what we already know about the place from the map and any extant lore about its surroundings, and from what I need the bones to be to support those hooks that got me fired up.

The right way to world-build? No, just one way. Like leafing through a cookbook, use what suits you, and you like the taste of.

So, welcome to…

RETHMAR, Rathole of the Shaar

Natural springs bubble to the surface in Rethmar, so there has always been a settlement at that locale in the water-poor Shaar. Originally, it was the base of the Reth, a wandering foraging tribe of horse-archers and spear-hurlers.

What Meets The Eye

Sheltered in the arms of a crescentiform ridge of bare basalt that stands as a wall to the northwest, north, and northeast of the three small spring-fed ponds at the heart of the town, Rethmar is dominated by “dugout” sunken cave homes with stone-block and mud-mortar (adobe) walls, curving inward to support curved crossbeam rafters made of the trunks of the avalathar tree, a hardy scrub tree native to the Shaar that has a characteristic bow-shaped trunk (as in, an archers’ bow).

As the town grew in importance as a trading-stop and water- and mount-resupply center on the Traders’ Way, timbers were brought in by caravan to erect warehouses and frame buildings, but the oldest and most numerous buildings in town have always been the dugouts. Whose mud-and-gravel roofs were usually planted with a mix of grasses, herbs, and berry-bushes, to anchor them against windscour, make them watertight for the brief but violent rains (thunderstorms) that sweep through the area, mostly in fall and winter. A few Rethmarren tale real pride in their rooftop gardens.

Early Rethmar took the shape of a ring of “important” buildings (a trading hall; Gauntlet Hall, a lockup/armory for the local constabulary; several rental-space-for-all warehouses; three inns, and a sprawling sundries shop, Vornen’s Useful Wares, that has been going strong selling ropes, buckets, tools, weapons, ironmongery, boots, fabric, waterskins, handkegs, and tents for generations of Vornens) around an oval open market yard, “The Hard.”

The Traders’ Way runs past the Hard along its western and southern side, with three “cuts” or linking roads between it and the Hard. The rest of Rethmar consists of rather meandering north-south streets leading off the Way to the south or the Hard to the north, plus a small grid of them east of the Hard. A few narrow alleyways cross these streets as east-west routes too narrow for more than a pair of riders on horseback to cautiously pass each other.


Rethmar is governed by The Belt, a council of seven wealthy merchants. Membership in the Belt is held by contributing 1000 gp to the town coffers annually; if a sitting Belter fails to do this, they can be replaced by the first resident of Rethmar who can pay in the money (in “hard coin”); otherwise, sitting members can only be expelled by majority vote of their fellow Belters (this has happened only once, to the blatantly corrupt trader Multher Oskynd—who was last seen, half a century ago, as a brigand leader in Ulgarth).

The Belters pass laws for conduct in Rethmar, and are responsible for hiring, training, and disciplining the local constabulary, the Marmaces, who tend to be worldly-wise retired veteran adventurers or mercenaries.

The Marmaces dwell all over town, but have as their bases Gauntlet Hall, The Belt Stables at the eastern edge of Rethmar (from which they run mounted patrols to police the vicinity against brigands), and two lookout towers on the rock ridge, known as the Fangs (the ridge itself is known to Rethmarren as the Stoneshield).

In 1365 DR, the off-season population of Rethmar was around 3,300 (it swells by up to 600 at the height of every caravan season), the Marmaces were 46 strong, and the Belters were (in order of dominance and popularity):

Hamanthar Dree (textiles, rugs, tapestries, capes, and gowns) LN hm; Olrynd Chaethur (locks, chains, hasps, and strong drink from across the Realms) LN hm; Shathra Aumantle (perfumes, gowns, hats, and high fashion undergarments, blouses, and wearable accessories) CG hf; Ondurl Marthammar (timber, carpentry, and structures built, permanent or temporary) NG hm; Ardra Longthar (moneylending) LN hf; Haddath Morszeelam (sundries, investments, and plumbing/water gardens) LN hm; and Lhanthra Ordeiran (smoked, pickled, and brined foods, tiles, livestock: foodstock such as chickens, geese, and pigeons, and working beasts) NG hf.

In 1479 DR, the population of Rethmar is about 4,700 (growing by another 800 at the height of every caravan season), the Marmaces are 79 strong, and the Belters are:

Joysil Dree (textiles, tents, rugs, tapestries, capes, gowns) CG hf; Manthar Horndren (moneylending, caravan running, wagonmaking, sundries imporation) NE hm; Caldreth Farleik (bulk food shipments, spices, sauces, liquors) CN hm; Naethur Aunsaut (livestock breeding, training, and sales; warehousing space rental) LN hm; Drarthen “Grimhelm” Rytzrimmon (arms and armor sales and repairs, guards and armed escorts for hire) LN hm; Ravendra “All Scores Settled” Cardegult (rentals of ‘ready’ wagons with beasts and drovers/loaders, trained caravan escorts) NE hf; and Zandalarra Taeruth (smallgoods, ironmongery, coffers, casks, all-sorts repairs) NG hf.

The Rathole

Rethmar got its unlovely nickname because when it first grew to house over a thousand inhabitants, the caravans had brought with them many rats, which thrived locally, and became a nuisance—but these have long since been hunted to near-extinction, both by hungry citizens, and by the native dunscale lizards, lazy omnivores that spend much of their time in sunbasking torpor, but are capable of exploding into motion and outrunning a rat if need be. These days, most dunscales survive on a diet of garbage, human and workbeast dung, insects, and smaller lizards. Any spoiled food in Rethmar is “tossed to the dunscales,” who swiftly devour all food that doesn’t have to be chased.

Next time: making Rethmar come alive.
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Ed Greenwood

Ed Greenwood

Forgotten Realms Creator


Thank you Ed, it was, again, a great read, I' really looking forward to your Realms articles! We've started a new Realms campaign a few months ago, after a long Shadowrun one and your writings are great to read alongside with the old sourcebooks, as my FR Enthusiasm rekindled. :)


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