The work contained on this page is taken from a Q&A thread on the Candlekeep Forum with Ed Greenwood. This material is used with permission and was collated by Jim Chadwick.
Tantras and The Vast
By Ed Greenwood
Q: I am assuming that Tantras was formed during the golden age of Impiltur somewhere around 9th century DR. This is after the fall of Rolidar and gives enough time for things to quiet down. When did the Tormites consider Tantras for their world headquarters? I am guessing that it was after the Triad Crusade in nearby Impiltur. Was this the case? How soon after the forming of Tantras did the Tormites come? What was the name of the Temple of Torm's Coming before he came?
A: I did indeed create and name the Vast. I don't know exactly when the small fishing port grew into a city or acquired the name Tantras (I can tell you what afternoon * I * named it that, but that's hardly the same thing :}), but I see it as not gaining its importance to the faith of Torm until relatively recently (two to three centuries ago). I do know that the temple of Torm in Tantras began as a shrine in a modest manor house, the Loyal House, and that the manor was soon expanded and fortified to become The True and Loyal House, and that devout worshippers of Torm built houses all around it, forming their own neighbourhood of the city. As the power and influence of the clergy of Torm grew, Tormites became scattered all over the growing-around-its-port city, and rebuilt and greatly expanded True and Loyal House is, yes, now known as The Temple of Torm's Coming (for obvious reasons).
Q: Tantras has a thriving market for building finished wooden items (barrels, railings, cabinets, etc), but there is no major forest near it. I am sure that any trees in the Vast are probably recovering from the orcs of Vastar. So, where does the wood come from?
A: The coopers, cabinetmakers, turners, and carpenters centered in Tantras remain there because of its good harbour (hence easy shipping of goods to elsewhere) and generations of skilled woodworkers (hence ready training, streets and docks suited to crating and moving furniture, controlling and guarding against fires, etc.). They were established there in the first place, centuries back, because of the quality and quantity of the forests of the Vast (which lacked the fierce elven defenders of the similarly good woodlands on the other side of the Dragonreach). Many of these forests have now been cut down and used up, though the rolling farms of the Vast sport many woodlots, and its many creeks are cloaked in continuous runs of bankside trees: a visitor looking at the Vast will see a landscape of gently-rolling hills, and many trees (the forest studded with farms, not open farmland adorned with one or two trees).
Woodcutters are busily at work logging the eastern Vast even today -- and by “eastern Vast” I mean the slopes of the mountains that form the eastern barrier of the Vast. Although orcs do cut down timbers for their own use and do start fires from time to time (especially when making war), it would be wrong to see the orcs of the Vast as tree-hating clearers-of-the-landscape. Looking at it this way: if orcs want to eat humans or dwarves (the two dominant intelligen sources of meat in the Vast), they have to fight for their meals. Nowadays, they can also raid livestock kept on human ranches, or moving along roads as beasts of burden. However, the chief source of ready food in Vastar and in the Vast today has always been woodland animals (deer, rabbits, squirrels, bears, and everything else). The only way to keep such game abundant is to leave the forests standing: denude a stretch of land and you starve yourself (deer will certainly graze in grasslands, but you have to wait until your cleared forest floor grows consistent crops of grass, and orc bellies complain as loudly as anyone else's if they have to wait from season to season. So the trees are still there, in all those narrow, monster-haunted, orc-prowled valleys between the mountains. Getting them has just become more dangerous and time-consuming (and hence more expensive).
Q: I'm still curious about the orcs of the Vast. How often would you say a strong leader bands a few tribes into creating a horde? With the life-cycle of orcs, I always pictured about once a generation, but I could be wrong. Perhaps the grey orcs of old Vastar don't band up to cause mischief as often as I thought?
A: I don't see the orcs of the Vast as forming nearly as many hordes as the orcs near the Spine of the World, because they enjoy a slightly less harsh climate and so can forage for longer and in greater numbers before they strip all those unmapped, unexplored high mountain valleys of all food, and have no choice but to either slaughter each other (which happens quite frequently, further delaying the rise of a leader who could form a horde) or boil forth down into the Vast proper as a raiding horde. I see the mountain caverns the Vastar orcs dwell in as being just that much warmer than those of the Sword Coast North as to support more edible fungi and therefore more carrion crawlers and other subterranean life, some of which the orcs can eat.
Moreover, the dwarf-battling history of the Vastar orcs makes them wary of large numbers of armed non-orcs, and they can readily see the large and nearby cities of Calaunt, Tantras, Mulmaster, and Raven's Bluff. Also, from time to time, whatever power is resident in Ironfang Keep reaches out and harvests some of the Vastar orcs. The high grasslands thrusting east from the coastal Vast just south of King's Reach provide the orcs with abundant wild herd animals they can devour -- but also hands them forceful warnings not to strike out on the surface lands too boldly: wyverns, perytons, and even dragons have been known to swoop down and snatch up orcs caught in the open here.
Q: That leads into another questions I have. Are the roads of the Vast patroled at all? If so, then by who? I could see how the various city-states want to protect the economic life-lines of the Vast and send out patrols (much like the Lords' Alliance). The Vast has a frontier feel to it, though. Perhaps there is no military alliance and it is rather a risky thing to be travelling, particularly near the mountains? Are there any knighly orders that are dedicated to protecting the countryside in the Vast? The world HQ of the god of paladins is right in Tantras. I would like to believe that there is a knightly order that triest to protect the various peoples of the Vast. I figured that something like a Knights of the Griffon (nearby fierce and mystic creature) would be around.
A: The roads of the Vast are patrolled for at least one settlement outwards in all directions from Raven's Bluff by city forces (assuming that city hasn't been shattered in your Realms campaign), and all of the other cities listed above do regular road-patrols, too, though they don't range out as far (on an everday basis, they're trying to keep brigands, gangs of thieves, and prowling monsters at least a day's ride distant from the city -- and give the city fair warning of the approach of anything larger, more numerous, and more formidable). I can't see why the sort of order you envisage wouldn't be present, given the strength of Torm's faith in Tantras (after all, what other useful benefit could they render, that non-Tormites could see and appreciate?). In the ‘home' Realms campaign, many folks in the smaller settlements hired bands of adventurers as defenders (something I've been largely silent about since the Vast was “given” to the RPGA -- in a chat between Jim Ward, Jean Rabe [then head of the RPGA], and me, Charter Life Member of same--and I detailed its countryside and then stepped back, not to return there in print until I was asked to write the City of Ravens Bluff sourcebook). This at times led to clashes between rival adventuring bands (with a sort of Robin Hood vs. the Sheriff of Nottingham flavour), but --augmented by the heavy bodyguards laid on by caravan costers -- did keep the roads fairly safe. As you imply, camping or travelling in small groups along the road that runs along the mountains has never been a wise idea.
Q: Calaunt has only two temples. Was this due to some religious and/or political conflict that left only two? Or is there a unique culture in Calaunt that there is only a need for two?
A: Calaunt has very few temples because of its repressive rule. It's truly a place of grim tyranny, and the secrets of those in authority have been left mysterious to give DMs a chance to put what they'd ‘behind the scenes.' There's no Thayan outpost there (no market in comparison to Raven's Bluff, unless it's been destroyed in your campaign), and nothing public enough to give Mulmaster or Tantras a chance to attack -- but there could very well be agents from Zhentil Keep or anywhere else you'd like to pick, from unscrupulous Sembian slavers to drug-runners and pirates serving masters in Westgate. Whatever the truth, Calaunt's temples are few and far between because its rulers don't want priests challenging their authority and ‘influence through silent threat.'
Q: I'm curious about ancient treasures or ruins in the Vast. I know of the treasures listed for the various locations in the Vast in other publications, but what about ancient treasures of Rolidar? Or even of old Vastar? While Rolidar wasn't very old and couldn't have many treasures, but perhaps there is more then the "glittering swords" of orcbane used to bring down Vastar (and by the way, what happened to many of those swords?). I remember reading that back in Vastar, there weren't the current tribes that are around today, but one powerful orc ruler after another forming the precursor to tribes. With other Realmslore being added to the mix, these orcs are grey orcs and are the remenants of the Orcgate War. These orcs might have some ancient magic or hidden temples or other ruins that we have not heard of? I know that Mount Grimmerfang is lost to the knowledge of man, but is filled with some sort of treasure out there. Perhpas there is orcish treasure? Perhaps even fell and filled with danger (but what magic isn't?)? Are there even other orcish ruins about? Fortresses? Old caves?
A: I'm curious about ancient treasures or ruins in the Vast, too. :}
The Earthspur Mountains, along the eastern boundary of the Vast, are riddled with caverns: natural, orc-hewn, and dwarf-made. These days, the dwarves are almost entirely gone (and their treasures with them), and the orcs dwell in those many, many caves and passages. The individual tunnels and chambers may be small, but I'd judge their combined space, with all levels added together, to be easily equal to the surface area of the Vast. (Mount Grimmerfang is one of the more northerly Earthspur peaks, and almost certainly not one of those “on the edge” of the open Vast.) There could be any amount of orc treasures scattered throughout this vast orc kingdom, but orcs aren't much for baubles. They often use gold coins as lures for humans (so trails of spilled coins and the occasional merchant's chest of wares can sometimes be found in caverns easily accessible from the Vast, but such finds are always guarded by orcs who can roll or rain boulders down on humans who come looking -- after all, a hungry orc doesn't mind a meal of tenderized meat).
In my opinion, most riches of Rolidar would long ago have been carried away by the retreating dwarves, and most dwarf holds and tombs of any sort long since broken open and plundered by orcs. An orc would covet a good weapon (of a sturdy sort like a sword), so finely-made or magical blades may well be carried by orc chieftans and war-leaders in the Earthspurs. However, I'd not expect to find enough treasure in the entire range to make the risk of battling through thousands upon thousands of orcs worth it.
Q: I'm curious about the dwarves of the Vast. Those that founded Rolidar came from the north, through the passages of the "hidden way", and brought low King Grimmerfang and his court with orcbane weapons. King "Stonebeard" ruled for 40 years somewhere in the Vast, and then the Realm of Glitter Swords was no more. Various dwarf holds are in those mountains, I am sure of it, but man doesn't know of them. I know that not all encounters between dwarf and man has gone smoothly (a particular poisoning comes to mind) and so many dwarf holds remain hidden or "lost". I'm curious about these holds. Do they know of each other? Or some trying to be hidden so that orc bands don't find them? Are they mostly small clan holdings with about 20 or so families? Do the clans ever meet or interact with the outside world? Any information on them would be interesting.
A: As for dwarf holds, I know that a few small family holds (defensible clusters of caverns, with roll-rock doors and entry traps) are still (sparsely) inhabited in the Earthfast Mountains (where the might of the orcs has been broken, and surviving tuskers are few and scattered). Most of these dwarf-holds are self-sufficient, and have little directly to do with humans (individual dwarves sometimes make long treks to surface-connected caverns to go trading in Tsurlagol or Priapurl, but they take care not to be tracked back to their holds). I'd say most such holds have total populations of not much more than 70, of 4 families at most.
Certain intrepid dwarves do travel from hold to hold, trading medicines and carrying news. Elminster has given me two names of such ‘farfarer' dwarves: Ethskrin ‘Stonebrow' Shiverstone (a merry, reckless, agile sort “who acts almost like a halfling taken with drink!”) and Maurhoun Sunderfist (a short, stout, magnificently black-bearded down to his toes grim traveler who forgets nothing, and can draw detailed maps from memory).
There are much larger dwarf-holds well to the east, in Impiltur, but they'd not come to the rescue of any Earthfast hold that suffered attack, or even trade regularly with each other.
A few of the Earthfast holds have veins of gemstone that they mine from time to time when they need wealth to sell (typically taking ship in Tsurlagol for Sembia, to unload the gems there for coin to buy boots, raw leather, textiles, preserved foods, and books -- yes, books: it seems many dwarves are avid readers of romantic and humorous human sagas (of the sort that are all the rage among young men and women of wealth and much leisure time, in Cormyr and especially Sembia).
Q: I am curious about the interactions between the various city-states. Has there ever been a war between the city-states? Has Sembia ever tried to invade? Has Caluant always just had a repressive govt of evil? Or was there an event that caused this to be? Or is all this left open to the DM?
A: As for the city-states, Calaunt and Tantras have sparred (little skirmishes in the farmlands between them, nothing larger) many times (the reason their road-patrols were started was to give warning of each other), but --since the current regime took over in Calaunt -- settled into a wary state of ignoring each other. One gets rich faster that way than by hacking at one's neighbour every night. :}
Calaunt's current rulership took power by poisonings and stabbings in the night among the self-styled lords of that city, until the present incumbent (and the evil mages who back him, making his rule supreme) could openly take control. The folk of Tantras, a wealthy and bustlingly prosperous lot, were busy at the time squabbling over whether or not the Church of Torm should be allowed so much power and influence over the city (a bloodless struggle that the Tormites eventually won, but not before some of the most unscrupulous coin-chasing Tantrans [“Let there be no laws that stand in the way of the coins that are rightfully mine! If I'd wanted to live under the yoke of Torm, I'd have gone to live in a temple of Torm -- let that temple not come to me, and raise its hand over MY city walls, and declare all that is free and Tantran to henceforth bow to the writ of Torm! This is no one-god city!”] had decided to relocate to Scardale or Sembia).
Q: I am curious about Dragons in the Vast. I have always enjoyed the Dragons of the North articles, but frankly, I don't usually play in the North. I've always been a bigger fan of the Inner Sea area. So, I'm curious about dragons of the Vast (and consider this a request to perhaps do a few extra articles about dragons in other areas ). Now, I figure that there are some black dragons in the Flooded Forest. I image that the silver and red dragons fight in the mountains, but I would love to hear more about them. Also, are there white dragons in the Glacier of the White Worm? I know that is not how the glacier got its name, but perhaps some reside there?
A: I think my opportunity to do dragons articles has largely slipped away, though I'll discuss your idea with folks at Wizards (Eric Boyd and Sean Reynolds have both tinkered with updating some of my Realmslore into 3rd Edition form, on the WotC website, and doing new dragons should be right up the old alley, so to speak).
I've always viewed the Vast as being rather ‘dragon light' (in part due to the harvestings done by the mysterious power resident in Ironfang Keep), but you could certainly put a few keeping-low-profiles dragons in all of the places you mention, including the glacier. After all, the orcs and various herds in the ‘eastern tongue' grasslands of the Vast (the Fire River valley) provide ready food sources for some dragon types.
Q: It seems that you have mentioned the strange and enigmatic mages of Ironfang Keep on several occasions. While I dare not expect to get a treastie on them from you, I was wondering if you could help me understand how much of an influence they have on the surrounding area. I always figured that they sat in their iron keep and practiced magic. I never figured that they harvested orcs at all, but they do. I never figured that they delt with dragons in the Vast, but they do. Would you mind shedding some light on what type of events that they do or do not interfere with?
A: The mages of Ironfang Keep are a real mystery. Originally Ironfang Keep was a "hands off" location because of a planned computer game tie-in that ended up be located somewhere else, but we'd already hinted that it was a mysterious, shunned place whose magic-using inhabitants had to be of VERY great power (to make Mulmaster, Zhentil Keep et al just go away and not keep trying ton conquer them; the inhabitants had to be SO powerful that they could casually 'scare off' Manshoon, Fzoul, and so on). 'Mages who dabbled in plane-hopping activities' was a view advanced later, to support the then-not-yet-quite-published Planescape line. I had always used them as "beast experimenters" who from time to time, at random and totally without warning, would magically 'swoop' and collect dragons, orcs, dragon turtles, terrasques...whatever.
So they remain that sort of mystery today. :}
Q: Now, I was hoping you could settle something about Tantras that I have not been able to resolve. There are three factions of merchant-nobles in Tantras, as listed in the FR Adventures book (a great book, by the way). How are the factions divided up? Are they by industry? An example would be that one cabal of nobles is involved all in fishing and sea shipping. Another faction is heavily involved in the wool industry and some livestock, while the third faction is economically vested in the crafts trade. So, are the merchant-noble factions divided by economic interest?
The other model that I have developed is that all three factions are invested in all forms of industry and act as competitors. In other words, The Aldimers are involved in fishing and sea shipping, while the Mathlins are involved in the wool industry, and lastly the Baraedin are involved in wood-working and craft oriented products. The other main factions are similiarly spread out to form almost a competing company and compete at all levels with the others.
In other words, are the factions grouped due to tied economic interests or are they banded together to compete against other economic blocks? I can see arguments for both, but haven't been able to make up my mind as to which I prefer. Any clarification is great.
A: Those factions should all be dabbling in everything, rather than specializing in and cornering one industry versus another. Covert competition on all fronts, so that a few bewildered independents and visitors can get caught in the middle and used by various ‘sides' without things erupting into open civil war inside the city walls. Bribes, changing sides, double agents, all of that. Pitting the lumbermen against the dockers and suchlike would last about a month before Tantras would become a battlefield and then a mass graveyard. (Some in Calaunt might of course argue that that would be an improvement. :})
Q: Are there any other tidbits of information about Tantras that you wouldn't mind sharing?
A: Hmm, I know there are some things I should be telling you about Tantras, but the only things that spring to mind right now are these:
There's a tangle of wreckage in the ‘deep hole' at the center of the harbor (a small shaft or pit that plunges about sixty feet deeper than the surrounding harbor bottom) that's full of the tangled wreckage of two merchant ships who unintentionally rammed each other one stormy night. There are the usual rumors of valuable cargo and even more valuable contraband sunken and presumably there for the taking -- but there's also DEFINITELY something unfriendly down there, that causes creatures who explore the ‘deep hole' to simply vanish. The harbor bottom is clay, and swirling mud obscures all vision near it (including the entire ‘deep hole').
The favored drink in Tantras is a ‘red and blue.' This potent tipple is made by mixing the “blue wine” made locally (a thin, sour wine whose only claim to respectability is its glorious, almost glowing ‘royal blue' color, derived from the sour local wild grapes) with the best ‘red brandies' concocted in Saerloon and Selgaunt. Drinking two red and blues in rapid succession leaves most people reeling drunk and causes others to pass out, but it has one useful documented effect: in humans and demi-humans, it deadens ALL pain and nausea for about 3 rounds (useful when performing amputations and other ‘brutal surgery'). Repeated exposure to this beverage causes individuals to soon loose this benefit (at different rates for each being). A red and blue has a rich sweet-and-sour taste that some folk swear by -- and a few swear at.
A ‘baeranth' is the most popular everyday evening meal dish for Tantrans. The word means other things elsewhere, but in the City of Torm it refers to a meat pie or tart baked golden-brown and with a peppery gravy inside. The smoked meat of beef, goat, and hogs are minced in a 3-1-1 proportion to make a ‘real' baeranth, but there are the inevitable tales of dogs and even humans going missing and winding up in baeranths.
“Sarkul” or smoked fish are also popular in Tantras (caught in the Reach, beheaded, immersed in honey and seasonings, and then hung and smoked for several days in closed sheds, but fish are NEVER put in a baeranth (in Tantras, for some unknown reason, the very idea of fish pies is considered sick and revolting).
Baeranths vary in price from 1 sp for six to 2 cp each, depending on size, reputation of the shop, and freshness, and are always sold hot. They can be bought from about highsun (midday) to dusk, from dozens of serving-shutter-on-the-street-wall shops with names like Karvin's and Thurnan's Oven and The Meltmouth.
Tantras has many taverns, but few dining-halls or anything approaching what we would call a restaurant. Its inns typically serve warm mulled cider and cold ale, plus buttered bread (a very dark, rich nutbread akin to our real-world pumpernickel), up to the rooms of guests, and lack dining rooms or taprooms. The taverns of Tantras serve the usual drinks and ‘hot buns' covered with melted cheese (some taverns putting sliced olives or slices of sausage on the cheese so they'll stick, to make their buns distinctive and popular), but little other food.
Tantras does have lots of fresh fish and eel shops and stands, and its streets often reek of cooking fish in early evening.
Tantras is known for having good ropemakers and netmakers. A typical shop is owned by a master or masters, who employ six to eight skilled workers and a handful of apprentices, to ‘weave' the ropes or nets by hand. A small array of fairly standard wares (40-foot-coil of waxed line, 1 gp; 26-foot-coil of light cord, 4 sp; 50-foot-coil of rope, 1 gp; 50-foot-coil of heavy rope, 4 gp; 75-foot-coil of rope, 5 gp; 100-foot-coil of rope, 12 gp; 100-foot ship's hawser/mooring cable, 150 gp [overpriced because these items, of which at least 2 will always be available, will only be bought from ‘ready stock' in an emergency) will be hanging and ready for sale, and everything else will have to be ordered, with a tenday or longer wait.
There are also a few skilled brass founders (casters) in Tantras, who make small, simple household wares (bells, lantern cages, candlestick bases, handles, catches, simple bowls and trays, pouring spouts/funnels, hooks, and the like). The best is probably Teth Rundlelor of Bauntaman Lane, but Adluth's Fine Hooks and Castings on Varmor Street and the cavernous secondhand warehouse Oddlings on Roardragon Way are also good sources.
The wildest festhall in Tantras, Warm Wondra's, is also on Roardragon Way (the main street running along the southern edge of the docks), and it truly is a festhall: nightly shows are held there from dusk until dawn, beginning with contortionists, comedians, jugglers, and players who perform short bawdy works, and progressing through minstrels who put on rousing sequences of drinking and ‘slay the dragon' songs, to a farce play involving maidens who get disrobed by monsters or villains (the audience is encouraged to boo, hiss, cheer, and even help deliver lines if they buy drinks for the actors), and finally to out-and-out exotic dancing and sex-for-coin activity (all of which is legal; the masked, cudgel-wielding Watch of Tantras are there -- just as they are on their frequent street, dockside, and tavern patrols -- to keep order, arresting persons who draw steel, wound others, or start fires, and ejecting the unruly onto the street).
And that should be enough to get you going. There's something niggling in the back of my mind about someone who was walled up in the city walls and is now trapped there, undead and able only to clutch and whisper, but the notes for that are [gulp] in my basement and will have to wait until May or even later (post-Waterdeep, post-taxes, and perhaps post-publicity tour).
And also from the go-between for ED, the Hooded One. She had played in Ed's home game.
We Knights [of Myth Drannor] hit Tantras only once: at night, in a SOAKING rain. We waded along (some of the streets become streams emptying down into the harbor during a real cloudburst, and this was an all-night real cloudburst :}) , wet to our knees, and were challenged by an equally soggy Watch patrol. Jhessail sourly told them she was the Queen of Waterdeep, and they then tried to arrest her, and Florin started picking them up and tossing them into the harbor. One managed to ring his alarm-gong (oh, yes, they use gongs and not horns in Tantras, and bloody noisy three-rattling-cup affairs they are, too) and summon another patrol, so Florin sent them swimming, too -- whereupon the madam of a nearby festhall offered us shelter if we'd just stop throwing her best clients to possible deaths by drowning, please!
So we spent a cozy night in a festhall, trading stories [and NOTHING ELSE] with the working girls -- and left the next morning hidden under their dirty laundry, on the cart that took ‘the dirties' out of the city to the stinking laundry just south of it. From there, we went on our way. I don't THINK any of the Watch drowned, but we never went back to check. :}
Return to Realmslore
Return to Alaundo's Library